Petty Cash

Miami city manager Cesar Odio loves to hand out taxpayer money to his friends. It's not under the table, but it is under the radar.

Cuban Independence Day must have caught the very busy Odio by surprise in 1995. When it rolled around in February, he used emergency funds to order celebratory ads in 21 different Spanish-language newspapers. The ads featured outdated mug shots of Odio and of each city commissioner, a picture of a Cuban flag, and a simple headline: "ASaludo!"

The advertisements, which cost $500 apiece, ran in such esteemed publications as Libertad, Prensa Libre, and El Expreso, papers that tend to be passionately one-sided in their coverage of local politics. That side, perhaps coincidentally, is the side Odio is on. El Nuevo Patria, for instance, is published by Eladio Jose Armesto, who ran against Odio-bashing Joe Carollo in the July mayor's race.

Odio also recognized the civic value of subsidizing Proyecto, the glossy, full-color mouthpiece of the politically powerful Latin Builders Association. Because Proyecto costs more to print than the periodiquitos, it only makes sense that the city would donate more money. Instead of the standard $500 ad, Odio donated $4500 on July 31, 1994, to become a cosponsor of the magazine's twentieth anniversary. In October 1995, without even bothering to declare an emergency, he purchased two ads and a table at a Proyecto banquet for another $4500.

One publication Odio appears to have overlooked is La Verdad, which has a long history of promoting Carollo. During his first tour of duty at city hall (back when his hot-headed commie-bashing earned him the sobriquet "Crazy Joe"), La Verdad was in his corner. Even during his long political exile, when he showed little promise of ever holding office again, La Verdad kept the flame alive. When he did come back in an upset victory over Victor De Yurre for city commissioner in November, La Verdad claimed much of the credit.

"This was the paper that built up the image of Joe Carollo with his Cuban voters," boasts Hilda Inclan, a La Verdad guest editor and political columnist. "This is the only paper that supported him to get back on the commission. It is the paper where his name was made known initially, where he was given an image as a super-Cuban."

Carollo somehow managed to thoroughly alienate the paper's editors soon after he regained his commission seat. So complete was the break that La Verdad angrily opposed Carollo in the recent mayoral election. In fact, the paper has grown so stridently anti-Carollo that it might be a good time for Inclan to hit up Odio for an ad.

Actually, it appears she already has.
Inclan also publishes a magazine called Cruise 'n' Travel en Espanol. It's a professionally produced national magazine, she says, though it is published out of her house and claims a circulation of perhaps 33,000 copies an issue. This past March Odio decided that the City of Miami must have a presence in the magazine. He sent Inclan another one of the "ASaludo!" ads along with a check for $4500.

Conveniently, the cost of the ad was precisely the maximum amount Odio could spend without bothering his extremely busy bosses on the city commission. "If I tried to put certain items on the agenda, Cesar would say, 'Listen, take it off the agenda and I'll just give them 4500 bucks,'" recalls an appreciative Victor De Yurre, the former city commissioner. "That way it doesn't become an issue, say, if there was something controversial."

Hilda Inclan isn't the only local journalist to have been touched by the experience of Odio's beneficence. In July 1995, on the very same day that El Expreso publisher Angel Maldonado finally received his $500 check in honor of Cuban Independence Day, he also pulled in an extra $1250 for unspecified "professional services." Just three months earlier Maldonado had received a city check for $2000, again for his highly valued if nonspecific professional services.

"I never worked for the City of Miami in my life. Never in my life," Maldonado insists from his El Expreso office in Little Havana. But what about those professional services? "Oh, yeah," he says as the memory returns. "That was for advertising, for special advertising from a long, long time ago. I got it. It's no problem."

Maldonado's modesty should not deprive him of special recognition for his admirably unbiased and objective coverage of the city manager. Consider his dogged reporting of an incident that took place on June 30, 1994, outside Miami City Hall. Odio had apparently exchanged words with his nemesis, gadfly Manuel Gonzalez-Goenaga. It seems that Gonzalez-Goenaga disparaged Odio's mother in some way, and Odio became -- well, let's let Maldonado tell it. The following excerpt, translated from Spanish, appeared in the July 8, 1994 El Expreso, the edition with the front-page illustration of Fidel Castro's head on a dog's body:

"Outside of City Hall, Manuel Gonzalez-Goenaga said something incorrect about Sara Odio, the much beloved mother of senor Cesar Odio, the city manager of Miami; a man of recognized honesty, who upon hearing these scurrilous barbs, went out in defense of his dear mother and confronted Gonzalez....

"We warmly congratulate our friend Cesar Odio for this noble gesture to defend his mother....This lady is a former political prisoner who served a sentence of ten years in the women's prison in communist Cuba, all to defend the democracy and liberty of her country and of the world. Yes, this lady is considered a modern-day Mariana Garjales, a Cuban woman who fought with love and tenacity for our cause."

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