Letters to the Editor

From the issue of August 17, 2000

The Wimp
Gary Dellapa's retirement from MIA comes not a moment too soon
By Jim DeFede

Merrett Speaks Up for Merit
If Dellapa were such a loser, I'd have booted him long ago:
I can't think of anything good that was accomplished by Jim DeFede's mean-spirited article on Miami-Dade County aviation director Gary Dellapa (“The Wimp,” August 3). None of us is perfect, including Jim DeFede and me, but what happened to Dellapa's 30 years of dedicated public service without a hint of impropriety? Gary served this community as Miami-Dade's budget director for several years and later as assistant county manager during my previous tenure. What happened also to Gary's steadfast stewardship of the five-billion-dollar capital improvement program that is so vital to the economic welfare of this community? And that is not to mention the thousands of ten- to twelve-hour days managing a very complex environment.

Instead of giving Gary a fair shake, we have derogatory statements by unnamed sources who denigrate the character of a very bright, hard-working, and honest public servant. I too may have wished that Gary had been more aggressive in weeding out dead wood or questionable performers, but he deserves a whole lot more recognition and credit than DeFede's callous comments.

As for that portion of DeFede's column dealing with senior assistants Steve Spratt and Bill Johnson, I wish he had included my comment that both gentlemen would be worthy candidates for the county manager's position when I leave. I don't know whether Bill Johnson will become a candidate for the aviation director position. If he does, then I would think he would be seriously considered, recognizing that we are conducting a professionally led search to secure the most talented, experienced candidate for appointment to that critically important position. The same applies to Steve Spratt and the director of parks and recreation position.

My reading of Jim DeFede's approach was that I would take care of “the good old boys” before I leave, which I find insulting and offensive. I will not “take care” of anybody. When I do make an appointment, it will be the best candidate for the job, no matter the person's ethnicity, race, or gender. Anyone who looks at my public record of appointments over the years will confirm that they have been very sensitive to those issues while at the same time striving for competence and professionalism.

Merrett R. Stierheim, county manager
Miami-Dade County

That's Rich
Wanna know how county commissioners earn their keep? Don't bother checking financial disclosure forms.
By Jacob Bernstein and Robbie Guerra

First You Get the Power, Then You Get the Money
Maximize your assets; run for office!
The article by Jacob Bernstein and Robbie Guerra about financial disclosure forms (“That's Rich,” August 10) shows just one of the reasons politics in general is so corrupt and attracts such an undesirable element, for the most part. In reality the culprit is not money but power. From toilets at the airport to pay-phone contracts to garbage pickup to arenas -- the county, its mayor, and the commissioners wield far too much power over our lives and pocketbooks. This has created an atmosphere in which the politically connected get rich and the rest of us are taxed and regulated to death.

Unfortunately among the current crop of candidates there seems to be no hope. They are all saying, “I can do a better job than him/her; I am less corrupt than him/her; I am more honest than him/her; I can manage your tax money better than him/her.” I'm afraid we've all heard this before. I have not heard one of these candidates state the obvious: Government has overstepped its boundaries and must pull back. Rather than suggest all these blue-ribbon commissions and panels to fix the airport, why not do the obvious and privatize it, like London's Heathrow? This would really get the commission's sticky fingers out of the pot (if done correctly).

Can someone tell me why the county owns or contracts out pay phones? While I'm asking questions, can someone explain why the county uses taxpayer money to build arenas for billionaires so millionaires can play in them?

The point of all this is that if the Miami-Dade County Commission did not have all this power it has apparently granted itself over the years, the money interests would not be there. The corruption would be insignificant or negligible. No one has said it better than Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Emiliano Antunez
Miami

County Commissioner No Math Whiz
Add an SUV, subtract a few knickknacks:
After reviewing my financial disclosure form from 1997, I discovered two mathematical errors. The error was failing to add the $28,000 in household goods to the overall asset value. The net worth listed in part A of the 1997 financial disclosure read $407,904 when it should have read $435,904. The other error was omitting the value of the 1994 Ford Explorer. That omission makes it look like that from 1997 to 1998 my net worth grew by $37,000 when in actuality, had the value of the Ford Explorer ($23,000) been included in the report, the net worth should reflect a growth of $14,081 from the 1997 report to the 1998 report.

I have amended the 1997 financial disclosure to include the addition of the $28,000 in household goods and the $23,000 value of the Ford Explorer. With these corrections the 1997 report now lists my net worth as $458,904.

Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention.

Javier Souto, commissioner
Miami-Dade County

Since When Is Being No Math Whiz a Crime?
Evidently when you're a county commissioner:
Jacob Bernstein and Robbie Guerra mention in their article that, with respect to Commissioner Javier Souto and his “mistake” in filling out the financial disclosure forms required by law, penalties for lying on financial disclosure forms include possible fines and removal from office. For what State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle calls “the little people,” penalties can be worse.

On April 1, 1998, Carlos Valdes, the county's former chief building inspector, was indicted on charges of official misconduct and failing to report income of roughly the same amount as the discrepancy in the Souto disclosure forms discussed in the New Times article. Somehow I do not see Ms. Fernandez Rundle going after Mr. Souto the way she went after Mr. Valdes.

Mr. Valdes had been promoted to the position of chief building inspector in January 1998. When information surfaced regarding his moonlighting as a contractor (and inspecting at least two of his own projects), he was immediately suspended from his job and subsequently fired. Later he was indicted, along with Reinaldo Villar and me.

While charges against Mr. Villar and me were dropped, Mr. Valdes eventually pleaded guilty to one felony charge of official misconduct. (In a deal worked out with prosecutors, adjudication was withheld, meaning he will have no felony record.)

While I firmly believe those who break the law should be held accountable for their actions, I also believe the law should apply equally to all people, which of course it never has and never will. I just wonder what Mr. Valdes would have to say about the Souto situation.

Lee Martin
Miami

Editor's note: In April 1998 Lee Martin, a former top county building official, was suspended from his job and charged with misdemeanor culpable negligence after allowing the Dadeland Station shopping complex to open with what were alleged to have been major construction flaws. After the State Attorney's Office dropped the charge against him, Mr. Martin sued the county for reinstatement and damages. That case is pending.

Singed by Jason's Blazing Computer
Won't be me casting that first stone:
I have to admit I enjoyed very much the recent letter from Jason Pijuan about Cubans, African Americans, and Anglos in this community (“Letters,” July 27). He had the intelligence to synthesize the main characteristics of the three groups. Luckily for the Jews and the Haitians, they escaped Jason's computer keyboard.

As in an x-ray, however, the picture he shows us is just a skeleton of these human beings, without the tender flesh of good virtues that adorn each of these groups. Yes, Jason described what is true in many cases, but that was only a part, a negative part, of the whole truth.

I agree with Jason that I must not point blame at other groups and must not throw stones on my neighbor's house when my house has a glass roof. That is what Jesus said. And I appreciate very much the welcome that all Americans gave to Cubans looking for freedom and a better life in this country. I also believe most Cubans feel strong admiration and love for the United States, even if that is sometimes difficult to see.

Adolfo Costa
Miami

Stars and Bars and Blame
Beware hypocrites in patriotic garb:
In response to the letter from Jason Pijuan, I'd like to say as a black man that it is extremely frustrating to see so many of us rise above the adversity we face only to have others bring us right back down.

The behavior of many fellow blacks in the wake of the Elian Gonzalez situation was extremely disappointing and disturbing. In the midst of a campaign by the NAACP against the Confederate flag, how can we justify the participation of blacks in the so called pro-American rallies? They were nothing more than hate rallies against the Latino community.

I was shocked when passing by the suburbs of South Miami-Dade. I encountered dozens of people parading around the Confederate flag, carrying signs of hate against Latinos. What truly disgusted me was that half the people participating in these “rallies” were black men and women. How can we expect to excel as a people when there is so much hypocrisy within our own community? The Confederate flag is a symbol of hate and a reminder of the disgusting acts that have been committed against us. To see blacks side by side with these pigs is inexcusable. I have even heard a so-called local black leader proclaim that the Elian case brought blacks and whites closer together. What a joke.

We used to blame whites for our troubles. Now Hispanics are to blame for “not giving us a chance.” Give me a break. We can blame all we want; it will not get us anywhere. The time has come to look at ourselves.

David Williams
Miami

Kulchur
Hip-hop and Socialism
By Brett Sokol

The Rant on Cuban Rap
Exploitation is colorblind:
A few points on “Hip-Hop and Socialism,” Brett Sokol's “Kulchur” column of July 20:

Point #1: “I only sample Cuban music, nothing else,” says Cuban rap producer Pablo Herrera. I salute Herrera's choice. Cuban music has much to offer. But, gee, can't that also be interpreted as intransigence? Intense nationalism? A politics of exclusion? How would such a statement be interpreted by any New Times music correspondent if it were said by Willy Chirino or Gloria Estefan? Aren't they isolating themselves?

