Burke Besieged

The Florida Elections Commission and the Florida Bar. Maybe the FBI, too. For a man who won automatic re-election, Metro Commissioner James Burke seems to have a lot of explaining to do.

Whatever the case, federal law enforcement agencies seem determined to find out: Federal sources confirm that a probe involving the Hardemons' allegations is pending. They refuse to comment further.

Billy Hardemon admits writing and helping to deliver the withdrawal letter but says he did it at Roy's request. The rest of his brothers' allegations he dismisses as fiction. "I'm pretty disappointed New Times would lend any credibility to this," he complains. "First of all, I don't think Roy is the type of individual who can be intimidated by verbal threat A he's a pretty rough guy. I'm convinced [his story is] a complete fabrication...[he] concocted a damnable lie." Sabrina Hardemon, a younger sister, backs Billy's account of events.

Burke denies that he or anyone connected with his campaign coerced Roy Hardemon out of the race or had anything to do with any alleged bribe. "I don't even want to deny it, because I don't even want to legitimize these allegations," the commissioner grumbles. "With government, you can go and say, 'I just saw Elvis,' and investigators will open a file on it." Burke also questions his accusers' credibility. "If I had Roy's arrest record, it would go from here to there," he says, holding a hand about five feet above the floor. (Roy Hardemon says he was arrested only once -- for attempted kidnapping, assault, and armed robbery. That case was closed with no action. But court records indicate that he has been arrested at least six other times on an array of charges, including assault-and-battery and disobeying a police officer. He has twice been convicted for disorderly conduct and on related counts of resisting arrest without violence and trespassing.)

About a month ago, James Burke left Miami and drove north for a vacation. Over the next several days, he visited family and friends in Tallahassee, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

Now recalling the trip, Burke stares out the windows of his district office overlooking NE 125th Street, gazing at the middle distance. "Sometimes I said, 'Oh, I'm going to have to go back down to reality. This is really nice. Driving. Flowing in the wind. Stop. No hurry. What do they say? Stop and smell the roses. Along the turnpike, stop. Talk to people. And just look.'"

Drifting along in this reverie, so devoid of all his daily worries and obligations, Burke appears more comfortable than he has throughout the entire interview. The burden of the constant inquiry seems to slip, however momentarily, from his shoulders, as he talks about the solitary hours spent driving, escaping into the world of several books-on-tape. John Gray's best seller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, which deals with improving communication between the sexes. David Halberstam's October 1964, a book about that year's World Series. The autobiography of organized-crime figures Sam and Chuck Giancana, Double Cross. And two self-help tapes by Miami motivational speaker Les Brown.

His political aspirations are simple these days, Burke muses; they don't extend much beyond his four-year commission term. "I have no desire to be chairman of the county commission, or to be mayor," he says, adding that past thoughts of a run for Congress have receded as he has aged. "I really want to concentrate more on my financial stability. My political life has determined for a long time what I was doing. Now I'm really going to let my personal life determine what I do." And, he announces, he wants to get married again. "The problem with this..." he pauses, then sighs. "At this point I was just getting myself on my feet financially. I formed American Destiny and finally I got some cases I've been working on. But now I'm spending my money on lawyers." He lets his hands thump heavily to the table and his eyes slip back to the middle distance beyond the window.

"I kind of look back at where I began to run the race as opposed to where I am or where I really wish I was," he says gently, almost fatalistically. "And I realize God will take care of me.

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