By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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By Kyle Swenson
Ken Lange came to Miami fresh out of law school in 1978 to join the Dade State Attorney's Office as a major-crimes prosecutor. In five years with the office, he sent hundreds of felons to prison. His specialty was first-degree murder. By 1983, ready for a change, Lange went into practice as a criminal defense attorney. Not a pretty line of work, he concedes, but one that has afforded him an intimate view of the criminal mind - and made him a strident supporter of barricades. "I think I have pretty good insight into the mentality," says Lange, from inside the dead-bolted confines of his fifth-floor Bay Harbor Islands office. "That's why I knew street closures would work. The key to cutting crime is preventing the criminal from casing your area by car. When you close off a street, suddenly you start to notice when strange cars are in your neighborhood. There's a sense of who belongs and who doesn't."
An avid runner who prefers polo shirts to power ties, Lange moved to Miami Shores with his wife a year after joining the private sector. The couple settled into a two-story house a block east of Miami Avenue on Northeast 96th Street. "I fell in love with the place," he recalls. "It felt like a real community. People were involved with issues. There was a kind of small-town feeling, as small-town as you can get in the middle of a huge city. I said when I got here, `The only way I'm leaving the Shores is in a box.'"
The move mellowed Lange, as did the birth of his daughter three years ago. But he lost none of the street hustle from his days as the state's top homicide prosecutor. When he heard a barricade plan was afoot, he set to work organizing his neighbors. "We have a corps of people working," he explains. "Each block has a leader and six or seven block captains. Under that we've got about five or six serious workers. In the referendum, our section had over 90 percent support for the barricades." Here Lange pauses, pulling back from the black formica desk he gavels with his fist to stress key points. "The fact is, we should have gotten barricades in that first phase." Both "first" and "phase" get gavels.
Instead, barricades went up two blocks west, along Northwest Second Avenue. Lange maintains the barriers have channeled cross-town traffic through his neighborhood, which lies in the prime shortcutting turf between I-95 and Biscayne Boulevard. "We've got the heaviest traffic in the Shores. People speed through there incredibly. They'll go down my street at 50 or 55 miles per hour," he says, his thick New England accent rising into a Wally Cleaver-like yelp. "That's a highway speed limit, you know?"
Without barricades or neighborly vigilance, Lange foresees a Miami Shores infested with crack houses and chop shops. Like most villagers, he has at least one real-life crime story to back up the doomsaying. "My neighbor across the street was home-invaded by guys with ski masks and shotguns. They hit him in the head with a shotgun," Lange says. "He was a good neighbor and he moved as a result of that home invasion. Had the barricades been there - and I think the police will agree with me on this - that home invasion would likely never have happened."
Lange insists he made efforts to compromise with the anti-barricade folks west of Miami Avenue, even going so far as to stuff their mailboxes with a leaflet offering to discuss a plan to install protective barricades on both sides of the thoroughfare. The response? A counterpamphlet that opened with the proclamation: Don't Get Fooled by Ken Lange's Flyer! "I wasn't trying to fool anyone, I was trying to help," Lange mutters.
"Ken Lange's help we can do without," asserts Mark Sell, the man chiefly responsible for the rebuttal. A veteran journalist who now works for the Miami Review, Sell is a curious breed, a kind of enlightened yuppie who can discuss alternative rock bands in one breath and lament property values the next. Still baby faced at 40, he moved into a small house just west of Miami Avenue two years ago. Like Lange, he was newly married and thinking of starting a family. For now he spends much of his time babying his two springer spaniels. The early evening ritual of dog-walking lends Sell an opportunity to muse about the fate of the Shores's western border and the threat posed by Lange's beloved barricades. "I call it the screw-your-neighbor program," Sell says, stumbling down 98th Street at the mercy of his spaniels. "We get to pay taxes to shut ourselves off from the village."
Sell believes erecting barricades along Miami Avenue will further marginalize the Shores's less-wealthy western edge, driving down property values and setting the stage for a mass exodus. "This is a good neighborhood, one that's working hard to save itself," he says, illustrating the point by rattling off the professions of a half-dozen of his neighbors. He continues down the sidewalk, past neatly kept, single-story houses, spouting a steady stream of pithy declarations: "We paid to live in the castle, not the moat." "Putting those barricades in is like taking $5000 out of my pocket. It's a political mugging." "Why don't they just put a wall around the city, charge ten dollars admission, and call it a theme park?" And so on.