Portrait of an Upset

Johnny Winton used anti-incumbent backlash, new district boundaries, and plenty of cash to knock off J.L. Plummer

Money would not be a problem for Winton, a member of the downtown elite. From the beginning of his effort, fellow business owners and colleagues in the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce courted him. When the candidate asked for money, they gave and gave some more. Key contributors include Jose Cancela, chamber chairman and owner of several radio stations, among them the Radio Unica network, and Philip Blumberg, owner of the 1401 Brickell office building, who will take over as chamber chairman in the summer. Cancela, Blumberg, and others sponsored fundraisers and described Winton as a pro-business candidate.

By August, three months before the election, Winton had amassed a respectable $75,000 campaign fund. He more than doubled that to $152,000 by election time. The total surpassed what commission incumbents Tomas Regalado and Wilfredo Gort raised individually. Plummer, however, one-upped Winton, collecting $225,000 by the time voters had cast their ballots.

Election results show Winton's strategy generally succeeded. In the six precincts where Anglos make up at least two-thirds of voters, Winton took 70 percent of ballots cast. Plummer received only 22 percent. In the Hispanic community the commission veteran gained 41 percent and Winton received 28 percent. Overall Winton beat Plummer by 53 percent to 34 percent.

Lobbyist Chris Korge avoided the spotlight throughout the campaign, but couldn't resist it at the victory celebration
Steve Satterwhite
Lobbyist Chris Korge avoided the spotlight throughout the campaign, but couldn't resist it at the victory celebration
Campaign manager Alberto Lorenzo understands how to find voters in Miami's fragmented communities and get them to the polls
Steve Satterwhite
Campaign manager Alberto Lorenzo understands how to find voters in Miami's fragmented communities and get them to the polls

New Times shadowed Winton during the final two weeks of his campaign. What emerged was a portrait of an energetic, plain-speaking, quick-tempered businessman who can blend into nearly any social situation but is most comfortable among affluent and powerful businessmen, the group that heavily financed his campaign and will most likely expect the freshman commissioner to support its cause. He is also politically naive and sometimes oblivious to the unique customs and beliefs of the communities in Miami's Latin-American melting pot. A college dropout, Winton thinks quickly on his feet, but sometimes speaks in ungrammatical and tortured sentences. As a commissioner he will most likely be a savvy negotiator, adept at brokering coalitions and executing plans. But the outsider status that made him attractive to voters could hinder his effectiveness on the Dinner Key dais.

Johnny Winton was born October 13, 1949, to Donna and Sylvester "Curly" Winton in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His younger brother Bobby, who is now a diesel mechanic in the Land of Enchantment, arrived two years later. Winton grew up in a working-class home. His mother was a housewife, and his dad was employed at a lumberyard. Winton's formative years were uneventful. He was a B student in high school, worked with friends on their first cars (his was a 1955 Ford), and occasionally helped his dad at the lumberyard. Winton graduated from Valley High School in 1967, then enrolled at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. He majored in business administration and earned spending money disposing of scrap metal at a junkyard.

In February 1971 Winton's number was called for the Vietnam War draft. After a routine physical and basic training at a California army base, it seemed he would be sent overseas. But doctors discovered the recruit suffered from high-blood pressure. They kept him in a military hospital for three days to ensure he hadn't taken drugs to avoid the increasingly unpopular war, then sent him home. He still takes medication for the condition.

Back in Albuquerque Winton took a job as an apprentice to a plumbing contractor. He planned to return to college in January 1972, but an argument with a close comrade at a party in October 1971 drastically altered Winton's strategy. He doesn't recall the subject, only that he became frustrated with his station in life. Determined to start something new, he jumped in his truck at 2:00 a.m. and headed west.

The next day he stopped in Phoenix at the doorstep of a distant cousin. He had no clothes or income. A month later he took a job as a delivery boy for a nonprofit blood bank. The pay was $500 per month. Winton quickly rose through the ranks and became a manager. In 1972, as part of an attempt to make a bloated operation more efficient, the federal government placed the nation's blood supply under the control of the American Red Cross. Soon Winton was helping restructure blood banks throughout the country.

Winton's experience with marriage has been rather, well, unconventional. He's wed three women but celebrated four weddings. In 1973 he met his first wife, Doreen, and the two were soon hitched. Then Winton was transferred to a Bismarck, North Dakota, blood bank. Doreen didn't much like the northern plain and left her new husband soon after arrival. The couple quickly divorced and then remarried. In 1977 he moved to Boston. Winton and Doreen split for good in 1979.

The following year Winton moved again, to Miami, to manage the South Florida Blood Service. He married his second wife, Colleen, in 1983. She bore Matt and Julie, Winton's two older children. After almost four years in the subtropics, Winton decided to change jobs. The link between AIDS and the nation's blood system surfaced at this time. Many hemophiliacs contracted the disease from blood transfusions. The press and public were scrutinizing the Red Cross. "It lost its apple-pie-and-motherhood appeal," Winton reflects.

The career nonprofit employee entered the lucrative world of real estate as a broker for John Steinbauer and Associates in the summer of 1983. By January of the following year, he opened his first solo venture, Winton/Butler Inc., with the financial backing of insurance agent Raymond Butler. The company brokered real estate deals and leased out space in office buildings. "I worried about going out of business every day for ten years," Winton recalls. "That was stress." While he struggled, Colleen filed for divorce in 1988 and moved to Washington, D.C., with the children

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