Coral Springs mayor and former state senator Walter ‘Skip’ Campbell dies

Walter “Skip” Campbell, a prominent trial lawyer who served a decade as a Democrat in the Florida Senate and for the past four years was mayor of Coral Springs, died Tuesday. He was 69.

News reports said Campbell recently had hip replacement surgery. The Sun Sentinel reported that Campbell was still hospitalized from that surgery but had talked with Coral Springs staffers on Tuesday.

On Facebook, editor Sharon Aron Baron of a local news outlet, Coral Springs Talk, wrote: “Just two weeks ago we wrote about him recovering and he was doing well. This was so unexpected and is such a shock. He was so respected.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, fondly recalled serving in the Legislature with Campbell.

“He was my seat mate and was quick-witted, fun-loving and always ready to reach across the aisle or bridge a divide to solve problems,” Wasserman Schultz said.

When term limits ended Campbell’s career in the Capitol in 2006, he was the Democratic nominee for state attorney general and lost to Republican Bill McCollum.

He was first elected mayor of Coral Springs in 2014 and re-elected in 2016. The suburban Broward boomtown was his home for 36 years, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Campbell was a long-time supporter of consumer protections, civil liberties and stricter gun regulations. After the mass shooting in February in Parkland — Coral Springs’ next-door neighbor — he urged mayors across the state to support a proposed state constitutional amendment to prohibit assault weapons in Florida.

Hunter Pollack, the brother of Parkland victim Meadow Pollack, paid tribute to Campbell on Twitter Wednesday.

Gregarious with a back-slapping style, Campbell was a fixture in Florida Democratic politics for decades and was a loyal fund raiser for state and national candidates before he won a seat in the Legislature in 1996.

He was proud of his Irish-Catholic roots in the Queens town of Rockaway Beach, N.Y.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, after graduation from the University of Florida law school, he worked his way to the pinnacle of the legal profession.

He won settlements on behalf of farm workers and others in the firm of what was first known as Krupnick & Campbell, not far from the county courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Alan Levine, a Republican, was director of Florida’s Medicaid program under Gov. Jeb Bush when Campbell was in the Senate.

Despite their obvious political differences, Levine tweeted Wednesday, “He was always willing to help, was fair and played by an honorable set of rules. A huge loss. A good public servant.”

Despite his personal wealth, Campbell retained an approachable, working-class style with people. It was a style that brought him success in his first campaign.

He made his first run for office in 1996 for an open state Senate seat in the vast condo canyons of west Broward, where Jewish retirees were still a key voting bloc in primary elections.

Walking door-to-door in the scorching heat, the florid-faced Campbell wore a Navy blue USS Florida cap (sound familiar?). Here’s how the first Miami Herald story about his candidacy began:

One of Broward’s richest men starts his workday by slathering sunscreen on his face in single-minded pursuit of a part-time, $24,000-a-year job.

Walter “Skip” Campbell is on a mission. He wants to be a state senator. He has decided the only way to be one is to meet as many voters as he can before Election Day. Today it’s Sunrise Lakes Phase 4, Building 208.

“Hi. I’m Skip Campbell. I’m a Democrat,” he says, emphasizing the only obvious link with 82-year-old Anne Shapiro, who is on her way to the pool. “Hopefully, you’ll remember the guy who cared enough to come by and ask for your support. Remember, Campbell — like the soup.”