A Pigment of Their Imagination

Bruce Kaplan's office organizes an effort to rub out graffiti, then stands up the volunteers

You can't blame Roads residents for feeling a bit besieged. Burglaries, car thefts, and vandalism all seem to be on the rise in this quaint residential Miami neighborhood. But for people like Miami Roads Neighborhood Civic Association president Joe Wilkins, the dawning of June 23 was cause for optimism.

At 9:00 a.m. on that Sunday, an enthusiastic Wilkins, along with six other Roads residents and a pair of volunteers from the Hispanic Association of Correctional Officers (HACO), gathered at Metro Commissioner Bruce Kaplan's Little Havana office to take part in a graffiti paint-out organized by Kaplan's staff. In preparation for the event, Wilkins had surveyed the area and compiled a one-and-a-half-page list of graffiti-marred locations.

At 10:00 a.m., Wilkins and his companions were significantly less enthusiastic: Kaplan and his staffers hadn't shown up. And neither had the paint.

"We come wheeling in at nine; HACO had been there since eight. We finally went home around ten-thirty," grumbles Wilkins. The paint-out, he says, was purposely scheduled for a Sunday at the request of Kaplan's staffers because the commissioner is Jewish and cannot work on the Sabbath. "Fine, we'll do it on our Sabbath. We don't care, just as long as it gets done," Wilkins snaps, but adds quickly that his working relationship with the commissioner's office has otherwise been completely positive.

Kaplan says he was never informed that there was to be a paint-out. "I really don't know about a graffiti paint-out," says the commissioner, who is up for re-election in September and whose district includes the Roads. "It's the first I've heard of it. I certainly would have been there if I had known."

Ramón Alonso, Kaplan's district supervisor, blames a former underling for the mixup. "It was not the fault of anybody but Arthur Arnau," says Alonso. The day after the scheduled paint-out, he explains, "Arnau told me the paint was not there and half the people didn't show up. I thought [the cancellation] was by agreement of everyone involved."

Arnau, who is now a volunteer for Henry Marinello's Metro Commission campaign, admits he was in charge of coordinating the event and pulling together the interested parties. But he insists the paint-out met its demise because of a dearth of volunteers. "If people don't show up, I can't hold a gun to their heads," he says.

Alonso doesn't blame Arnau for the lack of paint. For that he points the finger at HACO and at the Coral Way Neighborhood Enhancement Team (NET), which also helped organize the paint-out. "NET and HACO told me they could furnish the paint," he maintains.

"We were told that the city would provide the paint," retorts HACO president Manny Aladro. "That's what happens when too many people put their hands in the pot."

Louis Cabrera, a City of Miami policeman who serves as the Coral Way NET's neighborhood resource officer, says he never promised to provide paint. According to Cabrera, the NET has been arranging to have juvenile and adult offenders spend some of their obligatory community-service time painting over the graffiti, though the vandals always seem to stay a step ahead of them.

Ramon Alonso vows that Kaplan's staff will pitch in sometime after the September 3 election, "God and the voters willing." The delay, Alonso says, is due to his fear that the gesture may now be perceived as a public relations ploy.

 
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