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

Through her show, Flores supplies Alonso with a direct line to her constituents. (Before his death last year, Mambi's Fernando Penabaz, dean of Cuban radio hosts, played the same role.) Flores, in turn, boosts her ratings by spotlighting Alonso and enjoys the notoriety of rubbing shoulders with one of the most powerful politicians in town. (Last year Alonso's office suggested to Javier Soto, director of the now-defunct Latin Stars program, that Flores be commemorated with a sidewalk star on Calle Ocho.)

One of the few vocal Alonso critics in the Latin media is Luis Fernandez Caubi, a crusty former radio host and columnist for Diario Las Americas. "Miriam is too much in love with the microphone," he argues. "It is a need to aggrandize herself, which has nothing to do with governing."

Caubi remembers hosting los Alonso during their early activist days, "when they made the rounds to all the stations." But as Miriam evolved from activist to candidate, Caubi grew leery of her relations with the press. "She and Leonel would come into the station with a news release. But instead of giving it to the news editor, she would go directly to the air. And then what you got wasn't just the news, but the PR as well. After she was elected, she used to call Marta Flores after each [commission] meeting and give her spin on the votes. She has even gone on radio to urge people to protest at the commission, to disrupt the political process. And my impression of this is that she was trying to govern through the radio, which is exactly what Castro did."

Alonso's role as a top newsmaker in Cuban Miami, however, also allows her considerable leverage in dealing with news directors. There are those, such as veteran broadcaster Tomas Garcia Fuste of WCMQ (AM-1210), who will admit they have gently tried to dissuade Alonso from expecting that she can show up, unannounced, for interviews. But others remain hesitant to criticize their most dependable source.

In fact, there is a common perception among Spanish-language journalists that their English-language counterparts, especially the Miami Herald, have it out for Alonso. "I think all the downtown powers, including the Herald, are fearful of Miriam because she is not someone they can tame," Tomas Regalado contends.

That observation resonates among Herald reporters assigned the task of covering Alonso. "She tries to intimidate," says one staffer. "And if you do write something that displeases her, she unleashes these thundering denunciations. She'll denounce you on radio and she'll go over your head to an editor."

A case in point: Following a July 22 commission meeting at which Alonso won concessions from Dade County concerning construction of a new sewer pipeline under Biscayne Bay, the Herald published an article saying Alonso had "retreated" from her pledge to oppose the project. Within hours Alonso was on the phone with Herald bigwigs. Later she and a cadre of advisors bustled into a meeting with executive editor Doug Clifton to complain that reporter Dexter Filkins had unfairly linked her to another opponent of the pipeline and had neglected to give her credit for the bargain she had struck with the county.

Alonso also tends to react to negative coverage by accusing individual reporters, or the Herald in general, of being anti-Cuban. "It gets personal real fast," says another Herald reporter. Adds political consultant Phil Hamersmith: "She doesn't really understand how the American press works. She sees it as something to be controlled, which is ironically the same way communism views it."

If she senses a critical story in the offing, Alonso has been known to cut short interviews. She also has misled journalists -- about where she lives, who she has met with, even what papers she has filed with the city clerk. In dealing with New Times, Alonso and her staff have exhibited an edginess that borders on paranoia. "Who have you been talking to?" snapped Mary Wilson, her chief of staff, when first approached. Over a four-week period, New Times made more than two dozen requests for an interview. Wilson, Alonso, and Gary Siplin, her liaison to the media, all promised an audience would be granted. At Siplin's request the newspaper provided a preliminary list of questions, then a complete list. These elicited no response.

Alonso's office wouldn't even supply New Times with a resume or a schedule of her upcoming activities. The only definitive response finally came from Siplin. "We've got a problem here," he fumed the morning after two New Times reporters had interviewed several tenants living in Alonso rental properties. "We've got people from your organization harassing city officials and tenants trying to get negative statements. She's not going to comment."

Angel Maldonado's problems have been more acute. His weekly El Expreso, based in a strip mall off Calle Ocho, has been a dependable thorn in the side of los Alonso. In return, Maldonado says, Miriam Alonso's operatives steal his paper constantly. He suspects her supporters may be behind other acts of sabotage as well. "She is working for the Communist Party," Maldonado declares. "I helped her campaign by putting ads in my newspaper, but when I asked her for help in return, she never called back. That's when I knew she was a communist."

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