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By Kyle Munzenrieder
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By Terrence McCoy
But even that small sampling offers a telling glimpse into the methods Gersten has used in his efforts to influence Herald coverage of him: a pattern of attacks on reporters, disarming appeals to Lawrence, and, when all else fails, obfuscation of issues and suggestions that the paper investigate someone else. Presumably to add emphasis to the delivery of his missives, Gersten's habit has been to have them hand-delivered by the county commission's sergeant-at-arms, Lael Schumacher, who is a Metro-Dade police officer charged with providing security for the mayor and commissioners.
Such was the case when Gersten learned, in the fall of 1991, that the Herald was probing his relationships with various bond dealers. As part of her investigation, reporter Lisa Getter sought to interview Gersen, which prompted this letter to Lawrence: "After reflecting on my previous interviews with Ms. Getter, and the resulting articles, I have declined," Gersten wrote on October 2, 1991. "Simply, David, I choose not to participate in a story that I believe is being contrived for the purpose of injuring my reputation. Ms. Getter has told others that my refusal to grant her an interview will have negative ramifications. I believe that you will not permit your newspaper to enforce a policy of punishing someone who doesn't do what your reporters want them to do."
While Gersten was unwilling to be interviewed by Getter, he did propose to Lawrence "to meet with you or [Knight-Ridder chairman] Jim Batten alone and off the record, to discuss Ms. Getter's sources, certain activities of these sources, and their motives, which, as a newsman as well as publisher, you will find quite intriguing."
A few weeks later Gersten sent along another letter, this time to Herald executive editor Doug Clifton but again addressing the subject of investigative reporter Getter:
"I offered to discuss with Mr. Lawrence or Mr. Batten the motives and activities of certain of Ms. Getter's sources. That offer was not accepted. Thus, it is with regret that I am forced to commit the following to writing.
"In her position as a reporter, Ms. Getter, for at least three years, has been furthering the financial interests of certain of her personal friends, who are also her sources. I am silent as to whether or not she is doing so knowingly."
Gersten provided no proof for his allegations. Instead he referred to the coverage of him as a conspiracy: "I am certain that the Miami Herald's institutional desire to believe the worst of me, together with what I know is Ms. Getter's deep personal animosity towards me, have been transformed into reckless disregard for the truth and malicious intent, both of which have been aided and abetted by certain Miami Herald news editors. Neither you, Mr. Lawrence, nor the officers and directors of Knight-Ridder, Inc., can disown responsibility for her actions.
"You are now on actual notice of the above and have sufficient evidence to warrant an objective inquiry into the above charges against Ms. Getter," Gersten concluded, employing the ominous language of imminent litigation.
Herald executives say they placed no credibility in Gersten's allegations. "We have the utmost faith in Lisa Getter's integrity," says executive editor Clifton. "There was never a shadow of a doubt that she wasn't acting out of anything but the desire for solid journalism.
"Gersten acts with us as he does with others," Clifton adds. "He's the kind of a guy who talks a lot, accuses a lot, speaks in rhetoric. We take it as it comes and we deal with the facts as they are."
"I want my good name restored and your vote is how I can wash this dirt that has been piled on me by professional criminals and murderers and whores and drug addicts off of me."
A Joe Gersten, 8/6/92, during a televised interview on street corners, in political forums, before anyone who will listen to him, Joe Gersten has sounded this refrain: I have not been charged. I have not been indicted. This is America, where a man is innocent until proven guilty.
As a courtroom principle, innocent until proven guilty is the minimum standard applied to judgment. As a standard of judgment in the voting booth, however, many observers say it has little application. Friends and political consultants advised Gersten not to run again for office, to step aside, to wait for the allegations to show themselves true or false, and to rebuild his reputation and effectiveness by volunteering to assist community projects.
"I really think that Joe should not have run," says political consultant Ric Katz, who has supported Gersten in the past but is now representing one of his challengers, Bruce Kaplan. "Guilty or innocent, he has a major public-image problem to repair. The public no longer has confidence in him."
"He has gone way beyond the line politically," says Phil Hamersmith, another prominent political consultant who has organized prior campaigns for Gersten. "It's not one story that does you in in politics, it's ten stories. And Joey's had 50 written about him. It's just inconceivable to me that Joey could win."
Instead of heeding such warnings, Gersten has plunged ahead and entered the race for county commission in the newly created District 5, which includes Miami Beach south of 71st Street and a portion of Little Havana.