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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Miami PACs Power (A Story of an Ethnic Machine) / PACs and the Making of a Machine

Miami  PACs Power (A Story of an Ethnic Machine)

To understand Latin Miami, you have to understand that many Latin Americans, especially those from the Hispanic circum-Caribbean, have a special affinity towards and keen awareness of politics and that was transferred to Latinos in the U.S. Among some in the younger generation (and those who are more recent arrivals) is arguably more subdued but still vastly different from other American counterparts.

Some look at the political violence in Miami in the 1970’s and 80’s and corruption and voter fraud of the 90’s with astonishment. This is mirrored perhaps only in the only in Puerto Rico's political violence, voter fraud and corruption in recent years. By the same token there is also full participation in the voting process.  The voting rate among eligible Latinos in Dade County are consistently are higher than any group in the nation. And it is worth noting that if Puerto Rico were a state, it would consistently be ranked first in voter registration and turn out.

The oft cited image of Latino men in Miami sitting for hours in heated debate over a cafecito and argue about politics and baseball is not a myth. It would be hard to tell which is actually the “national” sport though. This is not a spectator sport however. This culture of politics is rooted in Latin American societies where politics are understood to have direct effect on personal economic opportunity and even basic survival. Understanding and participation of the mechanics of politics differs greatly from average American politicization, where politics tend to be more impersonal and voting during "major" elections is considered to be sufficiently engaged.

Voting alone however is not an explanation of Miami's Latino community, and particularly the Cuban community's political clout. Half of the Miami (Dade County) Latino population is not Cuban. Puerto Ricans are the second largest group of Hispanics according to the Census, followed by Colombians, and Nicaraguans. With the exception of Puerto Ricans, most non-Cuban Latinos cannot vote. And a third of Cuban Americans cannot vote legally as they have chosen to not be naturalized.  The potential voting population of either Anglos and African Americans is comparable to Cuban Americans. There are reports from the likes of pollster / activist Sergio Bendixen, who actually claims that there are nearly 100,000 more Cuban Americans voters as there are Cuban American adults, and that Anglos and African Americans in Miami-Dade simply do not vote at all. For those of us who are more engaged in reality, we have to look elsewhere for the roots of Cuban American political influence in Miami-Dade's political scene.

No understanding can occur without some familiarity with the late Jorge Mas Canosa, the brilliant godfather of Latin Miami politics.  He is too interesting of a character to fully describe but in this context it is important to understand that he was a committed Cuban nationalist, who saw Cubans in exile by extension, as part of the Cuban nation. Mas Canosa was also pragmatic. In the Bay of Pigs Invasion Mas Canosa turned back rather than to land with his squadron, determining early on that it was doomed to failure.

He understood that Americans would not support a prolonged military operation involving large amount of American troops so close to our border with the possibility of it growing into a larger conflict. There would have to be another way to assure Cuban American's future, here in America or on the island and it would be long battle.

When millions of dollars a month were pouring in from the government to any three Cuban exiles that called themselves a “Cuban Resistance Group”, he saw that government funding and support needed to be carefully utilized. Mas Canosa cultivated high level U.S. Government connections and training in intelligence and sabotage to better use than making a quick buck.  He organized the small Batistiano element in exile (secret police, military, organized crime) into something that would recreate pre-revolutionary Cuba. For every dummy organization and business sponsored by the government he saw the possibility of a new functional business. He was linked with everyone from Santo Trafficante (the mobster) to the cocaine cowboys. (Indeed, it has been shown where a number of Mas Canosa's associates used their training and cover to traffic drugs). Mas Canosa used his political connections to gain lucrative contracts, rising from a milk man to the owner of a Fortune 1000 company, MASTEC.

It was the political action committee or PAC, Cuban American National Foundation that was the key to his power.  Jorge Mas Canosa often traveled in a three car motorcade with Cuban flags on the corners of each car. If he was the virtual president of Latin Miami, to many Anglos he virtually had horns and a tail.

This simple case of creating the Cuban American National Foundation or CANF profoundly changed the nature of Cuban American politics. Mas Canosa became fascinated with AIPAC (the America-Israel Political Action Committee) and used it as a model. It was not a question of simply affecting policy towards Cuba. Cuban Americans could be beneficiaries of political organizing ostensibly aimed at changing conditions in Cuba. He went so far as to create a Cuban Anti-Defamation League. For him creating this organizational web was the vehicle to bring Cuban Americans to power in Miami. At the height of his influence, he insisted that no one with policy authority over Cuban American Miami, Cuban or not, should win an election or appointment that he did not support.

In the half decade since his death Cuban American politics are still a focal point of America's national interest and local power consolidated (particularly following Hurricane Andrew through and again during the real estate boom coinciding with the George W. Bush era.)  But post Mas Canosa Cuban American power nationally has been either in flux or decline, depending on which observer you ask. The CANF splintered and none of the factions are as influential today as the original organization once was. Cuban politicians have flourished but none have the independence and the the impunity that was provided to representatives of the Cuban American power elite coalesced around the old CANF.

With the implosion of the CANF following the death of Jorge Mas Canosa, there is a vacuum. Miami is widely seen as up for grabs. Jeb and George Bush while splitting with the CANF, have maintained cordial relations with the less effective Cuban Liberty Council.

Three CANF-like organizations are being put together and it is expected that several more will be formed by new-comers eager to fill the vacuum. Individual power brokers now hold sway, like Al Cardenas, Sergio Pino, and the Fanjul family, or institutionally, with the Latin Builders Association.

The are fueled by the economic catalysts and constituency rallying points-  immigration, foreign policy, regional development, real estate development, religion, language and education, unions and public spending. Some groups are patching together issues.

It may be more helpful to understand the nature of a successful PAC (specifically, I am referring to “super-PAC's”, which include elements beyond a PAC that are meant to influence and wield power.)  PAC's have been used to allow a disproportionate influence on policy. It may be that the only way to counter balance this is by exposing the workings of PAC's so that people can guard against their influence or replicate them so that they are no longer a tool of influence limited to a few.

PACs and the Making of a Machine

For the uninitiated, it is helpful to understand that a PAC gives money and support through policy / issue, party and candidate support. It is technically a non profit organization (but you will see how it can be very profitable). It starts with a board of directors and a membership that pays dues and often gives substantial donations. Often these directors give tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual dues to the organization.

For a PAC to be truly influential you will need to find some way to compensate the people involved in the organization. For instance if you have a real estate development PAC, you will be using your funds to get preferential zoning or wage laws, or deliver contracts.

So what policy are you advocating? The more contentious the policy, the better. Voters turn out for contentious issues. So what if a mayor cannot do anything about immigration, visitation policy to Cuba, the war in Iraq. People will still turn out if these issues are raised in places where people care about them. Just avoid policy that is inimical to other national, well entrenched interests.

You do not have to have an issue where you really want policy changed. Advocacy for an issue can be an end to itself. Often achieving one’s ultimate goal on a contentious issue can mean the loss of power over other issues.

Be passionate, be unwavering and have clarity of purpose. You have to hammer home your message and demand discipline. This is key because it is important that you stifle debate, presenting your view as the right view, the only reasonable view. After all, you are doing advocacy, not running a debate club. At the same time it is important to tailor the way you express your message. What would seem like a reasonably stated argument to your core may seem to be a crazy rant to the world at large.

You also have to have contact with lobbyists who have clout. Lobbyists are tricky and untrustworthy so be careful. After time, you will be able to generate lobbyists from some of the same people you get elected. Some of the best lobbyists are former politicians, their relatives and aides.

Having some people that will do dirty work will also help. Some of you are aware of astroturfing, and rent-a-riot operatives. There are also researchers and rumor mongerers who can give any opposing policy supporters or rival politicians a black eye. If a group opposes abortion, for instance, and has contacts with people that incite others to picket and possibly to hurl fire bombs at a clinic, while calling a particular candidate a murderer, you are stronger for it. Just keep your distance from these flamethrowers, literally and figuratively.

