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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

He May Go to Jail but They're Both Crooks

So the South Miami mayoral election is over and Horace G. Feliu has won, defeating incumbent Mayor Mary Russell Scott. This follows a pre-election candidate forum several days ago that descended by all accounts into bedlam, with shouting, intimidation tactics, trashed campaign material, barely disguised race baiting and the candidates walking out before having a chance to speak.
Interesting race for a few reasons. One, South Miami has a mix very much reflective of Dade, ethnically speaking. They have had some nasty back and forths on the whole ethnic thing in their political races. Two, they have issues of corruption, development, shady politicians, etc. Add to this that the shadow of the Latin Builders Association has been raised and, well...

South Miami has been a relatively properous, all American sort of city (as the proclaimed by aging banners), a place where Hispanic as well as Anglo residents escaped to avoid Miami's problems. The city has maintained its suburban character along with many of its old German, Scotch, Anglo and Bahamian residents who originally settled the area. In the past decade it has gained a number of Venezuelan residents. Yet in recent years the city cannot seem to just get along.

It really started to get ugly back in '96 mayoral race but successful two time mayor Julio Robiana (now a state representative) was able to deflect outright ethnic attacks by stressing that he was born in Miami and was just as concerned with "Mariel riff-raff" as anyone. Beyond the racial issue was accusations of mismanagement, questionable associations, etc. Further commissioner races is where the ethnic tension really heated up.

The whole ethnic thing has toned down, though a person made a racially tinged public statement about Feliu characterizing him as "sort of Hispanic" or something to the effect (which was a confusing attack)... Or maybe it hasn't. Sergio Pino and other Latin Builders Association linked developers contributed to Ms. Scott's campaign. This gained her the title of the "LBA (Latin Builders Association) Candidate". Many were angry with her supporting a condo/office/retail compex that a Chicago company planned for downtown South Miami. It was pointed out that the existing South Miami retail and office space was under utilized, especially at the Sunset Mall. When local controlled developement folks asked for a scaled back version of the building Ms. Scott took the side of the developer. This seemed to cement her reputation among detractors in the controlled development camp, including many Anglo voters. The development was cancelled but the damage was done. (The Chicago based company cited concern of a real estate market down turn.)

Mary Scott Russell had created an alliance with Black politicians who represent a sizable portion of the community. The Black community, largely descendents of the earliest Miami settlers from the Bahamas, has some economic problems, exacerbated by governmental neglect and discriminatory zoning and planning (their neighborhoods are isolated from the normal grid and city storage and parking facilities blight the area). South Miami's Black population does have a high rate of home ownership and access intergrated schools. And they vote. Or at least they did in the last election before heavy handed, racist policing became an issue.

Anyone who has been to downtown South Miami on a Friday night has witnessed the rowdy, largely Hispanic crowds of youth who have been responsible for several shootings, stabbings and group fist fights. Some of the youth may belong to self styled gangs and there also seems to be petty drug dealing and use. The Black community feels that the police target their children for arrests while even the middle class Hispanic and Anglo families that live east of US 1 cannot convince the police to crack down on Hispanic youth violence. A complaint that Miamista has been privy to was circulated to elected officials where a Black professional was harrassed, followed and asked to leave by an a female South Miami police officer (McCarty) at a Barnes and Noble bookstore without cause. So much for Black support of the outgoing mayor Ms. Russell.

Horace Feliu is not without his own problems, including four outstanding charges leveled by the County Commission on Ethics, (itself a dubious organization) stemming from the last election cycle where he may have broken a slew of campaing finance regulations. He was able to turn the tables regarding this situation however, citing his election day arrest on these charges by an officer who allegedly said he "wanted Mary Russell Scott to win". What was perhaps overlooked, especially by the South Miami News, is that the arrest happened after all votes where in.

The Miller family owned South Miami News was ostensibly non-partisan but the popular paper (part of a string of local journals) did favor Feliu. They cited the issue of the questionably timed arrest again and again. It is difficult to see why the paper's publisher supported Mr. Feliu. The Miller family through their papers seem good at hedging, usually supporting developers except when it is it untenable while still maintaining readership, such as in East Perrine and the Redlands. They also give a voice in the sheets of their journals to local concerns, even to controlled development proponents, albeit a tiny one. So far their partisanship and support for developers has undercut their ability to fill the vacuum in our no-newspaper town...

What I thought was disturbing about the previous South Miami mayoral election was that people assumed that Mary Scott Russell, a real estate developer and major property owner was somehow going to champion controlled growth. The assumption seemed to be that any White candidate opposed unfettered, unplanned growth, and Hispanics supported such growth. Maybe this election signals a new era when Dade residents look beyond ethnic background, cheezy pandering, and self serving political alliances to go with who ever is the best candidate offered, even if the best candidate is someone being investigated on ethics.

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