Sunday, November 08, 2009

Miami Beach election time brings out blogger's doubts

We’re in the middle of an election on Miami Beach right now -- runoff time over two seats on the city commission.  In the first round, on general election day Nov. 3, Mayor Matti Bower was re-elected easily, as was Group 1 Commissioner Jerry Libbin. In runoffs are Group 2 candidates Jorge Exposito and Maria Mayer and Group 3 candidates Michael Gongora and Gabrielle Redfern. Runoff day will be Nov. 17.  Those, like me, who registered for absentee ballots should get them in the mail soon.
Your blogger’s only preference is in Group 3, where I know Gabrielle Redfern from Democratic Party meetings, and both of us are on the county Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. She’s a smart and effective advocate for interests of the ordinary folk. This is a severely under-represented group that needs someone like Redfern, with her heart in the right place and wide-ranging experience in public affairs.
The point of this post, however, is more to ask why anyone wants this sort of work. I’m drawing on two fresh sources here, so I’m calling this a rounded look at city government on Miami Beach.
The sources, and their grim views of the Beach, are:
·         Gerald Posner’s new book “Miami Babylon,” a chronicle starting in 1980 into crime, drugs, corruption and elections mostly on Miami Beach, though the mainland is a big, bad player too.
·         Victor Diaz, now leaving office after a year as an appointed Miami Beach city commissioner for Group 3 until the current election decides a successor to Richard Steinberg, who was elected in 2008 to the state House of Representatives. Diaz spoke to the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club on Oct. 27 and implied that money was too big a factor in how city commissioners vote. TaDA! Is that the definition of corruption, or what?
I have only my sketchy notes of Diaz’s talk, and he didn’t name names, so he leaves more of an impression than an indictment. Leave that to Posner’s book.
Before going further, some Miami Beach numbers. Population about 90,000. Registered voters 46,178, of whom only 7,374 voted on Nov. 3. That’s a pitiful turnout of 16%. Still, 16% is important. It’s the share of health care in our national economy, and we know what a big deal that is. Candidates don’t have to send their expensive brochures to every registered voter – only to the ones who always vote.
Last time we had municipal elections, in 2007, the candidates together spent $130.55 per vote cast. A shocking big number, it comes from $1,301,763 reported spent by the candidates, and 9,871 voters.
Our nonpartisan municipal elections are always held in the odd-numbered years so no national or state issues draw out large crowds of voters. Why’s that?
Diaz complained that the commission indulges in “prepackaged” discussion, and he suspected that too many votes were cast at the behest of a lobbyist who had been the commissioner’s campaign consultant.
In the Q-A after Diaz’s talk, I asked about the role of money. He agreed with my drift that money was a big part of our problem and suggested we need a citizens’ PAC for good government and a grass-roots movement to transform city government.
 One of the most pernicious impacts of political money came from the so-called electioneering campaign organizations that send objectionable accusations to voters, Diaz said. The organizations’ filings aren’t due until after the election, so interest vanishes by the time someone could dig out who was behind the vile charges. After last week’s voting, dismissed candidate Sherry Roberts sent out an email saying she couldn’t endorse either of the two who finished ahead of her in Group 2, Jorge Exposito and Maria Mayer, because of such mailers with dubious sourcing and allegations. I’m hereby nominating Sherry Roberts for a big role in that good-government PAC suggested by Diaz.
Diaz said candidates have to be pressed on who’s behind these groups, usually described as shadowy in the media.
Now to Posner’s book, “Miami Babylon,  Crime, Wealth, and Power – a Dispatch from the Beach.” People packed into the furniture store behind Books and Books on Lincoln Road for the author’s talk and signing. In the crowd were a lot of Beach politicians including Mayor Matti Bower and ex-convict former Mayor Alex Daoud – my notes say Posner called him “charismatic but corrupt.”  Daoud got a speaking role in the Q-and-A portion, declaring to Posner, “I don’t give a damn about the criticism. I’ll throw a party for you anytime.”
Some had promised to throw parties for Posner but backed out when they read the book. Posner didn’t seem to think the book was too tough, saying, “Nobody’s going to jail because of this book, and that’s all right.”
But, Posner said, Daoud’s book, “Sins of South Beach,” published in 2006 after he finished his jail time, should have resulted in more prosecutions, because Daoud fingered former Mayor Harold Rosen as having paid bribes to Daoud.
In Posner’s book he puts it this way: “The most surprising thing about Daoud’s disclosure is that it caused no fallout at all. Not a single television or radio news program mentioned it. The Miami Herald assigned a reporter and photographer to interview Daoud and then killed the story.”
The excuse could be that Daoud’s book gives off an aura of unreliability. He prints page after page of old conversations in direct quotes. I never was able to finish the book, though paging through it now I see I missed the hot spots where he gets graphic about the sexual aspect of corruption.
Here are links to two Miami Herald stories on Posner’s book, one before the author’s talk, and the other reporting on that talk.  Note that neither one mentions Posner’s explicit criticism of the city’s flagship newspaper and its role in condoning some corrupt behavior. It must be said on behalf of the Herald that it does some important investigative work exposing corruption, though most of that involves Miami. And Posner used the Herald as source for a lot of his material.
 Miami Beach, Posner speculated, may escape closer attention because its happenings are treated like “neighborhood” stories for the twice-weekly Neighbors section of the Herald. Strange, considering that much of the outside world thinks Miami Beach IS Miami.
One of the good guys of Posner’s book is Frank Del Vecchio, who retired to Miami Beach with wide experience in municipal affairs in Boston and Washington DC and then became the most prominent watchdog of Miami Beach government. Del  Veccio finds it to be part of a badly flawed system in Miami-Dade County. Posner quotes him saying “public/private partnerships in Miami Dade are totally crooked. It is the most corrupt government, at almost every planning and implementation stage, I ever encountered.”
That’s a powerful criticism. And it’s in the air we breathe, apparently. “In Miami, there is no agency tradition, no fear of oversight by another body, and no judicial system that has real peer review standards,” Posner quotes Del Vecchio saying. “Instead, the dominant political constituency, Cuban, is bound by loyalty, not ethics. Even the corrupt politicians up north knew they had to deliver to the communities they served, or they would be out of office. Here, the political interests are not to serve the public good. It’s just all short-term thinking to help themselves. In Miami, the ingrained politicians have more control than the old ward bosses of the Northeast because here they control the banks and own the land. There are no checks and balances.”
One can only wish the best to any honest person who dares run against this environment.
And let’s not forget we’re part of Florida, where Ponzi schemers like Scott Rothstein are big political donors.  Check out the Herald’s latest story on him, In which Gov. Charlie Crist is bold enough to joke that something is going to cost Rothstein “another $100,000.” Brazen is the word for it.
PS: For more on Posner's appearance at Books and Books, go to and search for Miami Babylon. Someone put up a three-part video on the event.
Here's my little video on it:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Investigate Jose Smith, City Attorney of Miami Beach, and his close friends of the Russian Mob on Fisher Island.