So Long, Mila!

Miami is going to miss you. Your vision for the city. Your political savvy. Your cosmopolitan sophistication. Your utter gall.

Miami has lost an original. Two weeks ago Mila Cervone D'Urso flew off to London for a new job, a new home, a new life. After nine glorious years here, it was time to move on. But it's hard to imagine stodgy old London -- cool by temperament, skeptical by nature -- being as hospitable an environment as Miami, at least for a person like Mila.

Miami, on the other hand, was made for her. Like an exotic flower in a fecund hothouse, Mila blossomed and flourished when she hit town, and she came to attract many admirers dazzled by her vivacity. Miami is full of people like that -- people who are drawn to colorful personalities, seduced by charmers, mesmerized by those with a little class and a lot of imagination. Maybe it's because the area doesn't produce many such characters on its own. Maybe it's because people who choose to live here are more willing than most to suspend disbelief. Maybe it's simply the hot tropical air.

In any case, Mila and Miami were a perfect match. An Italian of obvious breeding and education, her move here meant she didn't suffer the inconvenience of a personal history -- at least not one that was easily verifiable -- so her past could be a malleable thing, easily shaped to fit the demands of the moment. She thought big and lived large, and did so with style, even when it was beyond her means. Especially when it was beyond her means. And she instinctively understood that Miami was one of those places where the cultivation of influential friends was an essential ingredient in the kind of life she wanted to live.

"There is something that I think is so wonderful: freedom," she would say in her delightfully quirky English. "If I like this, I'm going to get this. It's no matter if I have to put it in my pants. So be it." If she wanted to entertain friends at a fancy restaurant but didn't wish to suffer the indignity of actually paying the bill, she simply wouldn't pay. If she felt like ignoring traffic citations, she would ignore them. If she grew irritated with threats from credit card companies and collection agencies, she'd just obtain a new credit card under a different name. If she believed it was to her advantage to use someone else's Social Security number for this or that purpose, she would do so without blanching. "It's only a pleasure to do things that you aren't allowed to do. You know what I mean?" she would comment with a sly smile.

Granted, even in Miami there were a few sorry souls who failed to appreciate the grandeur of Mila's audacity. "It's a sickness," grumbled a former friend. "She thinks she can live in a world without rules." Another who had business dealings with Mila went so far as to call her a slick con artist. But most people who encountered her were smitten, and so it was no wonder that in her time here she became one of the city's busiest goodwill ambassadors, traveling from Scandinavia to South America promoting Miami as a sophisticated international city with myriad opportunities to prosper, both professionally and personally. She herself was living proof.

Mila demonstrated just what a person could do with a few aliases, a modest selection of addresses, some creativity, and the blessings of a well-known political figure. Namely, just about anything she wanted.

She arrived in town with an profile guaranteed to play well in Miami: a tantalizingly mysterious past. By her own account, she was born in Rome into a family of extraordinary wealth. (Indeed, her surname, D'Urso, is shared by one of the snootiest families in Italy.) Beyond that, she would provide only the sketchiest of biographical details. Undergraduate degree in something related to linguistics. Married at a young age, moved to Oslo, Norway, gave birth to a son, and earned a master's degree in international relations. Moved back to Italy -- Milan this time -- and gave birth to a daughter. Twice divorced. At some point along the way a Ph.D. from UCLA. Oh, and her most recent lover was a billionaire.

No one seems to remember exactly how she came to work for the City of Miami. Matthew Schwartz, her former boss at the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), thought she started in 1987 or 1988. Mila said she landed the job in 1986 while she was in town on business for a Brussels public relations firm. She was relaxing in a swimming pool when someone who knew the mayor suggested that she work for the city. Pool and person remain unidentified, but details are unimportant. "I said okay and that was it," she offered.

Somehow she ended up at the DDA as the European trade and marketing representative, a low-paying, relatively insignificant position. Relatively insignificant, that is, until Mila met Miami City Commissioner Victor De Yurre, who served as chairman of the DDA board of directors. The two hit it off spectacularly well, and Mila's star began ascending. Over time they did a lot of traveling together, especially to Italy (De Yurre is an unabashed Italophile) but also to such locales as Tunisia and South Africa -- all in an effort to promote Miami as an up-and-comer on the world stage. "He and I were very close," the 52-year-old Mila said during one of several wide-ranging conversations prior to leaving for London. "He was the only one, really, that I would share my ideas and my international background with. He is the only man in the City of Miami who has a vision of the future. It's a pity that he's married, isn't it?"

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