Don't Call Me a Lobbyist!

Even though my name is Chris Korge and Alex Penelas is my best buddy and all the commissioners are indebted to me and I guarantee you'll get that fat county contract

Dellapa acknowledges, however, that while he may be immune to Korge's bullying, other county staffers less experienced in dealing with the lobbyist may be intimidated by his fiery style. "He can be very aggressive," Dellapa repeats.

Ed Marquez, the former county finance director who served briefly as Miami city manager, says Korge never tried to strong-arm him using his political contacts. He and Korge have been friends for more than a decade, and Marquez considers him an excellent attorney who represents his clients well. "I know he has this reputation as being a wheeler-dealer," Marquez relates, "but that has never risen in any of my professional dealings with him. Yes, I know he knows people; everyone is aware of his contacts. But from my perspective he has never used that with me."

Marquez says he is surprised that anyone would allow himself to be intimidated: "I think people who are swayed by the perception of political contacts are wrong to be swayed. They are weak and they are not acting in a professional manner."

Marquez's utopian ideal has been absent from county hall for many years, consultant Phil Hamersmith maintains. The reality, Hamersmith says, is that for most county bureaucrats, dealing with Korge can be "a frightening, life-and-death matter." Their greatest fear, he explains, is that their careers could be ruined if they alienate the wrong person with political connections. "They are hesitant to fight Chris because they don't want to do anything that might in any way anger Alex Penelas," Hamersmith contends, "so Chris often gets his way."

Christopher G. Korge has been learning how to get his way since he was a child. He was born at Mercy Hospital 43 years ago and has lived in Miami most of his life. His parents, both of whom are of Lebanese descent, raised four children, Chris being number three. He attended Catholic schools at St. Peter and Paul Elementary and La Salle High School. His father, an insurance salesman, passed away eleven years ago; his mother, a one-time chemist, is still living.

Korge's oldest brother Tom is a tax attorney and a partner in Korge's downtown Miami law firm -- Hanzman, Criden, Korge, Chaykin, Ponce & Heise. His one sister, also older, is the chief executive officer of Wet Seal, a retail clothing chain with more than 400 stores nationwide, including 30 in Florida. His younger brother is a radio executive with Clear Channel Communications here in Miami.

"Chris has always been driven to win," says Tom Korge. "It's a part of his personality. My mother says he was like that as a kid. It's in his blood. Chris loves to haggle and bargain and negotiate."

Korge himself traces his assertive nature to a childhood reading disability he struggled with through the fourth grade. "I constantly had problems reading," he recalls. The combination of the disability and his relatively small physical stature, he believes, caused him to work extra hard. Today he says he didn't feel that people had adequate confidence in him, and so he sought to prove his doubters wrong. "I wanted to prove I was a winner," he says.

Korge has his father to thank for his interest in politics. Politically active himself, Korge's dad was a long-time friend of Congressman Dante Fascell and served as his campaign treasurer for decades. When Korge was fifteen, he spent the summer in Washington as a page in the House of Representatives. "From that point on I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer," he says. "I fell in love with the legislative process."

Fascell recalls Korge fondly. "I've always had a high regard for Chris," the retired lawmaker says. "I've known this kid ever since he was in diapers, and from the time he was a tiny tot he was very active. He is not a passive person at all. He is on the move constantly."

To Fascell it has been no surprise that Korge has immersed himself in the world of politics: "He always wanted to be where the action was, where the big guys were. He wanted to be a player."

After graduating from the University of Florida magna cum laude in 1977 with a degree in business administration, he went to law school at Temple University. When he returned from Philadelphia in 1981, he joined the Miami Beach City Attorney's Office. In 1985 he moved over to the City Attorney's Office for the City of Miami.

Among his responsibilities there was the role of legal adviser to Miami's Sports and Exhibition Authority (MSEA). Sitting on the MSEA board at the time was restaurateur, political king-maker, and future tax cheat Monty Trainer, whose personal assistant was an ex-Miami police officer named Rodney Barreto.

Barreto and Korge had both gone to the same high school. And although Korge was two years ahead of Barreto, they knew each other; in fact, both played football at La Salle. But after graduation they had gone their separate ways and only renewed their friendship through Trainer and the monthly MSEA meetings.

Korge and Barreto were eager to make names for themselves. In 1988 Korge left city employ for Holland & Knight, joining the burgeoning law firm's stable of lawyer-lobbyists. During that same period, Barreto formed his own consulting firm, Rodney Barreto & Associates. Capitalizing on his ties to then-Miami Commissioner Rosario Kennedy, Barreto signed up a handful of clients and began lobbying city officials on Dinner Key.

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