Marketing, marketing, marketing. I am talking about advertising, media contacts (to plant stories with press types that are sympathetic or just plain mercenary), media buyers, mailing lists, phone banks, focus groups and demographers. That media buying can be used to influence coverage.

Use party machinery. Money given to parties goes much further than money used independently. The PAC has to coordinate action with party committees on every level from the neighborhood political club houses to local, state and federal party committees. Even better, if you can affect international policy through funneling money to international elections, do it. (If your policy concerns are international in scope, many nations, especially in the Third World, are even easier to penetrate politically.) You may have to start locally, but partnering with influential people in party machinery outside of your immediate community can insulate you from local power competitors.

Look beyond your core group and state that what you are doing serves America. Even if you are trying to destroy the environment in your zeal to strip mine a wildlife preserve, it is not bad to have at least a branch of your organization be called something like “Freedom and Democracy for the American Voter”. At the same time you have to have a single coherent message, moderated of course, for external audiences.

Create a legal education and defense fund. (Don't use the actual term "legal education and defense fund" as it is passe.) This will allow you to work out some more complex issues such as legislation and districting. It will also allow you to build your own bench of lawyers, through supporting their education and entry into the legal field.

You will need non profit organizations. Some of these can be used to get grants from the government and thus hire people who assisted your organization’s efforts. You will be able to apply for government grants to increase voter participation (focusing, of course in areas that you have influence.) Non profits also help in public relations. Many of these non profits can serve to address issues of concern for your constituency, while others can work to publicly address the “plight” or harm done to your constituency. In this way, you achieve advocacy without being hindered by some of the restrictions that cover PAC’s.

Educate everyone you can imagine, using your PAC and your non-profits. I am talking about police officers, school teachers, museum curators, text book writers, bloggers, college professors, etc. Much of this can be funded through various levels of government if you package it right. Opposing the Cuban regime for instance, can be funded through the Endowment for Democracy or the abortion issue could fall on either side of government supported health education funding. If you do a good job you will have people that are lining up to support your movement because they want government posts and funding (which the legislators you support will be happy to provide). These people in turn won’t be in any hurry to indict you when you go over the line, nor will they scream in outrage at your mistakes of excess. This is why it is important to make friends with those in investigations, courts and general law enforcement.

Create your own bench of candidates. Build your PAC and they will come. They will happily serve as foot soldiers with the eventual goal of obtaining support. Even if you do not have much money to offer, you have the organization in place that any budding politico would value. The best way to have a group of candidates that you can trust is to work with them early on. Many people forget that by controlling a group of local elected officials they can have leverage over a wide array of issues that affect government spending and policy. Thus the NRA, while a fine organization, has many friends from people that could care less about guns.

Get yourself media outlets. A radio station, website and a broadsheet can galvanize public opinion and react to issues of the day. It will negate unflattering coverage and competing ideas by creating a cocoon of information. In your world everyone supports you but evil, unfair or unreasonable people. The mode of “us against them” is important because it keeps people mobilized. Not only do media outlets pay for themselves (through advertising) but it creates the opportunities for new political partnerships.

Look for allies to leverage funds. If “what you are for” can make money for you it is also making or potentially can make money for someone else. Branch out to the business community, civic associations, unions, professional organizations, non profits, etc. Local economies and politics always feature the rentier class and property developers, the construction industry as well as unions and a range of businesses that want public contracts or preferential treatment, and individuals want employment.

Go forth and multiply. If possible, create your own version of existing organizations. Ostensibly religious, “values” and ethnic based organizations often use this tactic. When you have these bodies to work with, you have partners whenever there is an opportunity for money to be made. Moreover they will keep you abreast of what is going on with currents and developments in their particular area.

Eventually you will be the insiders. Now you will just have to watch out for the next group of aspirants that are trying to do what you did. They will be guilty of excesses, law breaking or will at least have some bad apples. Better have a few people who investigate, intimidate, and pontificate to make sure that they do not get too far, too fast.

"Q and A" with Former Miami Resident and Miamista

Q: I have been away form Miami for some years though I have family there and visit regularly. How is the corruption in Miami? How is the environment? Is there still the same ethnic tension? Is Miami just declining or are things looking up?

A: I will boldly state that Miami -Dade will not continue on as an insular outpost. Americans always find a way of getting along eventually, if only for economic reasons and Miami will not be an exception. Economists say that any large city in America has trillions and trillions of dollars in investment. There are homes, offices, schools, churches, universities, factories, infrastructure, parks, etc. Another benefit is that tens of billions of dollars come into any community through state and federal government entities, no matter how much any local economy is struggling. As long as there are people there will be money coming in. It is telling that in Miami Dade one has to go far down the list of leading employers before on sees a private employer. Miami also brings in billions of dollars from tourists, which generates an economy in itself. There has been too much investment and it is too well located to just let it go. There are good reasons to think that the time is now. Here are some reasons. 1. Jeb is going away, at least for now (more on that later). 2. The real estate market has meant that there will be a lot of cheap real estate. 3. The FTAA has failed 4. There are major investors from outside the region.

Midtown Miami, condos on the Beach and along the Brickell corridor and the eastern portion of downtown, they are all built on a speculative push. The vast majority of people will loose a tremendous amount of money. These are condo projects without any current market. There are already vulture funds waiting for a bust to purchase and manage the properties. It is also interesting that the Midtown developers (as well as a few other out of town investment syndicates) are not planning to sell but to lease space. Miami is the poorest large city in the US and Miami Dade one of the poorest urbanized counties. So where is the market? A tapped out and wary Latin America and Western Europe? The entire Spanish speaking Caribbean, (Venezuela and Colombia included) has an economy that rivals Missouri. Besides, in these days of Mercosur, Latin America is investing its wealth in its domestic economies. The dollar has increased vs. the Euro for the better part of a year. It is obvious that they have other residents in mind. One hundred thousand condos will make room for a significant community.

Even now, in the Wynwood arts district (abutting Midtown) there are largely Anglo artists who have begun the gentrification process. Problem is, they cannot even sell there wares locally as the Herald and the New Times only covers artist who have a certain political bent, especially those who can be termed "exiles".

There has been a big push for the county to have a strong mayorship but the lobbyists shut it down for now. So it is back to the strong county commission who works with the county manager. Present Miami-Dade County Manager Burgess was once a good administrator. He had worked for Merrett Stierheim, the legendary anti corruption administrator. Burgess was threatened with a loss of his job and general gainful employment in Miami so he chooses to go with the flow.

For all of you who don't know about Merett Stierheim, he is a professional administrator that has been called in when, (whew!) the City of Miami, the Miami-Dade County government, the Miami-Dade Tourism and Convention Bureau and the Miami-Dade School Board all suffered near bankruptcy because of corruption and mismanagement. When things get really bad Cuban American politicians see him as the bitter medicine. He calls the locals all sorts of inbred, inept, insular corrupt so and so's but he is reliable. Once he puts things in place, and gets the bond rating up, he always finds a nationally renowned, thoroughly qualified administrator to take his place. The qualified administrators usually don't last because they get in the way of the government grab bag. It is a comical circle of events.

Q: I left because of a significant amount of reverse discrimination. Is that still a problem?

A: As far as discrimination, it does exist. There are no two ways about it. Many Cubans and Latinos in general have taken an attitude that discrimination is okay. There have been numerous law suits where public workers have been told they have to learn to speak Spanish or be fired. There have been lawsuits about reverse discrimination. The problem is that there is usually redress to these problems. Not in Miami in the past decade or so. No matter how high you go it doesn't matter when even the federal appointees in the judiciary all have to be tied up to radical exile leaders, (courtesy of a friendly White House and state house.) For God's sakes, Jeb even made the old Cuban dictator, Colonel Batista's grandson a state Supreme Court justice!
Assuming you are an Anglo you should know that other non-Hispanic groups have it worse than you in Miami so you should not take it hard. As a group Blacks in Miami live in the most depressed state that I have ever seen anywhere in the U.S. it ain't a picnic for the Latino underclass either.

