Larry Hawkins The Man Who Loved Women

Vietnam left him paralyzed and in constant pain. But his female co-workers -- who have spent the past fifteen years fending off unwanted advances and inappropriate comments -- say his greatest handicaps are from the neck up.

But that list and those names had been public record for more than a year. "Now you're getting into something that is really interesting," Hawkins says. "It was in Centorino's file over a year ago and [Herald reporter] Dexter Filkins looked at it. If they didn't know, they should have known, because every other piece of the file was looked at." Filkins says he did examine the file months ago but did not see the "mystery list." Regardless, Hawkins contends that the Herald's coverage cannot be considered impartial because the allegations struck so close to home. Petchel and Krog, he points out, later denied being sexually harassed.

Petchel's published comments, however, were far from reassuring: "He did make what I consider to be lewd and sexually inappropriate remarks to me while I was a beat reporter covering the Metro Commission."

During his three-hour interview with New Times, Hawkins said he didn't know what Petchel was talking about. "What does she consider to be inappropriate?" he asked. "We're talking real subjective stuff here. This is from a girl who I suggested should wear longer skirts rather than shorter skirts."

Perhaps sensing that Hawkins might be heading down another dangerous path, observers Phil Hamersmith and Terry Murphy grew quiet. The commissioner continued: "I thought someone who was a Miami Herald reporter shouldn't be wearing the skirts that she did. I said to her, 'You know, you need to be wearing some longer skirts.' And she said" -- here Hawkins raised his voice to mimic a coquettish young woman -- "'Oh, you don't like them so high?' And I said, 'No, not on you.' Maybe that was inappropriate. I don't know."

At that point both Hamersmith and Murphy jumped in. Hamersmith admitted he could see how Petchel might misunderstand a comment like that. "She may have taken that as a hurtful thing," he ventured, "as if Larry might have been saying, in a kind way, 'You don't have very attractive legs.'"

Murphy offered that such verbal sparring between reporters and politicians goes on all the time -- especially with reporters like Petchel who have written negative stories about Hawkins.

Hawkins added that he was simply trying to tell Petchel she should dress more professionally. "I don't think I said anything in that context that was inappropriate," he concluded, noting that he didn't force Petchel to interact with him: "You don't have to come into my office. If you don't like me, call me on the phone. If you don't want to hear my voice, don't call me."

But why would Hawkins feel the need to make a comment about Petchel's skirt in the first place? And why would he tell an investigator that Mary DiFede's breasts are too small to ogle? Or that he wouldn't have exposed himself to Paula Ramsey because, even though she is "well endowed," she isn't very attractive?

"This is the core of everything," Hamersmith answered as Hawkins sat in silence, seemingly baffled by the thought that he'd done anything wrong. "The guy is into flirting, as he said. He's into bantering, as he said. He's single, as he said. He likes to do small talk. He's a talker. He would probably be a lot safer, and wouldn't be sitting here with you and I today in this situation if he was one of those reserved, quiet guys who never said anything to anybody."

That's the lesson, Hawkins agreed. He needs to hold his tongue.
"He's going to be a dull guy," Hamersmith vowed, referring to Hawkins's upcoming commission campaign.

"I'm not going to be a dull guy," the commissioner countered, "but when it deals with women, I have to be very, very careful."

Still, why does he say such things? And if he makes incredibly stupid and inappropriate remarks to reporters and investigators he knows are scrutinizing his conduct, is it so hard to believe he would make comments or behave in a way female members of his staff would find degrading and insulting?

Hawkins stared down at his desk and said nothing, lost in thought. "The thing people don't understand," he said at last, "it's kind of like a pressure valve -- you've got all of this goddamn steam built up inside this engine that's got to keep working and working. Every once in a while it's got to be let go, and not in a sexual manner, not in a demeaning manner, but just in a way that he doesn't have to think about everything. I'm human and I make mistakes. I say things sometimes. And if I've said things sometimes that have hurt people, I'm sorry."

Could he think of anything specific he'd done or said for which he's now sorry? Hawkins paused and shook his head. He couldn't think of a single thing. But being a well-trained politician, he said he was prepared to take responsibility for his actions: "I take 100 percent responsibility, because in the end, I'm the only one who can say or not say something. In the end, I'm the only one who has hurt or not hurt someone. In the end, I'm the one responsible. I take 100 percent of the blame. Do I think that Dusty Melton and the Miami Herald and Joe Centorino either erred or did things detrimental to me? Yes, I do. But in the end, I have to take responsibility."

For what, though, he still wasn't sure.

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