And while we're talking about Cuban music, why can't Herrera sample from Chirino, Celia Cruz, or Hansel y Raul? Aren't they allowed to be sampled there? Isn't the Cuban government against intransigence? It's not like it's not Cuban music. After all, Herrera himself says that “what makes Cuban hip-hop Cuban is that it's being made by Cubans.” I think all the aforementioned are Cuban. Isn't it all just about the music?

Point #2: Vincentico Valdez? Who is Vincentico Valdez? Might Sokol mean Vicentico Valdés, whose last name is spelled the same as Chucho Valdés, down to the diacritic? Is this more of the “strong writing and solid reporting” New Times, Inc., alleges to be committed to? The more interesting question, though, is whether these are merely typos of the kind associated with amateurish yellow journalism or whether they are an indication of a concern with primarily post-1959 Cuban music for the sake of the opportunities it affords “Kulchur” to be on the “cutting edge” of music journalism, thus allowing New Times to present itself as Miami's Village Voice and attract all those affluent readers so as to further enrich New Times's parent company. And exactly why and how does covering music from within the geographic boundaries of Cuba constitute an avant-garde position? How, if not merely through a myopic interpretation of political discourse, which is intransigently entrenched in a Sixties radical perspective of activism, of the type that never thought twice about the effect of calling Vietnam vets “baby killers”?

Point #3: I'm glad to see Herrera mention the fact of racism in Cuba. There's racism here, too, and as Herrera says, it's part of the prejudice that exists throughout the world. But such a statement could have been made of pre-1959 Cuba, and quite often is heard (and derided by some) on Spanish talk radio in Miami. Herrera justifies the racism in the socialist era as the product of the relative youth of said society: 41 years. But the Republic of Cuba was only 57 years old in 1959. That's only sixteen years more.

Point #4: So when Cuba's younger generation turns its back on salsa's milieu of prostitution and catering to foreign tastes (hey, let's get the U.S. travel restrictions down so we can join Sokol in his reveling, so reminiscent of Castro's version of pre-1959 Havana! Like, party, dude, with U.S. dollars and cheap Cuban whores!) and opts for hip-hop, are they really sucking up to a genre they see as free from the taint of tourism or are they making a calculated economic move to emulate a genre that has recently been discussed as one that has supplanted rock? After all, there is a New York City producer involved here. He's probably not thinking about money, right? Does this not say something about the power U.S. blacks have gained in the years since 1959, that now they too can exert a type of cultural imperialism over other nations' music? Or can it not be cultural imperialism if it comes from black people? Why? Because they're black? Does power have a color?

Is a black person who visits Cuba and speaks about the wonders of the revolution's contribution to the empowerment of the African diaspora worldwide (debatable) while paying for things in U.S. dollars and reaping benefits from the exchange rate -- is that person not a capitalist exploiter? What counts more, words or actions? Which color best travels the world, white, black, yellow, red? Or green? Isn't a record producer who capitalizes on your situation by promising you money for the cachet of your forbidden music taking advantage of you like so many other producers, no matter what color? Why is the influence of black U.S. culture not seen as negatively as the various other influences on Ricky Martin's music, a topic I remember your reputable publication dealing with not too long ago?

Point #5: Don't get me wrong. This is nothing against black culture or black music or anything of the sort. It's an attack on your own assumptions when discussing music in Cuba and of your appropriation of black culture to represent yourselves as liberal while actually perpetrating yet another instance of imperialism. One can only hope that those whose culture you're appropriating become aware that few Cuban exiles give a damn about Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet's race, a topic you seldom mention. [Editor's note: Biscet, a physician and political dissident, has been jailed in Cuba since November 3, 1999. He is serving a three-year sentence for publicly flying a Cuban flag upside down.] And to those Cuban exiles who do care about Biscet's race: Respect others as you would have them respect you.

What matters are the basic human rights Biscet and others -- not Fidel or Raul, of course -- are denied. Maybe a Miami of Spanish speakers, Creole speakers, and English speakers united in denouncing that stupidity 90 miles away can help the stupidity we are all subject to here. And maybe we can help Haiti too, and Colombia. Why not dream? Why not hope? Why not work?

