By Michael E. Miller
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By Luther Campbell
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If a certain paranoid movie director were to swing through Coconut Grove, he would discover enough conspiracy theories to make the assassination of JFK seem like an open-and-shut case. Compared to the charges of corruption and cronyism that swirl through the Grove, the dubious conclusions of the Warren Commission make pefect, logical sense.
Jack King, editor and publisher of the Coconut Grover newspaper, is disseminating a few theories right now. For one, King has a hunch that Billy Rolle -- a legendary leader in the Black Grove -- is mismanaging the Goombay Festival, an annual celebration of the Black Grove's Bahamian heritage. For another, King suspects that Coconut Grove Realty, one of the most established businesses in the village, is suffering from "broker defections" and "bad management." And when King has a conspiracy theory, you can count on him running it in his newspaper.
Working out of a tiny office across from the congested CocoWalk shopping mall, King types into his IBM clone the rough edges of yet another scandal. He's heard that the Coconut Grove Civic Club, tireless opponents of development and the most zealous activists in a community of active zealots, has put its stamp of approval on a building permit in exchange for a cash payoff. The facts are thin at the moment, but the story is too sexy to be ignored. First the lead paragraph, then the bulk of the tale. King's stubby fingers dance across the computer keyboard as fast as his once-youthful feet flew around his high school track: "The Coconut Grove Civic Club has agreed to not pursue an appeal of a Class 2 permit on the Spec's building in return for an $11,000 payment to be made to the Civic Club."
The story is a killer, the kind of shocker King needs to make readers pick up his free monthly paper, to keep his advertisers happy, and to allow him to eat for another month. It'll go on the front page, above the fold, with a screaming headline: "Extortion or Public Service? $11,000 'Donation' to Civic Club Questioned."
The Oliver Stone of Coconut Grove has struck again. "I don't like the term 'conspiracy theory.' I prefer to think of it as just 'conspiracy,'" says King, laughing a great deep laugh and leaning forward in his seat to make sure his joke is appreciated. He'll make a few calls to obtain the standard denials, but King, a self-aware man with 30 years in and around the newspaper business, knows he's got a story that will ensure the attention he craves.
As King celebrates his eighth year of publishing the Grover, a pugnacious chronicle of the vibrant, stridently eclectic community that is Coconut Grove, he's beginning to reap the benefits of longevity. His paper claims more readers than ever, and, perhaps even better, certain politicians now speak of the Grover with respect. It may still be small and thin, but the paper is starting to have an impact.
Success has a price, though, which in Coconut Grove means more conspiracy theories. King's opponents, meeting quietly beneath the ficus trees that cover the Grove like a canopy, have concocted their own theories. One: King doesn't separate his advertising from his editorial. Two: King is jealous of the power of certain community groups. Three: He's dishonest, deceitful, and undignified. And, what the heck, four: The guy's a drunk, too.
Worst of all, in a neighborhood striving to remain in the era of the Twenties, King has purportedly become a tool of developers. Some people think King has used his newspaper as a bully pulpit, pursuing an agenda to replace Coconut Grove's quirky charms with giant malls and towering office buildings. The recent sale of a half-interest in the Grover to a woman with strong development ties percolates this particular conspiracy brew -- a woman who, some furtively whisper, is out to silence her opposition. She bought into the Grover to further commandeer Coconut Grove for herself, they contend. And for her developer buddies.
All this gets King to laughing again -- a huge laugh, one that sets his head to bouncing on his neck, as his small brown eyes remain vigilantly open in search of a responding laugh. "A tool of the developers, huh?" he chortles. "That's a great one. That cracks me up." At age 50, he's too seasoned to be hurt by the charges. Actually he kind of likes them. Any talk about Jack King, even a conspiracy theory, should move some more papers, he figures A which, of course, is the whole idea. "Just say that what's good for Coconut Grove business is good for my paper," he suggests, knowing how it will be read by his enemies. Then he laughs again.
"My editorial philosophy is pretty simple," shrugs King. "I try to inform the public. I attend meetings and report information that is relevant to the residents of Coconut Grove. That's the high-moral-ground answer." A smile cracks across his gray-bearded face. "Unfortunately, it gets bent, almost monthly."
King's beat is roughly three square miles of royal palms, high property values, eccentric personalities, and impassioned civic discourse. Although Coconut Grove's ancient streets predate those of Miami, the village was swallowed up by the big city during the hot summer of 1925. Grovites have had an attitude problem ever since.