What makes Miami's discrimination more insidious than your run of the mill Americnan discrimination is that Americans usually respect merit. The way people have been tradionally denied opportunity is to be denied the opportunity to gain education and skills on an equal basis. Americans by and large oppose any form of open discrimination but may not address more root causes like school funding, access to capital, lack of exposure, social dysfunction born of poverty, etc. We are likely to try to alleviate these things by creating a more integrated society, especially in our public life. Miami has more straight forward discrimination with little intergration.

Q: You must admit it would be very difficult for an Anglo to come to Miami without a job and find employment.

A: I would find it hard to imagine if an Anglo came to Miami looking for a job that he or she would not find an openly discriminatory environment. This is not just from public employers but nationally based employers have determined that this is part of Latin America and hire accordingly. A person cannot apply for a job at a bank, a mortgage brokerage, or even a chain store, etc. without speaking Spanish and usually being Latin. This goes for upper management positions. Many of the local business leaders have little education, no experience outside the immediate area, and speak painful English but they are from well connected Latin, especially Cuban-American, families. Big business tends to look for trends, and often go on anecdotal information to find these trends. They hear that Latinos are growing and that South Florida, largely Cuban, is the capital of this new Latino explosion. The fact is, Miami was one of the slowest growing Latino populations from the last Census. White Flight skewed percentages. The Cuban population in Miami has actually been declining, and many of the Latinos are actually from other parts of the US and are chiefly Puerto Rican, Colombian and Dominican. The Haitian population has been expanding rapidly also. In Broward, the largest group of immigrants is actually Jamaicans and other (English speaking) West Indians, not any Latino group. Broward also had the highest in migration of African Americans than any other county in the US, which was largely West Indians relocating from the Northeast. Broward is still a White majority county with relatively few Latinos but major businesses often hire Hispanic executives because it is "South Florida" (and thus supposedly Latino). The Beacon Council and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce hammers this home every chance they get because it increases opportunities for other Hispanics. Interestingly many of these Hispanics are from the immediate area and lack the qualifications one would expect of executives in their positions.

Q: Where does the LBA’s influence come from? Tallahassee cannot be happy with the influence on state funded institutions such as FIU.

A: Where does the power of the LBA come from? Largely Jeb Bush. Tallahassee is too close to a certain element in Miami-Dade now. Jeb made himself a multi millionaire on a shady deal with Armando Codina (that stole money from HUD). He has not missed a chance to sure up his base with the exile community. He promoted FTAA so that there would be a Miami secretariat even when unions and American industry was protesting it. Some more history is in order here.
Jeb Bush was the chairman of the Dade County Republican party and Padreda its finance chairman. Padreda had earlier been indicted on a $500,000 embezzlement charge along with a fellow exile, Hernandez Cartaya, but the charges were dropped, reportedly after the CIA stated that Cartaya had worked for them when George Bush was Director of CIA.

Miguel Recarey, who ran International Medical Centers (IMC), employed Jeb Bush as a real estate consultant and paid him a $75,000 fee for finding the company a new location, although the move never took place, which raised questions at the time. Jeb Bush did, however, lobby the Reagan/Bush administration vigorously and successfully on behalf of Recarey and IMC. "I want to be very wealthy," Jeb Bush told the Miami News when questioned during that period.

Recarey was given a special provision to exceed Medicaid/ Medicare spending limits and review, allegedly because his IMC assisted in providing medical treatment for the Contras. In a few years Recarey was charged with the biggest medicare/medicaid fraud in history but shuttled out to Costa Rica with his millions even though he has entered the US on several occassions.

Jose Dionisio Suarez and Virgilio Paz Romero, who carried out the 1980 assassination of the Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington, and threatened FBI officers with death, were released by the former Bush administration. So was Orlando Bosch, the terrorist that has blown up Europeans, Cubans, Central Americans, and even domestic opponents in Miami (as well as some associates of business relationships gone bad.) Bosch was stopped carrying explosives and guns in his trunk down Biscayne and also fired a Bazooka from a Miami bridge at European ships in the Port of Miami because their countries traded with Cuba. Just now Jeb Bush has put pressure to have his brother release Posada Carriles, who blew up an airplane with Cubans, Barbadians, Guyanese, etc. The plane was carrying a number of children from the Cuban junior Olympic team which seems to have made it fair game. In all of these cases it seems that these characters moonlighted as major drug traffickers. These are terrorists and drug traffickers that are walking the streets! The majority of Cubans are more recent arrivals and those anxious to Americanize. Even most of the older exile population and their children do not support this radical but influential element. They hate these fanatics. They see these guys as terrorists too.

None of this has to do with the Republican or Democratic Parties or elections in general. There is barely over a quarter of a million Cuban American voters. A third of them vote Democratic nationally and the majority vote Democratic locally. The majority of Cubans are working class or poor. This has to do with relationships with the wrong people. Until Jeb and his brother are gone Miami is going to be led by these thugs. Fortunately because of term limits that time is coming soon.

Q: What about local politics? Why is their under representation in the African American, Anglo, non-Cuban Hispanic, and the progressive Cuban American communities you allude to?

A: As it is now the county commission is created along definite racial lines - the Jewish seat, the Anglo seat, the four Black seats, the six Hispanic seats and an Anglo/Latino seat. Latino voters are actually over represented, as most Latinos cannot vote. (It should not be surprising that Jeb took part in the districting wars.) With domestic in-migration of any size one, maybe two districts have to flip flop. Thus more cooperation will be necessary.

I still submit that the Anglo population took part in creating the ethnocentric environment. They did not create the political ties they needed to with the African American or progressive Hispanic population. They immediately dropped political support for fair minded, longer established Hispanic politicians including Puerto Rican, Maurice Ferre (who was elected largely with support of the Anglo population.) No real candidates step to the fore, not even today. Jay Love, the bar owner who narrowly lost his bid to become mayor did well despite the fact that he has no political experience and some deep personal financial problems. Despite having practically no money or support his grassroots message of “end the corruption and ethnic cronyism” resonated. His relative success was partially attributable to his English surname. As the only English name on the ballot, he got the Black and Anglo vote. He also gained a portion of the Hispanic vote because so many people of all backgrounds are tired of corruption.

Q: This lack of coopperation among different ethnic groups; is this a problem of our immigration laws needing to be overhauled?

A: I hear immigration bashing daily. I never hear anyone advocating stronger English language facility and cultural immersion classes as a requirement to qualify for citizenship. I never hear of more stringent educational requirements so that there is an incentive to gain a solid education and English facility before immigrating or directly afterwards. I also never hear anyone speak about how immigrants left out of the political debate because they will never be able to vote leads to a lack of civic responsibilty. People forget that many immigrants pay taxes and are giving tremendous value to our economy. Instead it all devolves into race baiting where people say stop immigration, which is not going to happen. Ironically I also never hear the Cuban Adjustment Act mentioned.

Miami and South Florida would benefit from the civic involvement from the Anglo community. It gets disgust and apathy. Anglos in Broward and Collier fret over a rising Latino population and Dade political (read LBA/Cuban) interference while avoiding Miami-Dade affairs like the plague. Johnny Winton, the totally ridiculous representative of the “Anglo seat” on the Miami City Commission, funded by the LBA, is on his way out because he has managed to make Latino and Anglo residents alike HATE him. (He supported building a Home Depot in the middle of a residential area of Coconut Grove is part of it, as is his support for LBA built McMansions with no yards, trees, in this formerly bucolic neighborhood.) The “Black seat” is currently being contested between an LBA backed candidate and an under funded reverend.

In Miami it is a question not of immigration but of the loss of the American ethic by every group. Value of merit, innovation, inclusiveness, civic responsibilityand national consciousness are all suffering. Institutions operate in a localized, largely ethnic based bubbles. Insularity and ethnocentrism are squeezing the life out of the Miami economy. The same people who create technology and bring it to market are the same people that will create jobs for everyone. It would be virtually impossible to list the number of wildly successful start ups in the past decade from Northern California or Boston based techies even after the “tech boom”. It is not by chance that these areas also host large, well regarded research universities that churn out the best and brightest in human capital. Charlotte has grown from the synergy of Duke and UNC into both a budding research capital and the rival to New York in the financial sector. The same could be said of the Austin area technology related growth and University of Texas or Los Angeles and UCLA and USC. Miami has the attractive environment that would draw this sort of human capital without the same investment that these places have in their educational infrastructure. Instead even the majority of non-Hispanic University of Miami grads are forced to leave the area because they are not welcome.

