Meet Miami's Next Mayor

Part 2: Miriam Alonso knows how to put votes together, but she can't seem to separate dirty tricks from politics

No one knows the Alonsos' modus operandi better than Johnny Viso's wife, Emilci. She worked for Miriam Alonso as a full-time special aide for more than three years, from November 1989 to this past January, when she resigned. Though she never got a pay raise from Alonso, in May 1991 she did receive a $1250 bonus. But Emilci Viso recalls her tenure as a living hell. "Miriam had me set up phone banks in her office. She would send me to Hialeah to pick someone up in my car. All on city time," Viso says. "I had to drive her daughter around, and one time she even ordered me to babysit her grandchildren."

The commissioner's staff, Viso claims, was routinely expected to work overtime and weekends unpaid, and to endure tirades from both Alonsos. She remembers an incident in which Miriam shoved a worker named Ivonne Perez-Suarez after Perez-Suarez lowered the office air-conditioning without permission. (Perez-Suarez, who now works for Mayor Xavier Suarez, would not comment for this article.)

Viso says she stayed on the job only because her husband had cancer and couldn't work: "Once I asked to transfer to another department, but Miriam said no. When I finally quit, she screamed, 'I can destroy you and your husband and your daughters, too! You'll never work in this city!'"

According to city records, turnover in Alonso's office has been brisk. In her four years, ten full-time employees have left. New Times located six of those former staffers, but among them only Emilci Viso would comment for the record about her experiences. "Look, everything Emilci says is true. It sounds crazy, but that's how it was. You just got used to it," one former staffer offered before hanging up.

Of Alonso's office dictates, perhaps the most telling was her purported ban on socializing with political foes or their staffs. The directive illustrates how Alonso has dissolved the boundaries between the personal and political realms. Other examples abound.

In 1988, when she was running for county commissioner, Alonso made a pact with candidate Charles Dusseau to support whoever made it into the runoff against incumbent Beverly Phillips. When Dusseau successfully sued to have Alonso removed from the ballot for lying on her oath of candidacy, however, she not only backed Phillips -- whose platform she opposed -- but she has refused to speak to Dusseau since.

Like her constituents, Alonso's antennae are acutely tuned to the potential double-cross. In Little Havana, rumors abound of an apocryphal black book, in which los Alonso allegedly store their list of the "excommunicated." If such a book exists, Pablo Canton probably merits an entry.

This past April Canton, who heads the Little Havana office of the city's Neighborhood Enhancement Team, told a Herald reporter he had advised Alonso that she had to tear down one of her dilapidated properties. The day after the story was published, Canton was called to Alonso's office. He didn't speak with the commissioner, but her anger reportedly was conveyed to him by another city official who had been summoned by Alonso -- Cesar Odio. Before he knew it, Canton was the subject of a Miami Police Department internal affairs investigation. Why? Not even his lawyer seems to know. Canton has refused comment on the matter, but friends say he is being targeted by Alonso in an act of retribution.

Francisco Vidal claims he, too, is a victim of los Alonso. This past March the 66-year-old retiree was severely beaten outside Versailles restaurant in Little Havana after a political breakfast sponsored by the commissioner. Vidal's friends say the attackers, allegedly two Alonso campaign workers, pounced because they thought Vidal was putting up anti-Alonso placards. In a sworn statement given to investigators from the State Attorney's public corruption unit, Miriam Alonso denied any knowledge of or involvement in the incident. But at least one key eyewitness says Alonso and her husband Leonel watched the beating from her car, then drove both assailants from the scene.

The FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office are now investigating a complaint alleging that Leonel Alonso ordered the beating, which left Vidal with a broken arm. And Vidal's attorney says he may file a civil suit charging that Leonel directed the attack and that Miriam illegally abetted the escape of both suspects.

One of the alleged assailants, Humberto Escandon, resigned from the South Miami Police Department in 1990 following allegations he fondled teenage girls in a hotel. He later got a low-level job with the City of Miami. This past January Alonso awarded him a $4000 contract as her liaison to the elderly. Both suspects, Escandon and Pablo Esquijarosa, have pleaded innocent to charges of battery on a person 65 years or older and await trial. Their lawyers claim that five-foot-six Vidal provoked them. Escandon is being represented by attorney Jose Villalobos, who assisted Alonso in appealing the 1988 court decision that disqualified her as a county commission candidate.

Incidents like these, Johnny Viso argues, expose the Alonso regime's real character. "I was a political prisoner; so were these men," he says, pointing to the others around his kitchen table. "All the people gathered here, we fought Castro. We met Miriam through a friend from Cuba and decided to help her. Now we have seen too much the way she operates. It looks to us like she's a communist."

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