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A prominent First Amendment attorney who has successfully argued landmark cases in support of freedom of the press, Paul has long been devoted to empowering Dade residents. In the Fifties he helped write the Dade County charter. In 1972 he headed Miami's Parks for People campaign to support a bond issue for park land. During the Eighties he helped the Matheson family fight to limit the size of the Lipton tennis stadium on land the family had donated to the county. In 1992 he gathered 108,000 signatures to force a referendum the following year to have voters in each Dade municipality decide whether proposed commercial use of their park land should always be put to a public vote. (That referendum passed in the county and in some cities but failed in others.)
Now, with Paul taking on the arena issue, it looks as though Knight-Ridder chairman Tony Ridder, who has been appointed by Metro commissioners to negotiate with the Heat on the county's behalf, has a fight on his hands. (Ridder was out of the country and could not be reached for comment for this story.)
"The way I see it," says Metro Commissioner Alex Penelas, "if Mr. Paul is successful getting a core group of volunteers, he'll get the signatures. He only needs 30,000. I would predict he'd be successful in getting it on the ballot." And if the voters get to decide, Penelas thinks Paul has a good chance of achieving a majority. "If it's on the ballot, my guess is the arena proposal will go down," says the commissioner, who voted against the deal this past month.
Although the wording of the petition doesn't mention the Port of Miami by name, its broad language is clearly meant to counter port director Carmen Lunetta's plan, approved by Metro commissioners earlier this year, to expand his domain into Bicentennial Park. And with Paul's initiative under way, Lunetta is doing his best to distance his proposal from the arena project: He intends to seek an administrative order for his own spot on the November ballot. "We know that this is a high priority with the people in the community," Lunetta says of his port project. "We'd have on the ballot a provision to vote for the maritime park."
Mustering his recruits at the library, Paul doesn't hesitate to give his opinion of Lunetta's proposal to house new cruise ship terminals on park land by creating an artificial hill that would blot out the public's view of the bay. "If that's a 'maritime park,'" he posits, "they must climb a tree to catch a fish.