Q: So non-Hispanics from the outside will not be returning to Miami?

A: There is normally a boomerang effect that happens with White Flight. It becomes apparent to people who exited that it is nearly impossible to rebuild the infrastructure and amenities that exists in the urban areas that they left. They must return for their own benefit. Either way, urban pioneers will come in, bringing capital and expertise. They rebuild an economy based on their ties to extra regional economies. Arts, technology and entertainment communities build up. I say it is now prime time to return to Miami. The housing stock is there. The infrastructure is there.

So we will see. No change just happens. People participate. They organize. They cooperate. And we get a better community.

Prognosticator of Prognosticators

Does anyone know who wrote this letter to the Miami New Times? I can only suspect a new incarnation of Nostradamus. Talk about a good read on things. Note the date that this was written and what has happened in the ensuing decade. (For Example, Miami has displaced Detroit as the poorest large city in America, The Herald is bankrupt after alienating its Anglo and progressive, educated Latino base, and extremist Cuban exiles will be heading the Florida State House and Senate.)

Miami New Times, Letters
Published: Thursday, November 14, 1996

A Corrupt City, a Faltering NewspaperOn Saturday, November 9,
Miami made the front page of the New York Times for the corruption that marks our city like the wine stain on Gorbachev's forehead. (The article was titled "Corruption and Money Woes Divide and Anger Miamians.") This bashing -- you can already hear the grinding teeth at the chamber of commerce -- calls to mind New Times editor Jim Mullin's column describing the paper's lawsuit against Knight-Ridder chairman Tony Ridder for participating in secret and perhaps illegal negotiations for a new arena ("Tony Ridder and the Heritage of Arrogance," October 31).

Is Miami more corrupt than any other American city? Probably not. In its lack of a moral compass -- a phrase describing civility and civic purpose -- is Miami different from any other American city? Yes. And the Miami Herald, whose independent voice has been dulled to pointlessness by compromising positions its leadership is wont to take, bears a heavy share of responsibility.

The New Times lawsuit explicitly calls for Ridder to be held legally accountable. Mullin's column calls for the Herald to be morally accountable to readers it has poorly served. He cites the Herald's paternalism (what's good for the Herald is good for Miami) as a particular form of arrogance, practiced with citadel-style discipline by its eminence grise, former Herald president and Knight-Ridder chairman Alvah Chapman.

At its core Chapman's Non-Group was an effort to preserve Anglo values in a society transformed by Hispanic migration. But the Non-Group, for all its pretensions, never stood for much more than a Hail Mary pass by Team Anglo -- on fourth down and long -- to save the present from the sordid past, a city built on a swamp at the expense of dim-witted voters in the Twenties, a legacy of making money the old-fashioned way: fast bucks and easy fortunes for developers, lobbyists, and politicians. It is a legacy that will haunt South Florida as long as people live here.

Today the misdirection of the Miami Herald is conditioned by fear more than arrogance, although the two are intertwined like bad twins: fear of declining readership causing the Herald to be ever so judicious in criticizing the current regime that happens, as a historical and geographical accident, to be Cuban American; fear of entertainment and new media causing the Herald to publish a TV-IQ equivalent of a newspaper; fear of a stern and unforgiving corporate father -- Knight-Ridder -- causing Herald leadership to be the good corporate son, putting shoulder to the wheel of profits first, advertisers second, and readers third; and fear of Spanish-language radio and printed cheat sheets causing near paralysis of everything between the covers.

That last is the biggest fear of all, and not surprisingly the New York Times article quotes Miami's radio-talk-show-host-cum-city commissioner Tomas Regalado pulling the ethnic card from its dog-eared deck: "[The corruption probe] has a lot to do with the resentment and disdain that some people feel against Cuban Americans. They can't stand the power we have acquired."

Most newspaper readers -- including the universe that reads New Times, the Miami Herald, and yes, the New York Times -- want more investigative reporting on Miami and Dade County corruption; pin the demagogues to the wall with truth, irrespective of their race and ethnicity. But the Herald is so torn and divided in its loyalties -- the legacy of Alvah Chapman -- that it has abandoned its purpose: journalism.

For example, when the Lobbyist Class behaves with impunity, skirting the edges of the law while burnishing its reputation, the Herald should be there from morning to midnight on the trail of the Ron Books, the Ric Sissers, the Rodney Barettos, the Chris Korges, the Dusty Meltons, the Carlos Herreras, the Ric Katzes, and the Jorge de Cardenases. But much too often -- and this is Mullin's most excellent point concerning Tony Ridder, Alvah Chapman, attorney Parker Thomson, et al. -- the Herald is on the same side as the Lobbyist Class and its clients, our elected officials. The effect on the public spirit is profound. As a consequence the Miami Herald is a shell of a newspaper, and its staff, the ones who will admit it, are demoralized; many professional and capable employees tell the tale.

In the latest piece of news, members of the Dade delegation are attempting to wrest leadership control of the Florida legislature. It's unlikely to work -- this time -- but hold on to your hats: Miami will be the Detroit of the South a lot sooner than it becomes the Hong Kong of Latin America. As goes Detroit, so goes the rest of Michigan. And that's not good news for the Miami Herald or any of the rest of us in Florida.

Name Withheld by RequestMiami

Is the New Miami Maturing?

I really believe Miami is the city of the future. Some of the immigration patterns are being mirrored elsewhere. I know that can make some people uneasy when they look at Miami but that is because they don't understand what has happened. Immigrants are struggling to come to terms with America (as in the country, not the region). Latinos love America- even though they/we tend to downplay the fact that Miami was quite a wonderful city when my family came and continued to be so well before the major influx caused by the political upheaval in Cuba and other parts of Latin America.

Much of this is a question of institutions. I believe in earlier posts I mentioned some of the chief employers in our area, most of which are public / government entities. It is interesting that every one of those institutions existed before Hispanics dominated the city. To those already mentioned I can add South Florida Water Management Authority, (which oversaw the largest water management project in the U.S.) and the design of a then innovative regional government that we call Metro-Dade (noted in every public administration textbook). The beach replenishment engineering project of the mid eighties (that laid the ground work for the revitalization of Miami Beach) was part of the Biscayne Bay / Port of Miami revitalization efforts by the Army Corp of Engineers, again the largest urban beach project in history. America has many faults but urban development and infrastructural development is not high on the list.

BTW, how many people that know about old Miami are aware that it had a comprehensive trolley system years ago that was bought out by a consortium of oil and rubber companies to decrease competition with cars? (This happened in cities throughout America.) All of you knew? To hell with you dorks.

It is hard to support institutions you feel you have no stake in and hard to run institutions you do not understand. Where my great grandparents are from (Cuba/Latin America), politics were also economics, power was a zero sum gain, meritocracy and social justice were seen as radical and destabilizing impulses. Part of, but definitely not all of this has been the product of how America pursued and protected its interests in Latin America. As children we (Cuban Americans of my generation) grew up hearing Miami Spanish radio that politics were bare-knuckled, exclusionary and that this was the American way. To the degree that White Flight occurred because of increased poverty, corruption, drug smuggling, ethnic polarization, there is more than ample support of this. Few add that this environment was created as much by U.S. government sponsored foreign policy (which by its nature is morally and legally ambiguous) and domestic policy, which is structured upon certain norms, principles and supporting institutions. No one, Hispanic and non-Hispanic was or is served when these issues are mixed up.

This sort of ethnic jockeying is part of America. Racism, and class division have often forced those on the outside to organize, create their own institutions and force access to opportunity. In Miami however, this has had the effect of actually shrinking rather than expanding opportunity. Miami has not been a story of expansion and inclusion but instead one of decline and exclusion. Because of intervention from Washington, the reactionary, ethnocentric portion of the exile community has degraded life for everyone.

