By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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Last week our intrepid mayor, Alex Penelas, flew off to Spain -- at taxpayer expense, of course -- for a bit of sightseeing and a chance to sample some fine Basque cuisine. The mayor, his wife, and their two children visited the scenic cities of Madrid, Alicante, and Santander during their weeklong junket, officially described as a "trade mission" intended to promote the county and its principal economic resource: Miami International Airport.
This raises an interesting question. How do you promote an airport that is widely regarded as one of the worst in the nation, that has been mismanaged for years, and that is rife with political corruption and cronyism?
The answer can be found in an old joke: How do porcupines make love? Very carefully.
Luckily the mayor wasn't alone during his exhausting round of business meetings; several county bureaucrats were also flown across the Atlantic at taxpayer expense. Representatives from the Beacon Council and the Latin chamber of commerce tagged along as well. Which meant hizzoner was never lacking for a baby sitter.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I puzzled over what Penelas could possibly say when he visited the mayors and community leaders of these cities. After a few calls to trusted sources, I was able to receive an advance copy of the mayor's speech:
Ladies and gentleman, I'd like to thank [INSERT NAME OF MAYOR] and all the people of [NAME OF CITY] for their gracious hospitality. Lillie and I have had a marvelous time. It certainly is true what they say about [NAME OF CITY]. There is no place like it anywhere in the world. We will always treasure the moments we have spent with you. This trip truly has been the second honeymoon Lillie and I have always dreamed about.
[PAUSE. SMILE AT LILLIE. BLOW HER A KISS. PAUSE AGAIN.]
I hope in the months and years ahead that Lillie and I can return often and that we can celebrate not only our own union, but the union of our two communities through increased trade and business opportunities. And toward that end I'd like to take just a few minutes to outline some of the advantages Miami-Dade County can offer.
First, under my leadership the number of lobbyists you must hire in order to do business at Miami International Airport has been greatly reduced. By narrowing the list to just my friends and biggest political fundraisers, I've tried to make it easier for companies to grease the wheels of county government and win lucrative contracts.
[SMILE. WAIT FOR APPLAUSE.]
This has not been easy for me. As many of you may know, I am a firm believer in the value of lobbyists. After all, it is because of these particular lobbyists that I am the mayor of Miami-Dade County, and because of them I am certain to win re-election next year. Also, and I don't mind telling you, I love it when they give me money and throw me parties. And I find it very comforting to have them pat me on the back and tell me I'm doing a great job.
To be candid with you, during my three years as mayor I've actually accomplished very little -- except to avoid trouble. And yet no one will dare run against me next year because they know that, thanks to my lobbyist friends, I can raise so much money I'll bury any challenger. So for me to downsize the lobbying corps accustomed to exploiting their relationships with me was not easy. But I did it anyway because I knew it was the right thing to do.
[NO SMILE. WAIT FOR APPLAUSE. NOD CONFIDENTLY.]
As an aside, let me mention that following my speech today, Frank Nero from the Beacon Council will be handing out a list of approved lobbyists. These gentlemen know how to get the job done, and our county employees know that.
But seriously, one of the things that makes Miami-Dade County special is this: We will let your approved lobbyist craft bid specifications and contract requirements that will virtually guarantee that your company wins a contract.
I know some of you may be concerned. You may have heard about recent unflattering newspaper stories and exposés regarding the airport. Our critics complain that Miami International is outdated, that it's a nightmare for travelers, that our retail stores are unappealing, and that the restaurant food is boring and overpriced. To those critics I say, coño!
[POUND FIST ON LECTURN.]
As it turned out, I couldn't get a direct flight to Madrid out of Fort Lauderdale, so I actually used MIA on this trip to Spain. And let me tell you something. Those critics don't know squat about airports.
The first problem everyone mentions about at MIA is parking. Well, I'm here to say we had no problems parking. My driver dropped us off right in front of the terminal, where aviation-department employees were waiting to carry our bags inside.
In an effort to appease airport naysayers, I'd budgeted a few extra minutes on the off chance that parking might be a problem. Since there was no problem, I used the extra time to stroll through some of the lovely shops in the main terminal. And contrary to what you might have read in a certain daily newspaper, I found a delightful assortment of items from which to choose.
For example, they had T-shirts with the word Miami on them, and they also had T-shirts with the word Florida on them. Each of these T-shirts came in different colors. They had white and red and blue and green and pink. And of course each shirt came in different sizes. There were small, medium, large, and even extra-large.
So if you wanted a red Miami T-shirt, size small, we would have it. Or if you wanted a medium-size green Florida T-shirt, we would have that too. Or you could get the Florida shirt in white and extra-large, or the Miami shirt in blue and medium.
I haven't even mentioned the subcategories based on blends of fabric. Some of the shirts were 40 percent cotton, 60 percent polyester. Others were 50-50. And don't get me started on the rayon! By the way, some of those shirts used letters and others used a very attractive script.
In other words, my friends, the perception that our airport stores do not offer a variety of merchandise is simply not true. The same goes for criticism of the restaurants. As I was being escorted past the lines of people at the ticket counters, I couldn't help but notice that several restaurants were offering pizza slices featuring both pepperoni and sausage.
On the same slice!
When I first took office, such a combination slice was not even thought possible at Miami International Airport. Naturally we had to renegotiate the food-and-beverage contract in order to achieve this, and the company demanded some hefty financial concessions. But the important thing is that we did it, and I think we are a better community as a result. And when I win re-election, we'll add mushrooms as well!
[SMILE. WAIT FOR APPLAUSE.]
After my tour of your lovely country, I'll return to Miami and announce a host of changes to the airport. Let me assure each of you right now that these changes will be purely cosmetic and will in no way inhibit the many lucrative business opportunities for which our airport is justly famous. No, this is a little game we play in Miami. First there is some negative publicity. Then I do some polling to determine if it is something that might affect my chances for re-election. And if the polls say it is, I immediately call a press conference, announce a twelve-point initiative to fix the problem, and then declare victory.
The public buys it. I'm hailed as a reformer. And in the end, business thrives free of meddlesome intrusions.
I'd like to thank [NAME OF MAYOR] for this wonderful luncheon in my honor. But I can see the little ones are getting restless. [PAUSE] No, not my children. I'm talking about Bill Johnson from the county manager's office and Chuck Towsley from the seaport.
[LAUGH. WAVE TO BILL AND CHUCK.]
Just kidding, guys. But go ahead and bring the car around.
Once again, thank you for this warm reception. I'm sure we'll be back. After all, Lillie has many relatives in Spain and I'm sure we won't be able to see them all on this trip.
[LAUGH. SMILE. WAVE. SHAKE HANDS WITH MAYOR.]