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

The most shrill of the alarmists, understandably, is Victor De Yurre. Should Alonso forge a commission majority, he would be an utter outcast. "People may read what I say and write it off as a lot of B.S.," he allows, "but theirs is the same mentality that brought down a country in 1959."

"With her enemies, it is always the same lies," sighs Marta Flores, Alonso's friend the radio host.

Despite all the dissension, at least two prognosticators speculate that Alonso will rescue Miami from its torpor. "It's so easy to say, 'Oh, Miriam Alonso is a crazy who panders to extremists and abuses power.' But I also see a woman who's pretty brilliant," ventures consultant Phil Hamersmith. "She might analyze her faults and go around them. She might bring a new vigorous emotional leadership to a town that has gotten tired. She might just surprise the hell out of everybody."

"I think Miriam Alonso's election is a long-term benefit for Miami," says Boycott Miami leader H.T. Smith, who was unswayed by a 90-minute meeting with Alonso last month (and who has been incorrectly portrayed by the Herald as a possible late entry in the mayor's race). "We need that type of tragedy to have blacks, whites, and moderate Hispanics say, 'Oh no, we need to come together.' Her election will be equivalent to a human hurricane. We thought Hurricane Andrew was something. Hurricane Miriam is going to blow us away. We need something that dramatic to jolt us back on track."

Out of Exile
Those in attendance at the Miami City Commission meeting of October 18, 1990, would be hard-pressed to dispute Alonso's Force 5 potential. The scene, for all its heartsick, chest-thumping drama, might have played at the University of Havana circa 1955. The bodies were a bit saggier, the stage set distressingly antiseptic. But the rhetoric was vintage revolutionary.

Two hundred Miriamistas surged toward the commissioners, shouting insults, hurling wadded-up dollar bills symbolizing a political sellout. One woman spit at Mayor Suarez. An aide to De Yurre, after spotting an armed man in the crowd outside the chamber, locked herself in an office and flicked off the light. Another city employee fell to her knees and cowered. Chaos reigned.

The issue? The use of the phrase "Latin Quarter" to describe a cluster of commercial projects in Little Havana. It didn't matter that this development was, in scope, tiny. Nor that Alonso would later make peace with project organizers. For now the appellation was a slap in the face to all self-respecting Cubans, a repudiation of the blood and tears shed to build Little Havana. Over the previous week, Alonso had taken to the radio airwaves and whipped her army into a frenzy. Staffers had mobilized protesters and distributed signs.

And still Miriam's motion to strike the phrase from use had failed. De Yurre and Suarez, those traitors, wouldn't even offer a second. Now they were getting what they deserved A the unassailable bitterness of the dispossessed, the cathartic outpouring of a monster awakened.

As the revolt wore on, a more elusive image slid into focus, not of hysterical grandstanding but of one culture forcibly imposing itself onto a second. The trappings were all there: Street peddlers vending victuals outside. The commissioners' decision to address the crowd in Spanish. The sudden, liberating acceptance of a well-placed scream as political expression.

The noise was deafening, the aisles clogged with Miriam's apoplectic troops. None of this, however, discouraged an elderly couple at the rear of the room from edging their way through the crowd. He in a guayabera, she in a modest dress, they stood as archetypes of the viejitos who turned up at every Alonso event to pay homage. Together they drifted through the line of cops whose locked arms guarded the commission dais. The scene was familiar -- an unnoticed moment that revealed years of truth.

Miriam Alonso leaned over the podium, her famous smile gleaming. The viejitos moved closer, oblivious to the furor behind them. They spoke with the diffidence of trusting servants engaged in an historical drama. Miriam was not just their next mayor. She was the prophet sent to deliver them out of exile.

Staff writer Stan Yarbro contributed to this article
This is the second part of a two-part article

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