I shared with you my take on the dysfunctional environments of Miami’s two public institutions of higher education. As many Miamians are aware of, there was a lot of pressure, even on the federal level that resulted in George Wolfe and Bob McCabe being replaced by Cuban Americans. Having worked at both of these institutions I can say that none of these appointments caused failure as much as the pervasive ethnocentrism throughout these colleges. I am a partial to FIU Pres Mitch Madique and MDC Pres Padron as people. President Padron cares about individuals and minority education and Pres Maidique has an irreverent and horribly un-P.C. sense of humor. More importantly he would like FIU to become a highly regarded research instituion. If Pesident Maidique was given a free reign we would see more nationally based hiring and the long neglected engineering school would be well supported.

However, Pres Madique has been forced to turn FIU into a construction slush fund for the Latin Builders Association and Pres Padron has done things such as have campus security pick up every newspaper in a six block radius of campus when the paper (The Miami New Times) ran an unflattering article detailing corruption in his administration concerning state funds and the CANF. The lady making the charges, Adis Vila, who is as honest, straight-forward, capable and good hearted as a person can be. This is why she naively pointed out the illegality of the dealings.

From African Americans, Cuban Americans learned that in the US there were legal means as well to gain political power. The late black Republican politician Arthur Teele who served in the Reagan White House as well as in the Miami and Miami Dade government, created a Black and Cuban American coalition that changed Miami-Dade to districts with a weak mayor (a highly divisive move). Cuban Americans used that coalition to force the ethnic based recruitment in the police force. While understandable in itself, it provided for expedited background checks that allowed people with criminal backgrounds to slip through the screening system. In cocaine swamped Miami this had predictable results.

The Herald, which was known for exposing the excesses, is now a virtual slave to the advertising clout of LBA associated real estate. In the past, as many former residents will remember, the paper was subject to harassment from the CANF. Advertising was defaced and feces placed in their newspaper boxes in a CANF campaign called "Yo no Creo en el Herald" or "I don't believe the Herald". Many reporters who were critical of local corruption were either fired or placed in journalistic Siberia in the last three years. Today the paper is virtually bankrupt as it has lost its Anglo audience and never acquired a Hispanic audience, even in its Spanish language, ultra conservative Spanish edition. Recently the Puerto Rican publisher of he Herald (the paper is owned by the Knight -Ridder conglomerate) was forced out after making some seemingly innocuous editorial stating that the local community has to respect freedom of speech just as they demand that Castro does.

Now Miami Latinos have become more aware that corruption and community degradation is a concern for all of us. Unfortunately, there is now an entrenched establishment with friends in high places. Current Miami-Dade Mayor Alvarez won out despite quite a number of skeletons, with the help of the Herald and the Jeb Bush dominated Dade Republican apparatus. Following the election Alvarez promptly went back on his campaign promises and kept the corrupt policies of his predecessors in place regarding the airport and the Performing Arts Center. Jeb Bush (who has long and strong ties with some of the more unscrupulous Miami elite) assisted in getting an extra congressional seat (drawn with the most ridiculous gerrymandering imaginable) and promptly supported the brother of congressional ally Representative Mario Diaz Balart in gaining the new seat. This seat obviously should have gone to either southwest or central Florida, where the state’s population growth occurred.

Since I am on the issue of public institutions, corruption and Jeb Bush, I should mention that the Performing Arts Center, American Airlines Arena, (which replaced a ten year old arena), the Metro Mover, and most of Metro Rail system and the Miami International Airport runways and terminal expansion were all built or are being built by Odebrecht Construction, a Brazilian construction conglomerate. This is literally every major public project in recent years. Odebrecht was one of the largest donators to the RNC, the Florida Republican Committee and George Bush and his two sons’ campaigns. They also supported Miami based Bush allies in congress Ileana Ros Lehtinen, the Diaz Balarts as well as the De la Portillas. The fact that Odebrecht attempted to bribe almost the entire Brazilian legislature was seemingly not an issue. The fact that they went grossly over budget and schedule for each project is also seemingly not an issue. The fact that many domestic construction companies with better track records were angled out of the bidding was also seemingly not an issue. Haskell, the Florida construction giant was going to bring a law suit but was given a subcontract with Odebrecht at the Performing Arts Center. What are locals suppose to think about how the political process works?

As long as Miami-Dade's public institutions are so important it will be politicians that determine the fate of Miami-Dade's future. To the extent that Miami-Dade politics becomes less corrupt and more inclusive and Miami-Dade's influence on the state becomes a positive, Miami-Dade will be able to transition into a mature economy and civic environment .

Two Cuban Americans with ties to Jeb Bush will be leading the Florida House and the Florida Senate in the next term. You can imagine the hostility this engendered in the state Republican Party. There was already a lot of bad feelings when Jeb kept mum about his intentions to run for a Florida seat in the US senate, while quietly lining up funding and support for Mel Martinez (who I happen to support). Many state Repubs felt they had been robbed of a chance to compete. The Party is in the process of a rebellion, nominally on the subject of Jeb's support of less restrictive offshore oil drilling.

All of this would be understandable, though shady, if Cuban Americans were not less than a quarter of the Hispanic population of Florida and Hispanics were not less than 20% of the population of Florida. Until recently most local Cuban American elected officials were Democrats, like the former mayor Alex Penelas. It is also interesting that on the nominal issue of Cuban remittances and travel restrictions, a new group of Cuban American politicians are pushing toward support of Democrats and wider alliances. (I believe they are trying to make political space with the decline of the Cuban vote.) What does Jeb actually gain if not votes? A small political cabal, operating on the fringes of legality and the confines of the system, who can be called on when needed. Miami cannot be mired in the fringes of intrigue and murky dealings at the behest of a political dynasty.

We all know too well of Miami's culture of corruption. In the past Miami government has been a cross between Casablanca and Ripley's side show. I suspect that with Jeb out of office in ’06 (returning to Miami) and his brother's term up in two years we will see a decline of the old guard and Miami will change drastically. This is not a partisan issue, it is one of maturity. The civic spirit of Miami has been awakened. Anglo voters used to waiver between cynicism and anger but have discovered two things. Their vote counts and that Hispanics are just as unhappy as they are. Hispanic grassroot politicians are reclaiming power from elite powerbrokers because they see how badly served their community is. Black voters are also fed up with their self serving politicians who are propped up by LBA money and crony relationships with the powers-that-be. The school district building department is no longer open for theft. Miami Dade County government cannot fund the LBA from new tax increases after repeated hikes (for the airport, then transportation, then parks...) The Public Health Trust has fallen under scrutiny and the director was removed. The real estate speculative boom is imploding. There is an incredible vacuum.

As for the real estate piece, there is something that many of you will find interesting. There is now a COMODITIES market for real estate. The market is called "Hedgelets" and it is pegged on the Realtors Association database. It works by buying and selling purchasing options. In six cities (Chicago Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Diego, San Francisco) that are thought to be set for some huge movement of price and capital (Las Vegas is slated to be added) you can short sell like you would if you thought pork bellies or gold was going down. Previously the only option to make money was if housing was going up, using instruments like a REIT (real estate investment trust) based in a regional market or good old fashion home purchasing. Guess where the short money is lining up? Yep, Miami. There has also been an investment group formed in Broward to by condos in Dade following a drastic reduction of values.

See you all in a new and affordable Miami with clean government!

Miamista says, Welcome to the Jungle

The land of gator and pythons… I don't have to mention the great Gator and Python fight of 2005. Associated Press has spread the legend. For those of you with money riding, it was a draw. I recently found out it was a rematch.

