If the Suits Fit

The mayor of Hialeah Gardens has a taste for vulgarity, revenge -- and for costing the city big bucks in legal fees

"Myself and other employees have been sent, during city time, to pick up checks for her, to make deposits into her campaign account, to pick up campaign signs, to get proofs of campaign signs," recounts the stocky, goateed 36-year-old with a shaved head. "The majority of her employees worked diligently on her campaign on city time."

He adds that much of Oliveros's campaign literature from the 1997 election, including handbills and mailers, was produced within the walls of city hall, on the city's computers, printers, and copying machines, most of it by the mayor herself. Two other ex-employees confirm that Godwin and other city staffers regularly worked on Oliveros's election campaigns on city time. Oliveros denies she ever ordered city employees to conduct campaign work during business hours.

The mayor's alleged illegal activity, and Godwin's admitted part in it, didn't stop there. Before the 1997 mayoral election, Godwin says, he planned on moving from his mother's home in Hialeah to an apartment in Hialeah Gardens, but wasn't going to move in time to vote in the mayoral election. Godwin says the mayor gave him a voter's registration form to sign, which he did; he later learned the address on the form was that of Oliveros's neighbor, Hialeah Gardens parks director Ricardo Vasquez. County voter-registration records show he was indeed registered to vote from the Vasquez home. Godwin says he never lived at that address, and that when he voted in the 1997 election (for Oliveros, of course), he still resided in Hialeah. (Godwin claims several other people, at the mayor's urging, engaged in similar voter fraud. But the registration history of a half-dozen or so people he named does not show clearly suspicious change-of-address patterns.) Oliveros denies asking anyone to change their registration into or out of Hialeah Gardens.

Ground zero for numerous complaints and lawsuits against the City of Hialeah Gardens
Steve Satterwhite
Ground zero for numerous complaints and lawsuits against the City of Hialeah Gardens
Ex-cop Deborah Collins Kidwell won her federal case against the city
Steve Satterwhite
Ex-cop Deborah Collins Kidwell won her federal case against the city

Again Godwin claims he acceded to the mayor's orders out of fear. "When she became mayor [the second time], it was like you gave her this ultimate power, and she became this humongous monster. 'I'm unbeatable, I'm unchallengeable, and I can do whatever I want.' She has commented that Fidel Castro is nothing compared to her. That she rules stronger than he does, and that the city belongs to her."

Godwin's life of crime did weigh on his conscience, he says. But what drove him to leave the office in May was the continual verbal abuse from Oliveros, and her clumsy retaliation against him when he dared to display disloyalty. "She has a mouth like a barmaid," Godwin says. "She'd say, 'You have to do this, porque esa me sale de la papaya,'" he says with disgust. (The phrase translates to, "because it comes out of my pussy.") "She called me maricon de playa [faggot from the beach]. She'd always ask me if I was having trouble sitting down because I'd been having sex the night before. Just very unprofessional."

After his supervisor told him the mayor "didn't want him around," Godwin spent three weeks in the hospital for what he calls "a nervous breakdown." Once he pulled himself together, he hired an attorney and filed a discrimination complaint with the federal EEOC. The complaint makes no mention of election-law violations or voter fraud. He does charge that the mayor discriminated against him as a homosexual; that she forced him and others to participate in a Santería ritual; and that his transfer out of the mayor's office amounted to "a constructive discharge," a bit of legalese that means he was jerked around so much that any reasonable person would have walked.

Oliveros, through her attorney Harriet Lewis of Adorno & Zeder, declined to comment for this story. Lewis describes the salient points of the city's response to Godwin's EEOC complaint: Godwin "had some problems in his ability to perform his work," and when he was transferred out of the mayor's office, some "homosexual pornography" was found in his computer. She adds that he was never discriminated against because of his sexual orientation, and maintains he was never asked to leave the city, but that he simply stopped showing up.

Godwin and others allege Oliveros's bigotry is not limited to homosexuals. On more than one occasion, according to three sources, she has declared that "her" city is no place for black people. In 1998 the Thunderwheels of Hialeah Gardens roller-skating rink held a series of "Soul Nights," heavily advertised on Power 96 (WPOW-FM 96.5), which attracted a crowd of mostly black teenagers. A former city employee remembers that some of the kids became unruly the first couple of nights, prompting Manuel Carrera, a paralegal in Oliveros's office, to "start using the word nigger."

"He said, 'What you have to do is take these molletos out of the city,'" the ex-employee says, using the derogatory Spanish term for blacks. The mayor's reaction, according to this former staffer? "She said she did not like having those people 'darkening' her city, because she did not want to have a riot," the ex-employee says. "She said they should go have that Soul Night in Liberty City, Overtown, Opa-locka, or Carol City, because she said black people cannot afford to go to a nice place to spend money."

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