Meet Miami's Next Mayor

Political gangster or humble servant, Miriam Alonso wins either way

The second incident occurred in June 1991, when Alonso, alone among city commissioners, refused to sign a proclamation honoring African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela. The document, however, remained out of public view for two weeks. Then Mandela, during an appearance on Nightline, announced his support for Fidel Castro. The next morning one of Alonso's staffers supplied a Spanish-language radio station with a copy of the proclamation. Victor De Yurre and Xavier Suarez soon withdrew their names from the proclamation, an action that spurred the Boycott Miami movement.

After this episode, posters popped up in Overtown and Liberty City depicting Alonso clubbing Mandela and stomping on Haitians. More recently sighted are signs reading, "Miriam Alonso supports Lozano."

"The words I hear most often associated with her in the community are 'dragon lady,'" comments H.T. Smith, the attorney who spearheaded Boycott Miami.

"What she did with Mandela is what she does constantly on Cuban radio," adds Bill Perry, Sr., a former candidate for city commission. "She throws a rock and hides her hand."

But Alonso is mounting a visible effort to redeem herself. In June, after a stray bullet killed a six-year-old black child, Randy Wadley, she met with the grieving family to offer support and spoke at the boy's funeral. She now has several African Americans working on her behalf, including Miller Dawkins, attorney Gary Siplin, and consultant Bobbie Mumford, and is ardently courting black leaders by meeting with them to introduce "the real Miriam Alonso" and presenting a detailed package of her voting record.

Like all perceived winners, she also is finding old enemies willing to become new friends -- Richard Dunn, for example. After the Mandela debacle, he denounced her on the radio as a "racist demagogue." Now the Liberty City preacher and former school board candidate is publicly supporting her. "We still don't see eye-to-eye on Mandela," he says, "but she supported me in my run for school board, and I'm backing her. I've matured."

In February 1990 Juan Garcia, former top aide to Xavier Suarez, launched a public smear campaign against Alonso, claiming she owed him $8500 for work done on a previous campaign. "During the worst eight years of the communist regime, when thousands of people were executed, she was a close collaborator of the government," he told radio audiences. Today Garcia is on Alonso's campaign team. "She was the first one to call after Suarez fired me in 1991," Garcia recalls. "She told me, 'Now you know who your true friends are,' and that same night I went by her house to discuss the campaign." The outstanding debt has not been discussed again.

Life as a Landlord
Consider her one of the little people.
Until two months ago Jakonda Espinales lived in a cramped three-bedroom apartment at 1432 SW Eleventh Terrace. But Espinales failed to pay the $575 rent due on June 1. A week later she was given three days' notice to pay, and booted a fortnight after that. As part of the eviction action taken by Leonel Alonso, who with his wife Miriam owns the building, Espinales proferred but one document in her defense. The note, scrawled in barely legible Spanish, reads in part: "The owner of this property has refused to make repairs, such as the air-conditioner, which has not be repaired in eight months. When he collects pay he says he will repair, but we have been here for sixteen months and no repairs. Almost the entire house is in bad condition. I made some repairs but there is something everywhere.... I need time to move out."

Espinales, a factory worker, says she was uprooted a week after giving birth to her third child. She has since moved to an apartment in Hialeah, where, as she notes proudly, "They actually have maintenance."

Some of the Alonsos' other tenants have not been so lucky. They still have to worry about children falling down an unlit staircase. Or playing in a dark parking lot littered with broken bottles and garbage. "I put the chain up to keep the kids away from the stairs," says one single mother. "It also makes a good doorbell." On this particular August night, she is painting the small one-bedroom apartment for which she pays $475. The task, aided by a pair of gleefully splattered children, is the latest of several undertaken since she moved in several months ago. "I gave Leonel a list but they just don't care," says the computer saleswoman who, like other tenants, feared retribution if she supplied her name. "She's the mayor or commissioner or whatever, so she must know it's illegal. But since the hurricane, it's been tough to find a place. You put up with a lot when you've got kids." Like the bum air conditioner. And the gaping hole under the sink. And the fire extinguisher that expired in April 1990.

At a nearby building on SW Seventh Street, residents say the maintenance is so shoddy one of the tenants has become a de facto superintendent. "We've spent maybe $250 on repairs since we moved in, and they've raised the rent a hundred dollars," says a mother of three. Her latest dilemma? A broken bedroom window and walls that leak when it rains. "Leonel used to try to say that he didn't own the building," she claims. "But later he came by to collect fifteen dollars from the tenants to pay the water bill."

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