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

Maldonado stomps one white loafer for emphasis and folds his arms. A radio broadcast can be heard through the flimsy walls of his office. There would be a tendency, given the shabby look of his operation and his dubious leaps of logic, to write off Maldonado as a crank. But then, it was his paper that broke the story of Francisco Vidal, the old man allegedly beaten by Alonso supporters outside Versailles.

Miriam as Mayor
When it comes to forecasting Alonso's anticipated tenure as mayor, two schools of thought prevail. Theory one: Having achieved her goal, she will devote her immense energies to reviving Miami. Theory two: Absolute power will corrupt her absolutely.

Xavier Suarez stands somewhere in the vast, cautious middle ground. While he publicly announced a few months ago that he would endorse anyone but Miriam Alonso, he is sounding far more conciliatory these days. "The plus for Miriam is that she does her homework and puts in her hours," says Suarez, whose decision not to run for a third term solidified expectations of an Alonso victory. "But she's going to need to make a quantum leap in her m.o. to be effective. She can't try to function with too much power in herself."

"The word on Miriam," says one less diplomatic politician, "is that she's going to win on Tuesday and change the locks on Wednesday."

Supported by Miller Dawkins, Alonso will have a majority on the commission should her ally Alfredo Bared win his race against Wilfredo Gort. The scuttlebutt making the rounds at city hall is that she will use this voting bloc to pass an executive-mayor resolution and to force the issue to a voter referendum that could oust City Manager Cesar Odio, whom she once backed but has recently castigated.

Loyalists agree that Alonso will be, at least figuratively, a strong mayor. And such a presence, they say, should be welcome after eight years of listless leadership under Suarez. The vision they convey is that of making the city work again, of returning the construction cranes to downtown, and stepping up the drive to attract international trade. Of making the trains run on time. These grand ambitions may not directly aid her fixed-income aficionados, but they do befit the almost regal image Alonso enjoys along Calle Ocho.

Just as important, they befit the "new Miriam" her image-makers are marketing outside Little Havana: the no-nonsense technocrat with a firm grasp of infrastructure problems and trade issues. Shedding the radical label, or obscuring it when necessary, is part of Alonso's uneasy pilgrimage toward mainstream politics, a perilous journey that risks alienating her most fervent base of support -- the militantly anti-Castro core of Cuban Miami.

Still, to many young, upwardly mobile Cubans -- those who have embraced American culture -- Alonso's ascent has been viewed as a monumental embarrassment. "She personifies all that was wrong with the Seventies," asserts Richard Perez-Feria, editor of the bilingual magazine Miami Mensual. "The polarization and fanaticism. I mean, after twenty years, this is what we've learned? I do not want this woman to represent me. Neither do the majority of moderate Cubans. The problem is, none of my yuppie friends think politics affects them, so they don't vote."

This fissure within el exilio deepens when considering the subject of relations with Cuba. Right-wingers are overjoyed at the prospect of Alonso -- one of them ideologically -- leading Miami during the time they believe Fidel Castro will fall. Progressive exiles fear her posturing could inhibit the process of normalizing relations. "There is a growing recognition that there are certain needs Cubans have that the exile community may soon be able to solve," notes Francisco Aruca, a commentator on Uni centsn Radio (WOCN-AM 1450), whose business interests include licensed charter flights between Miami and Havana. "Sending remittances to family, visiting. The question is, do we want a mayor of Miami who contributes to this process, or interprets any attempt to help the people of Cuba as a political recognition of the government?"

Aruca sees grim signs. In March, after pro-Castro and anti-Castro demonstrators clashed outside Radio Mambi, Alonso recommended a ban on pro-Castro rallies. More recently she floated a short-lived proposal to rescind the occupational licenses of Miami companies that do business with Cuba. "What I see is a leader who still caters to the most racist, intolerant, fanatic segments of our community," Aruca says. "And that is playing with a powder keg."

Finally there is the predictable dispute over Leonel Alonso's veiled presence. "He is her partner, and together they are a stronger team," says Raquel Regalado. "It's like getting two leaders for the price of one, like with the Clintons."

Others see a dangerous alchemy. "They're both so intense and they just feed off each other," says former Alonso campaign coordinator Johnny Viso. "The result is that Miriam has no one to tell her she's full of shit." Adds a long-time politician who requested anonymity: "We used to joke that the Alonsos were like Juan and Evita Per centsn. But the fact is he's nowhere near as good as Juan, and she's far better than Evita. That damn pompous husband is Miriam's biggest liability."

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