The Commish

She's naive. She lacks experience. She's too "nice" to survive in Dade's policitical jungle. So why is Katy Sorenson so dangerous?

Sorenson is indeed a star in her district, and her evenings are regularly filled with speaking engagements before community groups. Leading up to Saturday morning's rodeo, for instance, she had spent Tuesday night addressing the Kendall Kiwanis Club, Wednesday evening at a forum sponsored by the South Dade Chamber of Commerce discussing the issue of incorporation, Thursday night presenting her thoughts about school overcrowding to a League of Cities meeting in Miami Beach, and Friday evening attending a reception for the opening of a new play at the Coconut Grove Playhouse.

During Tuesday night's Kiwanis Club affair, as Sorenson made her way through the food-serving line, a man approached her, introduced himself, and asked, "You really don't care if you get re-elected, do you?" The question held the unspoken observation that Sorenson, in challenging the status quo and questioning many of the Dade's most powerful interests, is running the risk of making a host of very important enemies. Sorenson understood what the man was asking, smiled, and answered, "No, I don't."

Later, during her remarks to the group, she recounted the question and expanded on her answer: "Once I start caring too much [about being re-elected] I can't do the job I need to be doing." And in a subtle rebuke to her fellow commissioners already busy eyeing their next race, she added, "County commissioners have to look beyond elections."

Sorenson outlined a few of her early positions. She repeated her opposition to the HABDI proposal for the development of Homestead Air Force Base. She addressed school overcrowding. And she relived her fight over limiting the use of the county's contingency fund. "You'd think I'd touched off the Boston Tea Party," she laughed from the podium. "Everybody was congratulating me afterward. I couldn't believe it. What had I done that was so amazing? It showed me the public was just starving for someone who would deal with the county budget the way you deal with a budget at home. You ask yourself, 'Can you afford it?' And if you can't, you don't spend money on it." She then told the crowd about her resolution, passed a couple of weeks earlier, forbidding the contingency fund from being used for anything other than true emergencies. "It passed eleven-to-two," she noted as the crowd began applauding her efforts. Buoyed by their support, she shouted, "Good-bye beauty pageants and hello good government!"

As she tried to make a fast exit, several people came up to shake her hand and offer words of encouragement. She hadn't expected the event to run as long as it had, and as she walked outside she muttered to herself: "It's a little after nine. I might be able to catch the last inning."

Her nine-year-old son, Arnie, was playing in the season's first Little League baseball game and Sorenson didn't want to miss it. Employing a lead foot and a healthy disregard for stop signs, the commissioner raced to the parking lot of Suniland Recreation Center at 128th Street and South Dixie Highway. Emerging from her minivan, she announced, "Now I get to be mom." Her husband had dropped off Arnie for the beginning of the game, but because he had been in surgery all day, he was exhausted and had gone home. When Sorenson arrived, the game was a little more than half over.

The election campaign had been roughest on her children, she recalls later. Brutally long hours. But even today, as she tries to settle into a routine, she is still separated from her family more than she would like. "I had a dream the other night that I forgot the names of my kids," she says, smiling uncomfortably, "and I began to wonder if maybe there is a message somewhere in there."

Still, Sorenson is lucky to have had the financial independence to run for office and the time to actually perform the job. A housekeeper comes by four hours per day, five times a week; and for the past few months her mother-in-law has been staying at the house. But Sorenson's hours are still a source of concern. "The kids don't like her not coming home for dinner," says Janis Dzelzkalns, her husband. "They are resentful of the time she's away. We don't get as much of her as we used to, so we have to make the most of the moments we're together."

Dzelzkalns doesn't seem to be enjoying his new role as political husband. The campaign, he says, was exciting and introduced them to a lot of new friends, but taking part in public events or being interviewed by reporters is not something he relishes. "I'm not the public figure and I don't like the attention or the questions," he confides. "I'm just in the background."

"When I was running for office, I always heard about the commission in animal terms," Sorenson recalls. "That it was a snake pit, a shark tank, a lion's den. In some ways it seemed to be," she laughs. "My impression was that some people were trying to do the right thing and that some people were just totally political animals posturing for themselves and whatever gain they could get out of it."

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