Three Scenes from the Political Stage

Election night with Steve Clark, Miriam Alonso, and Raul Martinez

Clearly, Steve Clark's security detail was nervous. Having finished his victory speech, the newly elected Miami mayor was in the midst of a series of television interviews when the throng of well-wishers began pressing closer, surrounding the television cameramen on their two-foot-high platform. "Get back, get back!" one plainclothes detective yelled. "No one else on the platform!" But the crowd continued to push, craning to catch a glimpse of this 69-year-old man, who hasn't been the focus of so much attention in decades.

Clark never was one to elicit much enthusiasm. In the late Sixties, during his first stint as Miami's mayor, and more recently, during his two decades as county mayor, he always seemed to move easily within a crowd. Cutting ribbons and handing out ceremonial keys to the city was about as strenuous as it got, a strategy of glad-handing and backslapping that kept him in office. This night, however, was different.

The original plan called for Clark to mingle, thanking his supporters for their hard work and financial support. But although there had been no specific threats against the mayor-elect, given the fanaticism of Miriam Alonso's supporters, nobody wanted to take chances. "He's not going to do the crowd," the plainclothes man informed the officers assembled on the makeshift stage as Clark wrapped up his last TV interview. "Too many people." The detective's eyes carefully scanned the eleventh-floor balcony of International Place, where nearly 1000 people had gathered to celebrate. "Looks like we may have to carry him off the platform and take him out the back."

Sweat pouring down his face, Clark appeared to be slightly disoriented by the crowd and the thrill of the moment. Or perhaps it was the bombardment of questions, the same questions asked six different times by six different television reporters, in two different languages, all in the span of about fifteen minutes.

Realizing how undignified it would look to cart off the city's new leader like a drunk being thrown out the back door of a tavern, the officers formed a flying wedge around Clark and began elbowing their way toward the platform's steps. Dozens of hands pawed through the protective V formation, reaching past the officers to tug on Clark's coat. "Steve, Steve!" screamed several newspaper photographers. "Wave, Steve. Wave!" Clark turned to see who was calling. "Wave, Steve! Wave!" Realizing what was required, he lifted his right arm only slightly, but it was enough to send the motor drives into action. As he turned to follow the detectives, a woman emerged out of nowhere, thrusting her baby in front of her. More out of instinct than affection, Clark kissed the child on the forehead. "Oh, he's kissing the baby," another woman in the crowd sighed as the procession made its way to an elevator that would whisk the mayor to a private suite where he could regain his equilibrium before another battery of interviews for the eleven o'clock news. "He's such a good man."

Steve Clark being propelled along by outside forces -- an apt omen for his upcoming term. In all his years in office, the affable mayor has never been burdened with labels like "revolutionary" or "man of vision." And that was just fine with those in attendance on election night. "He's a listener," explained Sherrill Hudson, a former president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and currently a managing partner in the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche. "I think Steve will represent us very well in the business arena, both nationally and internationally."

Some, like lobbyist Chris Korge, were downright giddy with the possibilities inherent in a Clark administration. "We did it, baby!" Korge shouted, nearly jumping into the arms of Joaquin Avino when he spotted the county manager. "We did it. We really did it."

Mixing with the suits and the cell phones, though, was an odd assortment of characters who seemed more interested in celebrating an Alonso defeat than a Clark triumph. "I've known him for years and I think he is a fantastic person," said a tuxedo-clad Tony Bryant, self-professed black revolutionary and a leader of the militant anti-Castro group Comandos L. "But I really decided to support him because I didn't like Miriam Alonso. If she ever lifts her hand again to run for public office, I'll be there to slap it down."

The only consistent rumbling heard all evening concerned a serious shortage of bartenders, which at the party's zenith left Clark supporters backed up ten deep waiting for cocktails. If the mayor couldn't accomplish something as simple as keeping their glasses filled with Dewars, they joked, how could he solve all of the city's other problems?

Of course, somebody always comes along to rain on the parade. Early in the celebration, Alvino Monk, a black community activist, looked out across the horde of cheering Hispanics and white Anglos. "Where are all the black people?" he asked rhetorically. "This is ridiculous." The black vote -- 80 percent of which went to Clark -- was one of the keys to the mayor's victory, Monk pointed out, yet few black faces were present to herald hizzoner's win. "I think there was a significant investment on our parts getting him into office, and I think we need to see a likewise return on that investment," said Monk. "We need to be more actively involved, so why aren't we here in force? On that score," he added thoughtfully, "I'll say we need to share the blame. We should have known where the party was, but more of us also should have been told."

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