I just got word of a friend who had a python sighting and is afraid that the python will eat his dog that he specifically purchased to feed stray gators. Like many Miamians I too have come across the residential gator. A much publicized story occurred when a Miamian who happens to be the relative of a co-worker found a gator under the car in the morning. True to his live and let live Miamian attitude, the gator stayed under the car, letting out a minor bellow when the lady of the house rudely pulled the door open with a chirping alarm and jangle of keys. Upon spotting the gator's tail and hearing his guffaw of annoyance she promptly went in the house and called animal control. Unfortunately the ensuing struggle to dislodge him from his shade spot now thoroughly upset the gator. He let the family know his feelings by biting off a chunk of bumper. If you are wondering it WASN’T COVERED BY INSURANCE.

Florida insurance is rising like a storm surge over a New Orleans leavy these days. Has everyone been noticing the rising prices as of late? How could you not when hurricane coverage / flood insurance is going through the roof. Now that we are all in agreement that global warming is real and rapidly occurring (even if we do not all agree on what should be done and who are the culprits), insurance agencies see our storm cycle going into overdrive for the next few decades, at the very least. (Sounds like an excuse to make $ to me.) Even state provided insurance-of-last-resort programs are rolling over on us. The prices we play for sunshine near the beach... Tourists come to Miami Beach and they don’t pay for insurance. Pretty soon however that beach may be right in Doral next to the golf course!

Speaking of tourists, gators, pythons and other foreign things, (sorry, gators are native)… Immigrants from the island of Hispaniola (that’s the Dominican Republic and Haiti) come over at a rate of 11 to every single Cuban. Unlike my fellow Cubans, they do not have their own Adjustment Act, just poverty and bad government. For all of you non-Cubans the Cuban American Adjustment Act is a law that gives us immediate right to stay once we put a foot on land and provides us goodie baskets. Okay, there is no goodie basket, but there is immediate refugee status and expedited citizenship (which surprisingly half of recent entrants do not take advantage of), as well as medical coverage, housing and resettlement support and training and education programs. It used to include (in the Pedro Pan era) free college and SBA grants but much of that was phased out. Regardless of Cuba’s proximity and the surprisingly porous coast line the number of Cuban entrants is still low. Of those that enter on visas most go back to Cuba. What do we have to do to get more Cubans?

Miami Vice, meet Miami vice. In case you didn’t hear about it, there was a drug-smuggling bust on the next to where they are filming the new Miami Vice movie. The actors had to put down their prop weapons least they cause confusion. One smuggler accidentally shot himself while another suspect got away.

The Miami City Manager Joe Arriola noted while giving away ice and military provided meals that one neighborhood should not count on assistance from the city unless it supports the candidate he and the mayor supports. This warning was especially aimed at the Downtown / Overtown district that currently has a city appointed councilman. (The former elected councilman was arrested and committed suicide in the lobby of a newspaper office under strange circumstances). The current appointee has the backing of the mayor and cadre of leaders supported by real estate developers. Several in the leadership cadre, (especially an African American female county commsioner who loves Mayor Diaz), are under the cloud of corruption following airport fuel being stolen by a former police officer (who left the force after a drug / murder related incident).

In the jungle the animals are crazy…

Welcome to Miami, Part Cuatro

More responses. I can only address those that characterize a large segment of the mail I have been receiving so here goes. You wouldn't believe how happy I am to hear that many of you relocating to Miami have had positive experiences. The last thing I want to do is to either validate or promote exclusionary behavior I may speak of. A few years ago it was a regular occurrence for White residents to throw bananas on the steps of city hall, a symbolic gesture signifying that Miami was becoming a "banana republic". Usually it was just before leaving. I think that the fact people are again coming to Miami from other parts of the country, speaks of some positive changes.

As far as some of the other behavior, it needs to end. I find myself feeling horrible about the treatment of so many Anglo and Black freinds that have been discriminated against. I have witnessed it constantly, with such regularity and general acceptance that I am careful when to voice my disapproval. I refrain from watching Spanish language television and radio because of it. (Local Spanish language media seems to believe that the most horrifically racist comments and depictions are okay.) As a fourth generation American (pre-Revolution, as we call it) Cuban American who grew up mostly outside of Miami, I am far enough away to understand why it's wrong and close enough to witness it.

The balkanization of Miami is crazy. It is not just a Hispanic phenomenon. A third of the White population is Jewish. Many of the beach communities are mostly if not almost entirely Jewish. There are even places that are especially Gay friendly while others can be relatively hostile. If you want to work for the Miami-Dade Department of Transportion you better be African American, (a concession from Latino pols that prevents a Black / White political coalition). Almost the entirety of the large and well established Haitian population lives in one section of the city. Many Haitians will tell you this is not necessarily by choice. The Anglo population all but dissapeared in the nineties because of perceived discrimination.

I would be lying if I said that I did not believe that racism is at the heart of what prevents Miami from being a virtual paradise on earth. The rampant corruption and poverty that Miami (that the city is too well known for) is symptomatic of that racism. People make choices out of fear and insularity rather than respecting people for who they are and what they merit. It hurts the economy and the civic and democratic process.

I laughed when I read your comments about the bilingual conversations. As an English dominant person I can tell you what happens. It is much easier to understand language than to express yourself in it. (Remember Miami has a higher proportion of immigrants than any city in the U.S. and over half the population was born elsewhere.) Thus many people will listen to English and express simple ideas in English but switch over to Spanish when conveying more complex ideas. This is why Spanish speakers sometimes seem abrupt and (let's face it) customer service workers seem inept. I always advise people to keep it simple, and be very cordial and polite. ESL (English as a Second Language) speakers are understandably very sensitive and I believe that this is the cause of a lot of the resentment and conflict. DO NOT equate the inability to speak English as stupidity and treat people accordingly. The last thing we should do is to discourage people from learning to speak the national language.

Rather than anyone leaving, it would be great if more people like you- positive, open, friendly, honest- came and made a home in Miami. I believe it is happening now! Always appreciate your comments Randy. And a belated welcome to the only city with more voters that people! (Seriously.)

Welcome to Miami, Part Tres

Okay, I’ve been getting more feedback. First let me say this, I am a Spanish speaker (though my Spanish could use a bit of help) and I am of Cuban heritage, but a fourth generation type whose family fled in thirties. I accept that there are many things that I do not fully understand about the various historical perspectives of Miamians. Still, I am tired of being called all sorts of Anglo so-and-so's by a few readers! I can salsa with the best! Next, I have no problem with people who speak with an accent or who struggle with English though there is a different between an accent, which we all have, just the plain inability to speak English. For all of you who instead took me as closet member of their own racist clique, screw you! I want everyone to be part of American civic life and part of that is crossing boundaries of communication and race. I understand resentment and frustration but the way to solve our community's problems is through breaking down boundaries (not necessarily borders though).

As opposed to other parts of the nation almost 80%of Hispanics in Dade were born out of the country. I have worked and lived all over the county and I do understand that one would have to pretty much limit yourself to certain sections of the city to live around people that speak English.

I worked at FIU, Miami Dade College and with Miami Dade Government. I have also worked in the private sector. In all cases business was conducted to some degree in Spanish and bilingualism was mandatory. At FIU, when people came to apply the vast majority of people who came in did not speak English well and many not at all. Unlike other areas of the country where this might pose a problem, it does not in Miami where the majority of professionals are Spanish speakers. In fact most of the people in the records and processing offices at FIU spoke little to no English. When the people from the state accreditation office came by, we actually hid a number of the really "English challenged" staff in the bathroom. Students who spoke only English would constantly come to me and ask me to deal with financial aid officers, etc, who did not understand them. Ditto at Miami Dade College, especially Inter American Campus, Hialeah Campus, but to a lesser extent at the downtown and Kendall Campus.

In the private sector this is really pronounced. The majority of the employer participants that I put together for job fairs through South Florida Work Force would demand that workers were Spanish speakers but not necessarily bilingual. Since Miami developers and contractors are almost all Hispanic they tend to hire only Hispanics and all business is conducted in Spanish. Moreover no one speaks English. Surprisingly this often holds true in jobs in finance in Brickell as well.

In affluent suburbs a non-English speaker can get lost and ask a dozen people for directions before getting a person that speaks English.

