The Don

Adrift in Miami's fierce political maelstrom, Donald Warshaw is one cool customer

Soon Warshaw became intractable: "I realized not only did [Suarez] not have the legal right or authority to fire me, but that he didn't have commission approval.... He was completely out of line."

Monday, November 24, and Tuesday, November 25: Suarez faces a challenge to his authority from the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, which announces it will investigate him for violating the city charter. Retreating from his attempt to fire Warshaw, the mayor tries to arrange a truce at funeral services for Cuban exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa.

At 10:00 a.m. on the day of Mas Canosa's funeral, Warshaw says his office phone rang. "'Can you come down and see me right now?'" the chief quotes the mayor as saying. Warshaw hedged, saying he was on his way to the funeral. The mayor suggested they go together.

Warshaw obliged, and drove to Dinner Key with his senior executive assistant, John Buhrmaster. He met with Suarez in a conference room, sitting so close their knees nearly touched. Then, he says, the mayor leaned forward, a "crazed look in his eyes," and asked what Warshaw was trying to do to him. "Nothing, I'm just doing my job," Warshaw says he replied. Next the mayor again proposed that they ride together to the funeral to show they had reconciled.

Warshaw said the idea made his skin crawl. He says he stared at Suarez in angry disbelief and said: "Xavier, I'm going to the funeral to pay my respects to someone who died. I'm not going there to make a public statement, and I'm very offended that's the way you feel we should make a truce."

So the chief decided on a compromise. They would drive separately to St. Michael's Catholic Church on Flagler Street, then stand together at the funeral. During the service, as television cameras filmed the two enemies together, the chief claims, Suarez leaned over and whispered into his ear: "This is good, this is good."

Warshaw says, "It was like a bad dream. The next day he was bad-mouthing me all over again."

John Buhrmaster says it was tough to see his boss struggle: "Don Warshaw is a very laid back, easy-going person. During this whole situation it was like a different person came out of him. He was very aggravated."

December 1997--June 1998: Warshaw's situation improves. City Manager Ruder resigns rather than fire the chief. His replacement, Frank Rollason, sends a memo to Suarez in defense of Warshaw. Soon after the State Attorney's Office cites Suarez for violating the city charter by meddling in city personnel business, the "pothole mayor" is thrown from his job in a voter fraud scandal. By June, Mayor Joe Carollo is in office trying to replace new city manager Jose Garcia-Pedrosa with Warshaw.

By the spring Warshaw was left alone to run his department. But his battle with Suarez left him bitter. "What he did to me, setting me up to be fired, was despicable and deceitful," he says. "He was an unworthy opponent."

The chief sees the conflict as a personal watershed. He realized he had nothing to lose. Because of his long career with the police department, he qualified for a $100,000 pension. He also reports having received enticing job offers from several multinational corporations he won't identify.

So Warshaw reacted calmly on June 1 when Carollo fired Garcia-Pedrosa for the first time and tapped him as interim manager. Garcia-Pedrosa would be hired and fired twice more. Carollo has also hired Warshaw three times.

"Don Warshaw has made history: the most-hired manager in Miami," Carollo says dryly. "Of course, Garcia-Pedrosa has made history too: the most-fired manager in Miami." Garcia-Pedrosa has since bowed out of the fray.

Given the turmoil in city hall the past seven months, it's easy to see why Carollo picked Warshaw. His reputation was tested by fire in the Suarez affair, and heck, he's a cop. What better image to have in a scandal-ridden city hall than a guy with a badge?

As both interim manager and police chief, Warshaw has a busy life. He arrives at his police department office around 6:15 a.m. to get a jump on paperwork. He goes to meetings with lieutenants, swears in new officers, and pores over reports. By midday he'll slip over to the tenth floor of the city's Riverside Center to a bare-walled office overlooking the Miami River. He hasn't yet set foot in Garcia-Pedrosa's office down the hall.

Carollo says it's a strong possibility he'll appoint Warshaw permanent city manager. That's a challenge the chief wouldn't mind. Warshaw reports that some friends have advised him against taking the post, saying city hall is crazy. "Maybe crazy is the wrong word," he says. "This is a very passionate place. It's a passionate city with passionate people.

Published:In Tristram Korten's articles about Miami Police Chief Donald Warshaw ("The Don," June 25), a reporting error led to an incorrect date appearing in the chronology of Operation Greenpalm, the federal government's corruption probe. Warshaw accompained former Miami City Manager Cesar Odio to New York City to meet with bond raters in the summer of 1996.

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