Controversial. Outspoken. Unpredictable.
Sheila Alu, who will bid farewell to public office Thursday, has proven herself a force to be reckoned with since joining the Sunrise commission in 2001.
In 2009, her revelations that she had worked for years as an FBI informant who helped bring down the likes of then-School Board member Beverly Gallagher met with a chilly reception among political circles, but branded her forever as a crusader against public corruption.
"I'm a very complex person," Alu said of her broken friendships. "And I expect people close to me to live up to my standards. I never put friendship above my oath."
On Oct. 19, Alu told reporters she planned to leave office with two years left in her term. The reason, she said, was to focus on her job as a sex crimes prosecutor and her new title — grandmother to Analina Sophia.
Four days later, she gave a tearful farewell speech before a crowded City Hall audience.
"It has not been an easy decision to make," she said. "It's been an absolutely amazing 12 years. The difference with me is I've never really been a politician. I never changed. I never forgot where I came from. And I will always love you all."
Even Mayor Mike Ryan, with whom she frequently clashed, gave her a warm send-off, saying it was her support that persuaded him to run two years ago.
Not one to shy from a fight, Alu made her first foray into politics in 1995, when Joe Alu — her husband and a Plantation cop at the time — was badly burned in a hostage rescue. The couple successfully lobbied state and federal officials to pass laws requiring lifetime benefits for police and firefighters injured in the line of duty.
"That tragedy championed me into a ferocious civic activist who could not be stopped," Alu said.
Six years later, she joined the Sunrise commission.
"It is not the same place that it is today," she said of City Hall. "Twelve years ago, if you came to the city commission, you were made to feel belittled. Today you are allowed to come here because it's your house."
Joey Scuotto, her closest ally on the commission, says Alu was a natural when it came to the political arena.
"Once she gets involved in something she doesn't go halfway," he said. "She follows through."
In November 2011, she single-handedly blocked a religious sacrifice planned within the borders of Sunrise. "I'm trying to protect innocent animals," she said at the time.
Last year, she helped kill a controversial hotel project planned near the edge of the Everglades, just a half mile north of the gun range at Markham Park.
Alu helped quash the project by proposing a ballistics study that showed bullets coming from the gun range could endanger hotel guests.
Alu also helped bring down former Judge Ana Gardiner, a onetime friend she accused of discussing a murder trial during dinner with the man prosecuting the case. Alu's allegations sparked investigations into Gardiner, who resigned from the bench in 2010. The state Supreme Court is expected to decide next year whether she will face discipline, ranging from a reprimand to disbarment.
"There are no shades of gray," Alu said. "It's black or white."
Alu scoffs at rumors that she is resigning to gear up for a run at the Broward State Attorney's seat in four years.
"It doesn't make sense," she said. "If I was going to run for public office it would be better to stay in public office to keep my name out there."
As for rumors she might go work for Sheriff-elect Scott Israel, she did not rule that out.
"Someone could call me tomorrow and say, 'We have an opening,' and I'd consider it," said Alu, who helped Israel campaign for the sheriff's seat in 2008. Israel lost to Al Lamberti, but came back a winner this past November.
Controversial to the end, Alu plans to bring up the taboo topic of pension reform at the Sunrise commission meeting on Tuesday.
With one more commission meeting to go, she's already setting her sights on a new life in Fort Lauderdale, where she plans to move.
"I feel like I can walk away," she said. "Maybe I feel like I accomplished everything I wanted to do. I can actually walk away now knowing I'm leaving the city in good hands."
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