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According to a March 11 article in the Miami Herald, Vidal claimed that May at one point told him he was being "a hard-ass" about the contract. Vidal says he replied that it was a conflict of interest for May to ask about Montgomery Watson. May called Vidal a liar, and in the Herald story denied having had any conversations -- of any kind -- with Vidal about Montgomery Watson.
Apparently May's tale has evolved.
When I interviewed him earlier this month, May admitted he had spoken to Vidal about the Montgomery Watson contract. He said that over dinner one night his wife had asked him why the county hadn't extended her company's contract. "She said Montgomery Watson had some extensions pending on a contract and asked me if I knew what was going on," May recalled. "I said I would gladly talk to the manager and find out what was going on. The next time I saw the manager I asked him what the status of the contract was. He told me and I said, 'Oh, thank you very much.' I told my wife what he said, and that was it. I thought it was a fairly harmless thing."
You have to know Brian May to appreciate just how amusing his current version of events is. The notion of May having a casual conversation with anyone is hysterical. He doesn't have casual conversations. He has agendas.
Ten years ago May was delivering Domino's pizzas for a living. Now he is arguably the second-most-powerful man in Dade County. You don't rise that far that quickly having casual conversations.
May is a jack-of-all-trades for Penelas. He is a key political strategist who is constantly cooking up new ways to sell the public on Penelas's carefully crafted image as an ethical reformer. He is also the mayor's gatekeeper; people who want to see Penelas usually have to go through the chief of staff. And when need be, he is also the mayor's partisan thug, a political kneecapper who sees to it that the county commission adheres to the mayor's itinerary.
May has worked off and on with Penelas since 1990. During Penelas's campaign for mayor, he was the guy who would pass dirt to reporters about Penelas's opponents. Simply put, this is not a man given to chitchat.
Even if his version of events is true -- and I'm betting there was a little bit more to the conversation than "Oh, thank you very much" -- he was wrong even to raise the issue. When I asked May whether he thought it was a conflict of interest to ask the manager about the contract, he sighed and said, "Yeah, maybe."
That sort of response should certainly raise the public's confidence in the Penelas administration. Sounds like both Penelas and May could benefit from taking one of those ethics courses being taught by the mayor's $100,000-a-year rent-a-cop, Paul Philip.
Church & Tower
If Penelas and May haven't had time to worry about ethics, it may be because they've been so busy holding secret meetings with the folks from Church & Tower.
But perhaps I'm confused. After all, those were meetings in which our brave mayor, tossing aside concerns about his own political well-being, stood up to the villainous sons of Jorge Mas Canosa and vowed to defend the interests of Dade County citizens no matter the consequences.
At least that's what I read last week in the Herald.
I do have a few questions, though. If Penelas is so proud of his conduct in this case, then why is he resisting so vigorously an opportunity to recount his experiences under oath? Twice in the past month the mayor has gone to court in an effort to block attorneys for Church & Tower from taking his deposition.
Could it be that Penelas is worried he might be required to admit that his actions weren't quite so principled? Is it possible, for instance, he would end up acknowledging that snubbing Church & Tower was a calculated decision designed to work to his political advantage? Could it be that Penelas made several crass political comments during those secret meetings and is now afraid the company's attorneys will force him to repeat them for the record?
On the day Penelas is finally deposed, with any luck they'll use a video camera as well as a court reporter. When it comes time to decide if he was out of bounds or not on this deal, it would be nice to have instant replay available.