It's Official: Miami Is Now a Charity Case

Diehard fans of the Magic City open their hearts -- and their checkbooks

If the citizens of Miami really want to solve their city's financial problems, all they have to do is reach into their wallets, grab a couple of C notes, and send them off to city hall. Some 350,000 residents times $200 equals more than enough to cover the deficit. Voila! Problem solved.

City commissioners could simply demand the money, of course, in the form of higher taxes. That's unlikely, though. Miami's leaders can't even raise the damn garbage fee without upsetting an electorate poised for mutiny. Donations, at this point, are strictly voluntary.

Yet they're starting to roll in. The City of Miami has collected $111 so far from private citizens who want to help. Two checks and a one-dollar bill have arrived in the mail at the office of Mayor Joe Carollo. "I congratulate you on your public spirit, and only wish more people in the world shared your altruism," wrote Carollo in a December 4 thank-you note to Arlond R. Jack Banks, one of the people who donated.

Banks, who wrote out a check for $100, was reluctant to discuss his generosity. "No, I don't want to talk about it," he said when reached by telephone last week at his Kendall home, seven miles southwest of Miami's city limits. "It's my own personal thing. Goodbye."

His letter to Carollo (actually a greeting card) will have to speak for itself. Along with his donation, payable to "City of Miami Treasury Management" and memoed for "budget shortfall," was the following epistle: "The enclosed check is sent to you with a feeling of goodwill, with no strings attached. It surely will not make a dent in the City of Miami's budget shortfall but it won't hurt either. Hopefully other citizens will do something similar. Miami needs a little help from those who care."

The greeting printed inside the card: "Hope you feel better!"
The national spotlight on Miami's crisis has paid at least one dividend -- a letter from Arthur Fleming of St. Petersburg, addressed to "Mayor Joe Carollo of Miami, the City Worth Saving from Disaster!" Inside, in a stream-of-consciousness treatise on civic responsibility and the importance of prayer, Fleming explained that he had been a cop in Brooklyn for twenty years, during which time New York City faced its own budget mess. Because then-mayor Ed Koch held back two weeks of Fleming's pay (among other palliatives), the city was saved. "I am thankful to Ed Kotch [sic] because he got help from people who gave a crap about dignity," Fleming shouted in thick black ink.

Included with the letter was a worn dollar bill ("to help!") and a suggestion that Carollo get down on his knees and ask God for guidance. "When you do this, the answer to all your problems will be given to you," Fleming noted. "Believe me -- I am not a holy-roller-Bible-belt feller or any of that other crap."

Money also came in from Mary Esdaile, age 44, a Miami resident for ten years. As a veteran flight attendant for United Airlines, Esdaile has lived all over the world: Lisbon, Toronto, Mexico City, Denver, Chicago. Other places have pleasant weather, and other cities boast a cosmopolitan population, but no burg holds such an attractive mix of culture and climate as Esdaile's adopted hometown. "No other city is like Miami!" she chirps. "I just was very infuriated to read in the Miami Herald about how the movement to dissolve the city was gaining momentum. Regardless of color, regardless of who you are, if you really love the city, I say put your money where your mouth is."

Esdaile really does love the city, so much so that she volunteers at Miami's satellite city office in Little Haiti. Her affection is apparent in the handwritten note attached to her check: "I want to help 'bail out' the City of Miami. Please accept this donation of $10.00. Good luck! I love Miami!"

Originally Esdaile planned to donate $100, like Banks. But after talking it over with her husband, she scaled back her contribution for fear she would be the only person donating. "So we just sent ten dollars, with the hope that maybe we could get the ball rolling," she explains. "Maybe if someone would mention that a check came in, others would get the hint and start sending in their own checks."

Esdaile envisions people driving around with "I helped save the City of Miami" stickers affixed to their bumpers and wearing "I helped save the City of Miami" T-shirts. She can even see, if the ball does get rolling, a musical benefit. "A lot of people made money from this city: Gloria Estefan, Vanilla Ice, and so on and so on," she explains. "It's a new year. It's a perfect time to get business together with all the local talent and do a Miami Aid concert or something."

Don't rush to Ticketmaster just yet. Enthusiasm for a private-citizens' bailout has not reached critical mass. For instance, not a single city commissioner has received a donation. "A lot of people are very much in favor of doing what they can; at least that's what they say," offers Richard Kuper, aide to Commissioner Willy Gort, "but this office hasn't received any checks as of yet."

Two weeks ago Carollo forwarded the checks donated by Banks and Esdaile to the office of City Manager Ed Marquez. (The dollar donated by Fleming was not initially sent to the manager's office because members of the mayor's office forgot where they had put it. Only after New Times requested an accounting, after three full working days, and after, in the words of one aide, "the office was torn apart," was the money found in the petty-cash box.)

The $110 that was sent over to the manager's office has not yet been put to constructive use. "We just received the checks on Friday, [December 27]. None of us knew anything about this at all," confirms Dulce Borges, aide to Marquez. Where did the money go? Into what account? To pay for what? "I can't answer that," Borges admits. "I am going to show the manager now when I see him and let him know, because he doesn't even know about it." (Marquez, perpetually "busy in a meeting," could not reply before deadline.)

Esdaile hopes the money will generate some good news for a change. "We're finding out through the media small bits and pieces of the corruption," she says, "like employees stealing from the city and all. But there are also good employees! They are being overshadowed! I bet there must be a dozen employees who never called in sick, who went to work every day. These stories never get told.

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