To be more honest than I want to be, as I like to promote Miami whenever I can, there is a tremendous amount of hostility because of language in Miami. Hispanics felt left out and also do not want to be relegated as second class citizens as Hispanics (they perceive) in other cities are. This means that there is a huge amount of reverse discrimination. Language becomes another way for this to be played out. We have elected officials that can barely put together a sentence in English. Business leaders can sound like Tony Montana. Doctors and lawyers flourish that barley speak English (often leading one to question...) In Key Biscayne and many of the Brickell hi-rises for instance, many of the residents are the elite of Latin America for whom Miami is a second home. They choose to live in Miami because everyone speaks Spanish.

An Anglo correspondent new to the area who lives in South Miami wrote to Miamista saying that the problem is not so pronounced there. Long time South Miamians know there was quite a big thing in South Miami with racially tinged elections. (Okay, all elections in Miami are racially tinged.) You, New South Miamian may be able to avoid it but there is tension over South Miami because it is in danger in "going Latin". For whatever reason, the many towns and cities of Miami-Dade will get to a tipping point, and afterwards the entire White population will leave. For Anglos the problem often is that they are made to no longer feel welcome and their way of life comes under assault. Any long time Miamian will tell you of the fever pitched battles in municipal elections. And anyone will tell you that Latinos, especially Cuban Americans play some serious political hardball, of a type that would make Karl Rove wince. Two words- Ralph Arza. I really believe he has trophies of White Asses he has kicked. And I love him for it.

While a school teacher Arza took the job of football coach at a predominantly Hispanic high school because he was tired of Latinos being passed over by good ol' boy coaches for African American and Anglo players. He quickly won the top district championship with an all Hispanic team. There is another story concerning Arza and the Anglo politicians in Doral, once a haven for Anglos escaping the Latin wave. This city of low rise condos and apartment buildings, badly designed man-made lakes and its centerpiece jewel, a golf course that houses a major PGA tour. It was a place where Anglos tried to hold the line. Nevertheless Hispanics trickled in. In the early 90's as tensions increased, there was a ripple from a remark from an Anglo mayoral candidate about a Latino candidate’s unworthiness because of his cultural tendency to sleep late. Ralph Arza, a well connected though slightly shady political figure from Hialeah happened to have moved to Doral. He decided he had had enough. The politician that issued the remark was no longer around but someone had to pay. As a political manager he waged a brutal but highly efficient campaign and his slate swept the elections. That night, reportedly he and his allies called the campaign HQ’s of each opposing Anglo candidate and sang in unison, “nah-na-nah-na, nah-na-nah-na, hey-hey-hey, YOU LOST!

As for the angry Miami drivers who contacted Miamista to defend their driving what can I say? I will say that Anglos famously deride Latino drivers and again, it may be because in Latin America (where I have traveled frequently), it is a free for all. And it is not necessarily worse than in New York City RANDY. In NYC from my experience, (and I am also a part time resident of that city) people drive aggressively as heck but they will follow certain rules. A friend joked that a New Yorker will have a crack pipe in one hand, and will cut you off at 80mph but will ALWAYS signal.

Look, Miami is crazy and the comment "spiki spani?" and "no spiki ingli" may be the most overheard comment in the city but IT IS A GREAT TOWN in any language! And while it should never be necessary in America, English speakers would not be hurt to learn another language.

You know, the last thing I want to do is to make any English speaker feel that Miami is hostile. So many people leave because of that it becomes self-perpetuating and the city becomes less diverse. Which means I probably should not post this but Miamista speaks the truth.

Welcome to Miami, Part Dos

2005, hmmm, You may have missed some of the fun. In the '90's when the craziness was winding up there was all of the craziness and, swear to God, a friend was in the paper for finding a package of drugs while fishing that he turned in to the cops! That was really the high point for out migration (one would see bumper stickers reading “Will the last American leaving bring the Flag”). Miami-Dade actually has experienced a declining population, with schools actually decreasing enrollment (thus better class sizes). Immigrants are going elsewhere and domestic migration has just begun to start again after a serious outflow.

There are so many things to do that you may never get to them. Downtown Weston (Broward) has a frontier “Cracker” (as in the whip-cracking frontier cowboys) theme though it is getting overshadowed by the blandness of encroaching suburbia. Going down to you can find some old farms that open from the winter through the spring, selling GREAT baked goods and produce. I suggest looking up http://www.redlandriot.com/Anderson.html It is pretty close to the Redlands Tropical Fruits and where anything that you can glean from the ground is free. This is about the only time you will get to see historic Miami because there is not a lot of nostalgia for old Miami in what is largely an immigrant city. (Most of the housing stock in the city is older however. It is interesting to get a book by Arva Moore Parks and compare the pictures of a strikingly unchanged landscape throughout the city.) If you can't get down to the Redland (though you should) you can try on Old Cutler in which bills itself as the only tropical garden in the in the mainland U.S.! The Miami Book Fair, around Wolfson (downtown campus) is great and should be coming up this time of year. Speaking of books, I believe that Books and Books in may have some of the most interesting speakers / authors and they also have a store on Road (Miami Beach) which has a great outdoor café with great food. It also should be time for Bayside to be transformed into a Winter Holidays theme park. This theme park is a funny but entertaining combination of a traveling carnival, a Disney winter show and a walk way of Latin American street meat purveyors. Las Olas and Riverwalk up Broward are also great places to spend an afternoon or weekend. (Don’t miss the free evening in downtown Ft Lauderdale with trolley with live musical entertainment.) The beaches and parks in Key Biscayne are great and there are a number of restaurants and fresh seafood places.

Another plug: unemployment in the city is WAY DOWN! Okay not really. But for Miami, it's a booming job market. Just look at my advice in an earlier post about getting a local telephone number and address if you are going to apply for a job here.

Pet peeves are still the drivers not using indicators thing, people who park on the lawns and grass, the lack of civic spirit, the politics and ethnic tension. I should also point out that everyone mislabels everyone in Miami who speaks Spanish as Cuban.

Many of the follow up questions that I received to Part Uno were about were about where an English speaker can live and get by. Many people do speak English who may seem not to. It is just that they are ashamed that they don't think they speak it well so work with these people and they will work with you. Still, I must confess that after Elian the Alien thing it might seem that Miami-Dade is a foreign country, so the question is fair. So here is my list:

Coconut Grove, South Miami, Kendall, The Falls, Killian, Richmond Heights, Miami Beach, Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor Islands, North Bay Village, Surfside, Fisher Island, North Miami Beach, Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay, Cutler Ridge, Lakes by the Bay, Perrine, Coral Gables, South Gables, Biscayne Gardens, California Club, Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach, Golden Beach, Highland Oaks, Morningside, Miami Lakes, Miami Springs, Miami Shores, Doral? The Roads/Shenandoah?

My advice to anyone buying a home and worrying about hurricanes- buy an older house. They are time tested. Some of the newer builders are really fly by night types who just became contractors and developers because of the boom (sorry Uncle Eddie!). Remember that Miamians think of Hurricanes as a chance to shake down Uncle Sam for some FEMA money! ; ) True story, I was walking down the street after Katrina and a dude and his family were beating up their car and house while trying to fell an old tree with an axe while to look as if it was blown over! The African immigrant culprits, a rarity in the central area where this occurred, obviously had learned quickly but not quickly enough. An Anglo passed by and commented to me that these people were crazy if they throught that the insurers wouldn't notice the wood chips! Great point!

Use a hurricane as the chance to visit Naples, St Augustine, Orlando, Key West, dependent upon the predicted track. Ironically, if I could plan it early enough I used to fly to New Orleans. Anyway, it's rarely as bad as it is portrayed in the sensational media.

Remember Miami is still America. I know that between the Masonic Lodge, the JayCees, neighborhood associations, and the friends from some classes at "The U" as well as my own alma mater clubs I can avoid my relatives altogether! ; )

Still think that Miami will be boring? The news reads like an episode of Miami Vice with drug busts and the like, though the Herald is trying to play this down more these days. There aren’t car bombs and shootings in the middle of malls like there used to be so you get to be entertained without being in jeopardy. The politicians have toned it down also even though a city councilman just killed himself in the Herald building (long story). Immigrant politicians and local born scammers have learned that theft, car bombs, fire bombs, fistfights, open kickbacks, voting fraud and gross malfeasance is not acceptable as acceptable as it once was. That assessment may be premature.

