Florida City's Main Man

Hubert Albury is a fixture in South Miami-Dade's political scene. He also cooks a mean pigeon peas and rice.

The den, like other rooms in the house, is full of household items, knickknacks, and memorabilia. On a wall next to a framed replica of a Dolphins helmet hangs a color closeup of Malcolm X with one of his famous exhortations printed beneath his chin: "By any means necessary." An ironing board piled with clothes is set up next to a wet bar. Stacked on a counter behind the bar are four plaques awarded to Albury during the Eighties by the Fraternal Order of Elks Overseas Lodge No. 1078 "for outstanding service."

There is another Elks club near Florida City catering to the area's white citizens. There's also a white VFW lodge and a black VFW lodge, though the latter has been out of commission since Andrew. "Down here they have two of everything," Albury notes with a hint of distaste. "The VFW post, right over there ..." He points out his window a few blocks to the east. "They just opened again for the holidays. Andrew tore 'em up. They had to rebuild the whole place. I go over there and let 'em use a lot of my equipment."

The hog-plum tree in the yard begins blooming in the spring, and by fall the small round fruit ripens so yellow and sweet that the smell fills the air for blocks around. "The birds and squirrels will get them just like that if you don't pick them right away," says Albury. He sells the plums and the lychee nuts from another tree to a Cuban man who comes by. He keeps or gives away the other fruit.

He knows all his trees and remembers the spots where others grew before Andrew. On the surviving trees it's easy to see the hurricane's mark: twisted trunks and new limbs. The allspice trees came from cuttings, the Spanish lime from his grandfather's yard; a puny pecan tree from Jimmy Carter's hometown of Plains, Georgia, also the hometown of a former girlfriend. ("I don't care if it don't bloom," Albury says. "I still talk to it.") He also has a Persian lime, a few grapefruits, and tangelo, mango, and avocado trees. Plus palms and a cactus as tall as the house. Behind a hurricane fence on the east side of the yard is Albury's robust vegetable garden, which is fertilized with his fish guts. "This is the Winn-Dixie bread basket here," he declares, pointing out okra, collards, cabbage, broccoli, five varieties of onions, tomatoes, and pole beans. Then there are the banana, bell, and serrano peppers.

Albury picks the smooth, perfumed leaves of the allspice and dries some to use as seasoning in his cooking. He also boils it to make tea. "It's good for the high [blood] pressure," he explains. "I had high pressure for fifteen years, and my doctor never told me."

Ten years ago in this yard Albury hosted one of Larcenia Bullard's first campaign parties. Bullard, whose husband is an Elk and who lives in nearby Richmond Heights, has been a state representative for the Democratic Party since 1992. Albury cooked up his famous pigeon peas and rice, pork and chicken souse, collard greens, barbecue, potato salad, and Bahamian-style cornbread. He set a few dozen tables in the shade and threw giant squares of plywood on the ground. "He even had a board in the middle of the yard in back where people could dance so they wouldn't have to worry about dancing in the dirt," Bullard recalls. "Back then I had very little support in terms of money; I didn't know how to raise money. I didn't know I had to raise money, and he was one of those who stretched his arms out to introduce me to various people in the area. People like Hubert are low-key activists. They're involved, but people don't know just how involved they are. He really wanted to make a difference in his own way."

Albury's life has developed a bit like his house: You can't tell where all the halls lead, one part is built over another, and the rooms are situated in unexpected places. He has been married twice and has trouble keeping track of his many girlfriends. With two girlfriends he has had six children: Hubert, a truck driver, is 34 years old and lives in Greenwood, Mississippi; Alberta Nixon, age 31, works for BellSouth in Miami; Calvin, age 29, teaches fourth grade at E.L. Whigham Elementary; Kathleen, 28 years old, is a pharmacist in Cutler Ridge. Nineteen-year-old twins Herbert and Hubert recently graduated from Robert Morgan Vocational Technical Center and, until a few years ago, worked part time with their father in his construction company, Albury & Sons.

Albury remains on good terms with most of his former wives and girlfriends, surely a testament to his good nature and their forbearance. They don't accuse him of being insensitive or unkind, and they don't call him a womanizer. (A friend of one of his wives, however, labels him a "scoundrel.") But he doesn't mean harm. He's impulsive and he never took well to jealousy or possessiveness. One woman who was with him for more than a decade and didn't want to be named concludes: "I just think a single life would be better for him. He has a mind of his own."

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