Anatomy of a Defeat

Sime says a more pertinent reason for her defeat is that she lost the votes of many antisecessionists. Although all the candidates had supported incorporation, Sime had become so closely linked with the issue that for many foes of incorporation, virtually anyone else would have been a better choice. "I was the focal point, I was the one who worked hard, I was the one seen on the [pro-incorporation] videos, I went to the condos, I was the active one," Sime says. And understandably Sime bragged in a campaign mailing about her efforts. Conte left the issue out of his mailings.

During the campaign, Mary Schulman, a long-time resident who bitterly opposed the key's independence, sent out anti-Sime mailings to residents and hostile letters to Key Biscayne's newspaper, The Islander News. Schulman says Sime's close association with every council issue hurt her. "That was her downfall. The council on the whole had done nothing but disrupt this island for the last three years," says the strident Schulman. "They took a nice community and made it into a battlefield." But Schulman, too, sidesteps the fact that Conte was a member and an officeholder. "He was very low-key," she says, echoing what has become a Zen-like mantra among Conte supporters. "No one really knew him. He was there but he wasn't there."

"I do take stands and I'll continue to do so," Sime insists. "I think that's only fair -- that the people know what your positions are. A lot of politicians won't do that. If that's what you want -- someone who's never going to take a position -- well, then that's what you get."

Sime's firm stand on a seemingly harmless but incredibly divisive issue -- new playing fields for the island's kids -- also cost her votes. She championed a proposal to sod three acres of the Quiet Gardens, a 58-acre botanical reserve at the southern tip of Crandon Park, on the site of the old zoo. Those acres, she proposed, could be supplemented with five acres that were being used as the county's motor pool, and three acres outside the old zoo site. The plan met stiff opposition, particularly from residents of the Commodore Club, a condominium complex adjacent to the gardens. "In my opinion that swayed the election, that one issue," says Conte. The voting results bear out his claim: in the 49th Precinct, which covers the northeast quarter of the island including the Commodore Club, Conte took home 319 votes out of 539 cast, or 59 percent.

"That's what she lost on," agrees Marie Kirk, vice president of the Key Biscayne Property Taxpayers Association, a group that opposed incorporation. "Sime tried to come and please the young people, the PTA group, by saying they were going to have a playing field on the old zoo site. All the condo people voted against it because it was going to be in their back yard." Kirk, who says she's "over 65," points out that the anti-incorporation and Quiet Gardens issues had strong support among the elderly. "The election was more divisive along age lines than anything else," Kirk says. "I guess you'd say it was a battle of the ages."

While many Key Biscayne residents agree that the vote split significantly between the generations, few embrace, or even touch, the issue of ethnicity. On the island, ethnic divisions blur unlike any other city in Dade. At the slightest mention of racial differences, residents will spring forward, protesting earnestly that nothing of that sort exists on their island. However, attorney Eugene Stearns says the election introduced an element of ethnic dynamics that the key has never seen before. He locates the cause in Luis Lauredo's campaign for trustee.

"He did a very, very effective job getting turnout of Hispanic voters that typically aren't involved in the community," says Stearns, one Key resident who doesn't shrink from controversy. "He brought a level of organization to his campaign that the public had no reason to know even existed. He's responsible for 90 to 95 percent of the Hispanic vote and also got out 20 to 25 percent of the Anglo vote." By way of proof, Stearns offers this observation: "Key Biscayne is small and I've been here twenty years, so I know a lot of people. But going to the polls was an unusual experience because I didn't know probably two-thirds of the people walking in to vote. But Luis knew them all." Not coincidentally, Lauredo was the highest vote getter at the polls, garnering 1401 votes, 165 more than Conte and 249 more than his nearest trustee opponent, Clifford Brody.

Stearns says the practical effect of Lauredo's campaigning was to lift the Hispanic percentage of the voting population well above the customary twenty percent. And in any election, Stearns says, those unfamiliar with the issues tend to vote for the name that sounds like their own. "So Rafael, because it was a Hispanic name, got a lot of those votes. If it wasn't for Luis Lauredo, the vote wouldn't have been the same." According to the county's statistical breakdown of voters, 73 percent of Key Biscayne's registered Hispanic voters turned out, compared to 59 percent of registered non-Hispanic white voters. So although Hispanic voters comprise only 25 percent of all registered residents, the Hispanic turnout amounted to nearly 30 percent of all voters who went to the polls.

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