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Written by Jack King - BT Contributor   
June 2012

Can’t be too light, can’t be too dark, must be fluent -- in Cuban Spanish

 

JackKing_1The passing of the Memorial Day holiday always makes me feel good. That time between Memorial Day and Labor Day generally means the City of Miami shuts down and accomplishes very little. This is a good thing, because much of what the city does is not so good.

Occasionally something does slip through, as did the infamous August 1925 election, when Miami annexed the Village of Coconut Grove and several other neighborhoods. The neighborhoods were in favor of the annexation because they wanted better city services (I wonder if they still feel that way), but the Grove wanted no part of it. But the election grouped them all together and the rest, as they say, is history.

This is also a time when I like to ponder what lies ahead: Who will be our future leaders? Who will step forward and really make a difference? Right now it doesn’t look good.

Mayor Tomás Regalado has had a very bumpy ride as mayor and may not want to continue on this roller coaster. I’m thinking he’ll quietly retire at the end of his term next year and take his pension. Even if he does decide to run, nothing is certain.

Who else might run for mayor? The first thought would be Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who ran a pretty good re-election campaign last year. However, Miami is a Cuban town, and Sarnoff has virtually no support in that community. In fact it’s been a long time since Miami had a gringo mayor -- way back in 1973, with David Kennedy.

I know some of you with long memories will say it was Steve Clark, who beat Miriam Alonso in November 1993. But Clark was actually the most Cuban mayor we ever had. He was fully controlled by the Latin Builders Association, doing everything they wanted in exactly the way they wanted it done. And he was paid well for it. Everybody knew that, including the feds, but he had the audacity to die before he could be indicted.

City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones did get herself indicted, but she beat the charges when the case began to fall apart. The Overtown/Liberty City community rallied around her and kept her out of jail, but that came at a very high price. Quite a few community leaders were tarnished in the mess, and my guess is they’ll never help her again.

Recently the Herald ran a piece about Spence-Jones headlined, “A strong rebound on the dais,” noting how much she has accomplished since her return to Dinner Key. To me it looked like a Herald apology for the way they handled her arrest and trial. She doesn’t speak to the paper any longer, and this appeared to be an effort to get back in her good graces. Certainly it had nothing to do with what Spence-Jones has done on the dais, which is just about zero.

I’m not sure Spence-Jones would ever consider a mayoral campaign anyway. This town is racially divided in a major way, despite a long-standing, uneasy truce that keeps black, white, and Hispanic leaders happy -- namely, everybody gets a share of the pie. We’ve never had a black mayor and probably never will.

That leaves the three Hispanic commissioners: Frank Carollo, Francis Suarez, and Willy Gort. Not much chance that Gort will run for mayor. He tried in 2001 and was drubbed by Manny Diaz. Plus he’ll be 75 when the next election comes around.

That leaves us with our two legacies. Francis’s father Xavier was mayor from 1985 to 1993, and then again 1997-98. Frank’s brother Joe was mayor in 1996-97 and then again in 1998-2001. The elder Suarez presided over a commission that was very civil and accomplished much. It helped that the mayor and two commissioners lived within blocks of each other in Coconut Grove. That was before we had voting districts.

Then everything changed. In 1996 the elder Carollo ran for mayor to replace the deceased Steve Clark. In 1997 the elder Suarez ran against him and won. Carollo sued, citing voter fraud. Carollo was reinstated by the courts and Suarez was out.

Amid all this were stories of late-night visits to constituents’ homes, flying teapots, spousal abuse, and dead people voting. The word “loco” was applied liberally to both mayors. It was the best of times (for the news media) and the worst of times (for Miami). In 2001 Manny Diaz beat all comers for mayor and finally we had a mayor whose surname was not Suarez or Carollo.

Which brings us to this question: Did any of the insanity do permanent damage to young Frank Carollo or Francis Suarez? I don’t know. Only time will tell. Both men are bright and well educated, but as we know, politics can and does make people crazy.

Could it be time for Marc Sarnoff to take Spanish lessons?

 

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