Extra! Read All About Me!

An El Nuevo Herald reporter quits and becomes the political story in Hialeah

Martinez maintained he was unaware that Suelo Neutral had never gotten the necessary operating permits and that he didn't know former prisoners were living there. Nevertheless, according to a February 3 article written by Sanchez, letters from Figueredo in early 1995 to Martinez and Hialeah Chief of Police Rolando Bolanos did express the intention to open a "community correctional center under the direction of the Office of Prisons."

Sanchez's February 3 article is an amputated version of a longer piece he wrote in late January, which he handed out to reporters at his press conference. That article cites "insinuations" by named and unnamed opponents of the mayor that he "had to have known what that building [the halfway house] was" but didn't try to stop it. The article was held. A few weeks after Sanchez turned it in, and after he threatened, he says, to go to Herald publisher Dave Lawrence to get it published, a story half the length of the original did come out.

About that time Sanchez and the Herald's Hialeah reporter, Jack Rejtman, were given copies of a June 1995 certified letter (when Suelo Neutral was only a proposal) from Martinez to Figueredo, which Martinez said he had discovered while going through files. It seems to support Martinez's contention that he never approved the project. Martinez informed Figueredo in the letter that he would not support the halfway house because of its location near city hall in an area set for urban renovation. Rejtman wrote a story about the letter, but Sanchez didn't. "I found the letter very odd," Sanchez recounts. "It wasn't in the Freedom of Information file which I requested. It could be a totally manufactured C.Y.A. [cover your ass] letter. I decided not to publish anything about it because I had people inside city hall checking for me."

A few days after Rejtman's story had been printed and nothing was forthcoming from Sanchez, Martinez faxed several copies of the letter to El Nuevo Herald. Sanchez says his editors, already irritated by his grumblings about their supervision of him in general and the holding of the earlier story, were unhappy that he had chosen to sit on the information. That led to the "brutal interrogation," Sanchez's suspension and resignation, and his public speculation about why his editors were, in his view, so anxious to please Martinez.

"I don't know the real motives for Miss Gutierrez prohibiting me from covering Hialeah," Sanchez said at his city hall press conference. "But I think it's interesting that she refused to answer my question about whether she's hoping to get a job in Washington, D.C., through her contacts with Lula Rodriguez, the sister-in-law of Mr. Martinez."

Rodriguez, Angela Martinez's sister, was recently hired as a public affairs official at the Department of State. She and Gutierrez are friends. Gutierrez, speaking by phone from the El Nuevo newsroom, says she won't comment on personnel matters but can't resist expressing some skepticism about Sanchez's remarks regarding her future job aspirations. "That's utter nonsense," Gutierrez scoffs. "And as far as I know, Mr. Martinez is not involved in our personnel decisions."

Still, Sanchez was able to propound his theories at length on the three major Spanish-language AM stations, WQBA (1140), WAQI (710), and WCMQ (1210). Besides being featured in news segments of varying lengths, he appeared on talk shows on all three stations either the day of his press conference or the following day. (Not surprisingly, Sanchez's allegations of left-leaning Cuba coverage at El Nuevo tended to be of greater interest to many of his interviewers.) Spanish-language TV stations WLTV (Channel 23) and WSCV (Channel 51) also ran reports about Sanchez's resignation and his assertion that Martinez provoked it.

Most of the stations also consulted Martinez, who questioned Sanchez's fairness and lambasted his confrontational style. "He did this press conference," Martinez says, "and I started laughing. Now someone's accusing me of having influence in the Herald. This guy needs to have a thorough psychological evaluation." Far from retreating to a psychiatrist's couch, Sanchez says he will be looking for another job and plans to write a book about his two years at El Nuevo Herald.

Hialeah Councilwoman Carmen Caldwell, who started the whole halfway house controversy, says she was upset by Sanchez's resignation. "I think Jose Luis Sanchez is a reporter who has the best interests of Hialeah at heart because he is a resident of Hialeah," Caldwell says. "It's sad that politics played a role in his leaving El Nuevo Herald.

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