Dinner Key's Raw Meat

He's young. He's politically naive. He's Miami's newest commissioner, Joe Sanchez.

"Sanchez is a typical Dade County politician, meaning that he goes with the powers that be and not necessarily with the interests of the people," huffs Roads resident Richard Pleban, another museum opponent. "He used his title as president of the Roads Neighborhood Civic Association as his entry to the city commission."

Museum foes also contend that Sanchez has a conflict of interest regarding the museum, one of the largest public/private projects proposed in the city. His wife Betty is an accountant for Greenberg Traurig, the firm that represents museum backers. Sanchez insists the connection has nothing to do with his pro-museum stance. He says development near the Metrorail station is inevitable. "Besides," he adds, "it will be great for the kids."

Greenberg Traurig lawyer Lucia Dougherty met Sanchez a few months ago at a Miami Roads Neighborhood Civic Association meeting but didn't find out until later that Betty was his wife. She says there's no conflict. "I didn't even know he had a bent for politics at the time," Dougherty asserts. "I think he's got the looks for a politician, though," she adds.

Other Miamians are also suspicious of Sanchez's recent resignation from the highway patrol and decision to enter politics full-time. "He doesn't have a job and he's going to run for city commissioner, and he had been planning to run for Bruno Barreiro's seat?" ponders a Coconut Grove lawyer who frequents commission meetings but requested anonymity. "It scares me, because what it tells me is that he's getting money from somewhere else that we don't know about. And that's dangerous." City commissioners make $5000 a year. Sanchez says he's going to have to look for a job, though he's not sure what kind.

Sanchez insists he simply wants to help his community. "When you see my votes, you'll realize that I'm an independent guy," he promises. "I'm everybody's friend." As for whether he can be swayed by graft, Sanchez intones: "You have to remember who you represent. You represent the people."

But if things get too sticky at Dinner Key, Sanchez has a refuge at Dunkin' Donuts in Little Havana. Still morphing from cop to commissioner, he starts every morning at the doughnut joint, yapping about politics with compadres. The group has met for years at the greasy vinyl counter, and comprises young and old, powerful and powerless. Among the regulars: Miami Assistant Police Chief Raul Martinez. "I know where every Dunkin' Donuts is in the county," Sanchez jovially boasts. "I can't break away from that habit. A state trooper can't get away from a Dunkin' Donuts."

Manny Pacin, a regular at the Dunkin' Donuts sessions, hopes Sanchez will clean up city hall. "He's young, he's naive, but I think he can identify where trouble is and try to avoid it. He'll smarten up. He'll have to, to survive."

Others expect him to have a difficult time on Dinner Key. "How old are you?" talk show host Tomas Garcia Fuste asked the new commissioner recently. "Thirty-three," replied Sanchez with an angelic smile. Garcia Fuste cackled, "Oh. The same age as Christ." When he was crucified.

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