By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
With the return of "crazy" Joe Carollo to the Miami City Commission returns the call to abolish the city government altogether. Rather than relive one more episode from Miami's dark and comical political history (Carollo and Jorge Mas Canosa nearly dueling over the development of Watson Island, for instance), some factions of Miami are repeating their recommendation to fold the city into one large and powerful county government a la Jacksonville or Indianapolis.
While a streamlined bureaucracy would bring certain benefits to the populace, the concept ignores one crucial fact: Miami City Commission elections are not only amusing entertainment, they're vital linchpins of the local economy.
Without the election money raised and spent every two years, local auto-repair shops might have to lay off mechanics. Fewer schoolteachers could moonlight as computer consultants. Without a city campaign, thousands of Fort Lauderdale dollars would not trickle down to the Little Havana bistros where they can do the most good.
A casual and unscientific examination of campaign financial records on file at City Hall shows that the most recent election of Carollo and re-election of Nixon-era appointee J.L. Plummer was conducted in true Miami fashion. Thirteen candidates collected A often in curious ways A a combined war chest of more than one million dollars. Then they spent the money any way they wanted.
Incumbent Victor De Yurre set the high-water mark for money raised. The $436,184 contributed to his unsuccessful re-election bid helped him buy posters, newspaper ads, and radio spots. It also helped him eat, and very well. Over the course of the campaign, De Yurre spent $13,855.92 out of his campaign coffers on food. His financial statements tell stories of $182 dinners at Mario's Il Palio Ristorante and $460 feasts at Malaga. Three times De Yurre dined at Cafe Sci Sci, owned by convicted drug trafficker Gionanni Tummolillo. The combined tab of $942.81 more than consumes the $500 the restaurant donated to De Yurre's campaign.
Margarita Ruiz, whose campaign was crippled by too little cash, also managed to keep food in her stomach. She spent $3183.88, or nearly ten percent of her total campaign fund, on food-related expenses. She didn't stop spending at the buffet line, either. Even more money A $3273.73, to be exact A went into her car. After spending almost a grand on gasoline, Ruiz spent the rest at two car-repair shops. More than $1381 went to Deel Volkswagen in Coral Gables. Though one might think Ruiz would have acquired the Deel endorsement (if for loyalty alone), records show that Deel donated $150 to the campaign of J.L. Plummer, Ruiz's opponent.
Vernon Clark, a surprising force in the black community who sucked votes away from De Yurre in that race, put his campaign money not into his car but directly into his family. Records show that Theo Clark, Vernon's nephew, was paid to provide "computer service" to the Clark campaign. His 26-year-old relative provided valuable aid, Clark explains: "I needed someone who had a computer to run the computer for me, to do the typing. He sent some letters out for me. Is he a computer programmer? No! He's a schoolteacher. But he owns a computer." Theo Clark was paid $700 for his typing skills.
Several high-visibility South Floridians, including former Knight-Ridder chairman Alvah Chapman and Cadillac dealer Norman Braman, contributed to various campaigns. And as usual, most of the more influential boosters found ways to exceed the $500 maximum contribution allowed by law. Budding sports mogul Bruce Frey, for instance, paid back De Yurre for supporting Frey's dream of a Canadian Football League franchise. Frey's donations, which totaled $4000, came in a variety of disguises: the BJF/IB Partners of Glencoe, Illinois; Bruce J. Frey; Miami Manatee Football; The BJF Group Ltd.; The BJF Group L.P.; Fleurette Frey; the Village of Kings Creek; and the Royal Arms Condo Ltd.
A more entrenched sports mogul, Wayne Huizenga, showed Frey why he owns the Marlins, Panthers, and Dolphins while Frey owns only an Arena Football League team that used to be called the Hooters. Namely, Huizenga picks winners. After supporting almost every candidate in the first round, Huizenga revealed his knack for handicapping in the runoff between Carollo and De Yurre: The incumbent was stiff-armed while Carollo scored more than $8500 in Fort Lauderdale money, most of it appearing to come from Huizenga or his corporate spinoffs. Contributors include Huizenga Holdings, H. Wayne Huizenga, G. Harry Huizenga, and Florida Airships Inc., which operates the blimp that flies overhead during Marlins and Dolphins games.
Campaign contributors without blimps who wanted to donate more than the legal limit of $500 often diversified their families. Mas Canosa's son, Jorge Mas, Jr., donated $500 to De Yurre. Another $500 was given in the name of Mastec, the company over which the younger Mas presides. A third $500 donation was made in the name of his wife Irma, who is listed in the records as a "housewife," though her address was given as Mastec corporate headquarters. "Yes, she does," said a Mastec receptionist when asked if Irma Mas works there. "But she is not here at the moment." Presumably she was out gathering a few throw pillows to liven up the office where she lives and sleeps.