Remembering Sam Oser, the ‘Brad Pitt’ of local Democratic politics who held court at Dunkin Donuts
HE WAS THE “Brad Pitt” of Century Village, a beloved and influential Democratic power broker who held court in a Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner from his West Palm Beach retirement community.
For more than 20 years, a candidate’s road to the White House, governor's mansion, judge’s bench, county commission chambers or any other public office always included a sit-down with Sam Oser, chairman of the Century Village Democratic Club.
More often than not, those meetings took place in his unofficial “Executive Dining Room,’’ the nickname for the Okeechobee Road coffee shop that was a favorite hangout.
Hillary Clinton. Bill Nelson. Charlie Crist. All were among Democratic hopefuls who paid respects to and sought the blessing of the proud World War II veteran and charismatic prankster who, with help from good friend Mae Duke, held sway over the powerful Century Village voting bloc.
Regardless of the outcome at the polls, those hopefuls always wound up winners for the friendships they formed with Mr. Oser, who passed away Feb. 10, about one month shy of what would have been his 96th birthday.
“If you wanted to run for office and you wanted to get the clubs in the area to support you, you had to meet him at the ‘executive dining room,’’’ recalled Susan Bucher, the former Palm Beach County supervisor of elections who considered Mr. Oser her “political father.’’
Clinton’s visit to the Dunkin Donuts came in March 2016, a few months before her daughter Chelsea gave birth to her second child, a fact not lost on Mr. Oser.
“When Hillary walked in, he goes, ‘Hi, grandma!’ I was like, ‘Sam! She’s running for president!’ He was always a jokester,’’ Bucher said.
Perhaps most of all, he was passionate about America and did his best from his corner of South Florida to shape its future.
“He cared deeply about Democratic politics. He cared about the party but he really cared about his country,’’ said Palm Beach County Commissioner Gregg Weiss, who also visited him many times at that donut shop.
“He would constantly say, ‘Hey, we cannot go backwards. We have to keep going forward.’ He had a real sense of right and wrong and respect.’’
Born in the Bronx on March 14, 1926, Mr. Oser was raised during the Great Depression. As a Jewish boy, he paid attention to headlines about the rise of the Nazis in Europe and feared Germany might one day invade the United States.
One day, when he was 14 years old, he was shocked to see Nazi sympathizers with swastikas on their uniforms walking around Manhattan. “It left an impression on me,’’ he told Carlton Cartwright in a video interview in 2018 for the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress and the American Folklife Center in Washington.
A few weeks after he turned 18, he enlisted in the Marines and was stationed in Hawaii where he worked as a radio operator. “Fighting the Japanese was really like fighting the Nazis,’’ he recalled.
More than 60 years later, President Barack Obama, who was born in Honolulu, would trade stories with Mr. Oser on a stop in West Palm Beach about their experiences on the island of O’ahu.
“He served in Hawaii near the beaches where Obama hung out as a kid,’’ Bucher said.
After a successful career as purchasing agent for companies that made televisions and vending machines, Mr. Oser retired to Century Village about 25 years ago.
It didn’t take long for him to become a fixture in Democratic politics. Seeing the political power being wielded in south county by local Democrats like Burt Aaronson, he took the initiative to unite the party by creating the Coalition of Democratic leaders, Weiss recalled.
Meetings were often held at the Palm Beach County Library System's Okeechobee Boulevard branch south of Century Village next door to his favorite Dunkin Donuts shop.
“We’re outnumbered,’’ he told the Miami Herald in a 2014 story about Republicans’ dominance in Florida and he endorsed Charlie Crist in the race for governor against Rick Scott. “The only way we can move ahead is to have a Democratic governor.’’
Mr. Oser was a staunch supporter of the Palm Beach County firefighters, sheriff’s office and the Port of Palm Beach.
“Another member of the greatest generation who led the way long after he finished his military service,’’ said State Attorney Dave Aronberg. “He was the moral conscience of the local Democratic Party. He was always in your ear with sage advice and (his death) is a great loss to the community.’’
Mr. Oser, who was divorced, has a son, Brad, in Tampa and a daughter, Julie, in Seattle. Because they were so far away, Bucher looked in on him almost every day.
Although Mr. Oser’s health had been declining in recent years, he remained mentally sharp, and many close friends considered him invincible. A few years ago, he went into hospice only to get discharged after his health improved. (“I fooled everybody,’’ he once joked.)
“Part of me thought he was going to live forever,’’ Aronberg said.
“He was not a pushover by any means, He held your feet to the fire. He was very strong-willed, very passionate and a very intelligent advocate, someone who knew more about the issues than most legislators.’’
Mr. Oser also did his best to make people laugh.
“He called himself Brad Pitt,’’ Weiss recalled. “You’d call him on the phone and he’d answer, ‘This is Brad Pitt.’ It was just his sense of humor. He was a hoot.’’
In 2018, Mr. Oser said his declining health — ”because I really thought my days were numbered” — was a reason he enjoyed making jokes and flirting with the nurse aides at the VA Medical Center.
“They were so great to me, the aides, and many of them were from Haiti. They were all married and I used to propose to all of them. They say ‘I’m married’ and I’d say, ‘I don't care.’ They laughed and I would laugh,’’ he said.
He never shied from speaking his mind, especially during the presidency of Donald J. Trump, whose name he made sure not to mention during the 2018 interview with Carlton Cartwright.
“I'm not very happy with our so-called leader today. He’s not my leader,’’ Mr. Oser said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s a male whore. And you can tell him I said so.’’
Mr. Oser once said he never lost sight of the fact that everyone shares the planet and should try to help each other regardless of race or religion.
“How the heck can they possibly believe in the God they believe if they are damning somebody else. That's not what your God wants,’’ he said.
“Everybody has their hurt that they can't share with anybody else. I developed a silly sense of humor and if I can make somebody laugh or do something good for somebody that makes my day.’’
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About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years in the newspaper business, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the
birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.