By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
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By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Munzenrieder
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About a month ago, during a wide-ranging, three-hour interview, Dade County Commissioner Larry Hawkins spoke about allegations that he had sexually harassed a woman who worked for Vietnam Veterans of America. Until recently Hawkins had been a member of that organization's board of directors. Paula Ramsey, the San Francisco woman who filed the harassment complaint against him, was the VVA's manager for product sales.
This is what Hawkins had to say about the complaint and the commotion that ensued after he resigned from the VVA's board of directors: "Trash for cash! That's all that is. So just put that aside." Ramsey and her attorney, Hawkins charged, were attempting to extort money from him to keep the allegations quiet. The attorney, Lanny Fielder, had demanded a million dollars from him and from the VVA, Hawkins claimed. "What you have is two people who are going 'trash for cash' because they think I'm vulnerable and that I'll roll over," Hawkins asserted. Both of them, he added, were aware that three of Hawkins's former office employees had charged him with sexual harassment, and they told Hawkins if he didn't want to be embarrassed further, Ramsey would have to be compensated.
The commissioner wasn't content merely to expose Ramsey's motives; he was ready to prove that her charges were false. First, Hawkins began, Ramsey claimed he was drinking hard liquor on the night he went to her hotel room during a convention and supposedly grabbed her breasts and exposed himself to her. His rebuttal: The only alcohol he ever drinks is beer. The second proof that she was lying -- the clincher -- should have been obvious to anyone who knew him and who had actually seen Ramsey. "This woman," he said, "happens to be, in my opinion, fairly unattractive."
During this interview in his downtown commission office, Hawkins had been joined by his executive assistant, Terry Murphy, and his well-known political consultant, Phil Hamersmith. Both men had taken seats on a couch across from Hawkins's desk. Now, as Hawkins ventured down this dubious aesthetic line of defense, Murphy began to squirm. "You see, Terry goes crazy when I say that," Hawkins said with a smile while motioning to his assistant, who laughed nervously.
Undeterred, Hawkins plowed ahead. "She happens to have," he began, then stopped in midsentence. "She's very well endowed, okay? But she is not an attractive person."
Hawkins turned toward his political consultant. "Philip goes back with me to 1978, and I think he will tell you that women I have dated have not been completely unpleasant or intellectually deficient," Hawkins noted with pride. "I have pretty good taste, I guess you could say, when it comes to women." Hamersmith smiled but said nothing.
During an interview subsequent to Hawkins's assertions of extortion, Lanny Fielder, whois not only Paula Ramsey's attorney but also her ex-husband, denied they had ever asked for money from Hawkins or the VVA. "That's all bullshit," he said disgustedly. "There was one comment about money, and it came from [Hawkins's personal attorney, George Yoss]. He said Paula won't be able to get any money from Larry because he's judgment-proof -- he doesn't have any money. And I told him we didn't want any money. All we wanted was for Larry to apologize and say he wouldn't do this to anyone else."
Hawkins had urged New Times to contact VVA attorney John Catterson, who, he said, would be able to verify Ramsey's demand for cash. "Paula has never asked for any money," Catterson replied emphatically in a phone interview from his New York City law office. "Lanny Fielder has never asked for any money. Both of them made it very clear that the only thing they wanted was an apology from Larry and a promise by him that he wouldn't do that to any other women again."
Hawkins made his charges before New Times had obtained a copy of a VVA report investigating Paula Ramsey's complaint, and before the highly critical contents of that report were publicized in the Miami Herald. The Herald article, published last week, made no mention of Hawkins's opinion that Ramsey is unattractive and thus unlikely to have been the object of his desires. And it included nothing about "trash for cash."
Was Hawkins lying to New Times? Or was this simply a misunderstanding? Catterson admitted he did discuss money with Hawkins and his attorney, George Yoss. But he brought up the subject only as a solemn warning to the two men, a warning based on his review of Ramsey's allegations and of Hawkins's conduct: "I said to George and to Larry that Paula could sue us for millions of dollars." Not that she had threatened to sue, but that she would be justified in bringing a lawsuit.
Dissembling and misunderstandings have marked every phase of the tumult surrounding Hawkins and the VVA. From Hawkins's point of view, flattering comments and innocent gestures toward Ramsey and another VVA staffer had been sadly misinterpreted. John Catterson, who investigated and co-authored the VVA report on the affair, came to a dramatically different conclusion. "Throughout the course of this investigation," he wrote in his report, "Mr. Hawkins has, in the opinion of the investigators, demonstrated a total lack of candor and a profound lack of understanding of the serious nature of the charges against him.... In a shocking demonstration of his lack of understanding and, to both investigators, a reflection of his true character and arrogance, Mr. Hawkins made two totally inappropriate responses to our inquiry. During our telephone conference on February 5, Mr. Hawkins made a shocking reference to Ms. Ramsey's figure. He said, 'It may sound chauvinistic, but Paula has big boobs.'"