From Knight Manor to Nightmare

Just when a forlorn section of Liberty City is about to get the help it so desperately needs, along comes Miller Dawkins on his political bulldozer

Dawkins has heard all the criticism of the project before, and of the speculation that he "torpedoed" the Tacolcy project because of a personal vendetta or petty concerns. "Tell the supporters of groups like Tacolcy that Miller Dawkins is the commissioner," he instructs, orating in the third person. "Why does he have to work with them? They have to work with him. He doesn't have to go around making sure the project is good for them. They have to go to him and make sure it is good for him."

The mere mention of the Tacolcy name causes his lips to part in a sly smile. "Let me tell you something," he barks. "Back when [County Commissioner] Maurice Ferre was the mayor of Miami [in the early Eighties], Tacolcy got everything. Ask anybody. Tacolcy got everything. I am not going to give Tacolcy everything. I am going to spread it around. If they don't like that, that's fine."

The Knight Manor project has a new name: Northwestern Estates, a moniker that plays off the proximity to Northwestern High but also evokes the memory of Tacolcy's seminal Western Estates idea. At the site, two yellow tractors stand watch over plots of land where two Knight Manor buildings have already been razed. The Urban League's Oliver Gross predicts construction will start soon, with the first houses going up in the spring of next year.

A white sign stuck in the dirt at the construction site announces that the cheapest homes will sell for only $68,000 -- about half what they will cost to build. Fair is confident that he will acquire the very large amount of financial aid and mortgage subsidies necessary to achieve this price. He predicts all the homes will be sold by June 1998.

Lorenzo Simmons hopes that the optimism is warranted. "I support the cause," he swears. "I want to be on the record as saying that. I wish them all the success. We need them to help. This was a major, major bold move they have committed themselves to. What we can do as a total community is get behind it."

Fair's friends are streaming into the Elks Lodge in one eternal river of smiles and support. The candidate excuses himself to greet a few dozen of his backers, shouting over his shoulder as he makes his way to the door: "We can sell these units! I know that we can!"

Miller Dawkins recedes behind a long table at which a teenage boy is mixing a bag of ice cubes with two gallons of fruit-flavored red syrup. The commissioner's arms are crossed at his chest as he scans the room. The band, true to the mood, plays "Happy Days Are Here Again." On the backs of every chair, the yellow and black balloons remain buoyant. Not one of them has popped.

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