Portrait of an Upset

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

Lorenzo's advice was perhaps even more pivotal for Winton's run in the Cuban community. "Cubans have different issues," Lorenzo comments. "They think with their hearts." Thus radio, television and print advertisements in the exile community focused on the city's high tax rate and Winton's family-man image. The strategy did not disappoint at the Carroll Manor nursing home at Mercy Hospital, where most of 400 elderly votes were undecided when both candidates visited. Plummer arrived on October 16 with arroz con pollo. So Lorenzo told Winton to bring along his wife, toddler, and a cake on their October 20 visit. "These elderly people have been used and abused by politicians," the manager told the candidate. "You are there to tell them 'I am one of you.'"

The baby stole the hearts of the lonely, mostly female audience. "Hey, I vote for your son," resident Elena Painceira told Winton in Spanish. The sentiment was common among the home's residents, said employee Rafaela Perez. It didn't hurt that Addison took a liking to the old folks. "That baby charmed everyone," Perez says.

The fluctuating election results played with Winton's emotions like a yo-yo
Steve Satterwhite
The fluctuating election results played with Winton's emotions like a yo-yo

Winton parked his black Jeep Grand Cherokee on the corner of SW 28th Street and 38th Avenue. He grabbed a stack of flyers written in Spanish, a clipboard stuffed with lists of voters' names, and clipped his cell phone to his belt. The season's first cold front blew through early on Saturday, October 23 and sucked away summer's humidity. It left behind clear blue skies and comfortable temperatures, perfect weather to trawl for voters. Dressed in a white golf shirt with Miami emblazoned in rainbow colors on the left side of his chest, blue cotton slacks, and black Nike sneakers, the candidate strolled south.

Most homeowners were older Cuban exiles who speak little English. Schoolteacher and area resident Arles Carballo acted as translator. The pair approached Carlos Arribas, an elderly balding man wearing a white T-shirt and dark slacks who was working in his front yard. Winton made his pitch, but a sweaty Arribas wasn't buying. "I'm not voting for anyone," the Cuban exile exclaimed. "They keep on raising my taxes without any services." Winton responded, through the translator, that he is different; he plans to improve city performance. "Politicians offer plenty but deliver little," the elder man shot back.

Arribas complained about the neighborhood homeless who steal things from his yard. Winton listened and took notes. Then he pledged to look into the problem if elected. A hesitant Arribas offered the challenger his vote. "We need to change," the exile said. "But we can't change the way we did in Cuba." He shook Winton's hand.

At 2:00 p.m., after knocking on the doors of 100 homes, Winton headed north to Legion Park in Morningside to meet Haitian businessman Georges William. The Miami Police Department was sponsoring a community rally under the tall shady trees. Rap music blared from a tower of speakers as Winton made his way through the mostly Creole-speaking crowd. He found William, who got straight to the point. "There is a strong vote in the Haitian community," William said. "If you are willing to come in and do something for the community, it could make a difference. Maybe you can do something for me." Winton did not answer, but agreed to meet with William at his office to discuss the issue further.

Next the Grand Cherokee headed south to Coconut Grove's Dog Park for a picnic sponsored by the Center Grove Homeowners' Association. Parents sipped cold beer under banyan trees as dogs and kids ran around. Plummer paraphernalia littered the place, a sure sign the incumbent and his entourage had stopped by. Undaunted, Winton began walking up to voters and engaging them in conversation. "Plummer stood on a corner and had people come up and kiss his bishop's ring," teacher Mike Garcia observed of the commissioner's method of seeking voters. He pledged his support to the challenger.

Winton decided to eat a late lunch, so he joined the hot dog line. Then he pitched the cook with his message of change. "How are you going to do it?" responds Guy Hamilton, whose athletic figure towered over Winton's five-foot five-inch frame. As Hamilton turned over a hot dog on the barbecue, Winton talked about empowering neighborhoods.

"That sounds like rhetoric," Hamilton answered snidely. "You sound like the coach at Notre Dame." Then he turned his back on Winton.

The candidate's face turned bright red, and he lost his cool. "Turn around and look at me when I talk to you," Winton yelled. "Now, I am willing to go in there and fight for you! I'm not afraid of anything! But I need your help to do it!"

Hamilton was taken aback. He handed over a hot dog as a peace offering. "I'm willing to help if you are willing to do it," Hamilton answered.

Winton accepted the deal and stepped back to eat. "That's the part of me my wife said will not allow me to be a politician," Winton said between bites. "Ask me any question, and I will give you an answer. Don't give me shit. When I get shit, I get pissed off."

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