Miami has been cleaned up dramatically as far as its politics. The Maimi-Dade County Mayor, Alvarez did fire Angela Gittens, who is considered one of the best public airport administrators in the country, because she protested the kickbacks, and several elected officials were connected with a scheme wherein a convicted crooked former cop and his ring stole airplane fuel and resold it, and id's were being sold to people to access the Port of Miami (can you say drug trafficking?)... Okay, Miami still has some work but hey, it's not just us! More importantly the crime rate in Miami is WAY DOWN, even lower than most cities in America and police Chief Timmoney was brought in from out of town (after a number of cops where prosecuted for robbing drug dealers and reselling the drugs and still others were convicted of killing a number of people and planting weapons, and there was also missing evidence such as guns and drugs from lockers, and police involved in bank robberies). Any way, the police are VERY POLITE and they aren't ticket happy like many other cities!

Miami can be a lot of things but bland is not one of them.

Welcome to Miami, Part Uno

I've read a number of postings responses about relocating to Miami and many are helpful. Yes it is true, if you do not speak Spanish it may be somewhat difficult to manage at times in Miami-Dade County. And yes the drivers don't use their indicators when changing lanes and will cut you off, much as in Latin America. It is also true that Miami Beach and Miami are different- South Beach, the southern tip of Miami Beach, is very NYC-urban and, while enjoyable for everyone, is geared to tourist. The cities and county has notoriously corrupt government, almost comically so. And yes, there was massive "White Flight" in the 90's. And finally, the city of Miami is the poorest big city in America, from the US Census in 2000 and has been updated as a close third in the 2005 Census update. The county however ranks only within the top ten in "poorest urban counties". There has also been an influx of English speakers from the North and mid-west in the past 5 years of all ethnicities and ages.

Having said that, the crime rate has declined drastically from the cocaine cowboys’ era, and the city has had an extraordinary amount of real estate speculation and tremendous housing development. That means a bust might make it extremely affordable. Condo prices in the great buildings in the downtown area (convenient and beautiful) are already falling! Rents are cheap as dirt now, at least compared to similar coastal areas.There is a huge mixed use development called Midtown and another for downtown East Kendall (Datran) that will probably be extremely livable and convenient in a sort of urban/suburban way.

South Beach is non stop entertainment especially, Lincoln Road or Ocean Drive or better still some of the surprisingly affordable upscale hotel clubs that offer entertainment, dining and dancing, etc. Miami Beach has went downscale and profitably so, catering to the MTV / BET crowd of youthful spenders. To make up for this it has created quite a cultural calendar. None of your young creative but unpretentious types here, save that for cities' with respectable arts scenes. This is wine and cheese, art and entertainment for the ignorant and pretentious with little taste but lots of money. See Miami's Art Basel (Art Debasedel.) We would all be better if the locals would stick to kitschy paintings of beaches and palm fronds. I could expand on the topic of Miami's cultural vapidity but I will save it for some other day.

Coconut Grove, Coral Gables (Miracle Mile) and South Miami have interesting little downtowns. In order to not get annoyed with their limited size and offerings you will have to rotate. Downtown Miami, once a half razed half decrepit waste is being rebuilt with splashy condos and river walks, museums and performing arts centers that may rival the best in the biggest U.S. cities. Right now Bayside, a tourist trap with an undeniable cool view for outdoor dining often with live music (minus the Hard Rock Cafe Giant Guitar!), is about all there is downtown however.

There is probably no better place to watch a professional football or baseball than Joe Robbie stadium (I refuse to call it Pro Player), or a basketball game in the Triple A. When the teams are not winning and sports editors are grumbling, fickle fans make a Marlins or Heat game dirt cheap. Dolfans are not so easily dissuaded. There are several of malls with Aventura, Dadeland and the Falls being my favorites in Miami-Dade.

In Broward Sawgrass Mills, The Galleria, Pembroke Lakes in Broward are better than anything in Dade. Every national retailer can be found in abundance on US 1/South Dixie in Miami and Broward is pretty well served throughout. Most of the economy goes through public employment and spending. Miami Dade Community College, University of Miami, Florida International University (FIU), Public Health Trust and Jackson Medical System, Miami-Dade County Government, Miami-Dade Public School system, South Florida Workforce, DEA and Customs are all your largest employers. The private sector is dominated by small business. There is a high level of ethnic tension between the power-brokers of public employment. With the exception of county government department heads and U.M. and the public school system, virtually all employment is held by Hispanics (55% of the population), whether it be Cubans (23% of the population) or other Hispanics of Caribbean origin (Puerto Ricans and Colombians). There is some discrimination against Central Americans by other Hispanics. For many of these jobs your ethnic qualifications are more important than say, your degree. It is said that a degree from UM or FIU may be better than Yale and a degree from Havana High is better than Harvard for government employment : )

Health care, tourism, finance and construction are the other big industries. The latter two also require Spanish fluency. Huge Baptist Healthare system (Baptist Hospital) and hospitals in Miami Beach are pretty welcoming regardless. Perspective teachers will want to look at shortage areas, and look at licensing requirements. MD public Schools recruits nationally, especially under their first rate new superintendent. The state has a centralized and highly fair system and for you lawyers out there, Bennett Brummer, the Public Defender, recruits nationally and is considered the best training ground for defense lawyers in the country!

If you are going to start a business in Miami proper and you are an English speaker, deals with tourists, or people from outside the immediate area, take an intensive Spanish course, or hire bilingual office assistants. I also suggest that you get a temporary local voice mail or forwarding number if you are searching for jobs; may even get your mail forwarded from a local mailbox. Locals tend to believe that you not serious about relocating because every winter they receive a deluge of out of town applicants who never really go through with the move.

Pinecrest, Cutler Ridge, East Kendall, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, South Miami and Miami Beach are your best bets to get along speaking English in Miami-Dade (county) for now. South Beach is an eclectic mixture of Gay, young and small family transplants from NE and mid-west, retirees, Israelis, Argentines. I suspect downtown, including and especially Brickell / Miami River areas, will attract more and more domestic migration, or as they are often called arriving Americans. The long stagnant American Jewish population is already growing and getting younger.White Flight, abated in the 90's elsewhere, was sharpened because the southern part of the county was struck by Hurricane Andrew in '92. Whites originally left the Central Dade with the influx of various Latin Americans and a skyrocketing crime rate linked to the cocaine trade wars, now seemingly settled. Even though most of the areas like Kendall and the Hammocks were spared Andrew's wrath, the population was traumatized and moved largely to Broward Central Florida of out of state. The public sector and small businesses, previously dominated by a slim White Majority became Hispanic by the late 90's. The growing pains of corruption and mismanagement that followed is (fingers crossed!) on the decline.

Again, crime is down, taxes are very low, regulation of business is virtually non-existent (for good or bad). There are SOME good schools, public and private and the people are laid back (except when driving or language challenged). Most importantly with the weather, and tropical flora and the sea and beaches... IT'S BEAUTIFUL!

For those who choose to continue the trend, in Broward I would suggest Plantation, Weston, Miramar as your best bets in South Broward, though Fort Lauderdale has some nice new condos and gem neighborhoods, especially it's old Victorian neighborhood. Broward has all the same local employers, with more municipal employment but less jobs at their colleges, i.e. FAU, Nova Southeastern, Broward Community College.

Local papers for South Florida are the Herald (often criticized as a booster sheet), while you also have the slightly more informative alternative weekly, the Miami New Times and its partner the Broward/Palm Beach New Times (great place to find an apartment or house to rent) and the other big paper Sun-Sentinel (or the OTHER Herald). So I would say to anyone- sure, plan your move, take your time and if can be helpful let me know. South Florida is great if you know what to expect and it is hell if you don't.