Miami is the gateway to a better future for many of the less fortunate in those nations, but it requires patience, cooperation, and dedication. Immigrants, exiles, blacks, and Anglos have a fantastic opportunity to learn so much about foreign politics, not to mention English, Spanish, and Creole, transforming themselves into the kind of commodity the world needs.

And hopefully then they wouldn't be subject to having their culture appropriated by those here who -- taking advantage of minorities and poor peoples' relative isolation -- would call them “uppity” or “intransigent” when they refused to see things as their “benefactors” do.

How sad that Brett Sokol wasn't around in the Thirties to wax euphoric over Leni Riefenstahl. There's a simple solution, of course: Denounce injustice where you find it. It doesn't take six million dead to make something unjust. One Elian, one Mumia Abu Jamal, one Biscet is enough.

One would hope New Times reporters would do something for free speech while in Cuba, but no such reportage has yet appeared in the pages of your hallowed publication. But if you do happen to be in Cuba, and if you see injustice there that you would write against here -- and Sokol's “Hip-Hop and Socialism” seems to imply it was found -- denounce it there. Do it over the PA system to a guaguancó at a Van Van concert if you like. But do so by any means necessary.

And then even the most conservative, rabid, racist anti-Castro exiles will listen to your views on the embargo. Until then you're just earning your living like so many others, and nothing else. Until then you have little right to speak ill of those who must act intransigently from afar to effect change in a militarily maintained semblance of order.

Manuel Fernández
Hialeah

Donkey Demise
Miami-Dade's Democratic Party is a shambles. Blame Joe Geller, candidate and chairman.
By Jacob Bernstein

Democratic Party Recipe
One part Israel, one part Bar Association, hold the unions:
What happened to the letters addressing Jacob Bernstein's article about Joe Geller and the county's Democratic Party (“Donkey Demise,” July 20)? Did you not receive any letters that differed from the point of view of the author? I suggest again that Mr. Bernstein made a myopic error to get so wrapped up in the ethnic makeup of the local party without addressing the overrepresentation of Jewish citizens and attorneys as activists in the Democratic Party.

I believe that while we lack any strong rank-and-file support by organized labor, the party's support of the State of Israel is as imperative to its support by our Jewish neighbors as the resistance to the Castro regime is for Cuban Americans in their politics. Avoiding this fact, as well as the impact of support by the Florida Bar Association to protect attorneys' unfettered right to litigate, is to miss two important cogs in the wheels that drive local party politics.

Mitch McMurry
Miami

You've Got Yours, So Why Vote?
When apathy is bliss:
Those who blame Joe Geller for the so-called demise of the Democratic Party in Miami-Dade County are either drinking some very strong stuff or are in serious denial about the real reason things are not going well. It's called voter apathy, and the problem is not exclusively a Democratic one.

There are deeper issues involved here, each of them an extreme (reflective of the growing economic disparity in this country) and framable in the form of a question: What's there to fight for if you already have everything? And if you don't have everything, those who do will make sure it stays that way, so what's the use in trying to change anything?

I also found Jacob Bernstein's writing to be divisive. The intimation was clear that somehow being Cuban or thinking Cuban is antithetical to democracy and the American way of life. Those who think this way need to be reminded that not all Americans arrived on the Mayflower and that immigrants usually enrich the political process.

Is there a causal connection between political deterioration and a disdain for tyranny? Should it matter that tyranny is occurring 90 miles away? You no longer have your King George to contend with. We, on the other hand, have our Castro. But we are all Americans.

So what are we (Cuban Americans) to defend or feel passionate about? Disney World? Jerry Springer? There is your answer to the apathy. Frankly many Cubans feel that Americans as a whole have taken their freedom for granted, and therein may lie the dose of reality that many are refusing to swallow. Sprinkle in a little envy and it becomes a lot easier to “blame them Cubans.”

Maurice Ferré may be thought by some to be a political realist but he is dead wrong in suggesting that the Democratic Party should give up on the Cuban community. The truth is that most Cuban Americans don't see themselves as Democrat or Republican. They just love American freedom, a freedom most of us believe should not be sold on the auction block, or for any price, no matter how high.

Manny Losada
Miami

Schmuck Man
A few less words, a lot more meaning:
Joe Geller, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee, should have been a man of fewer words. Rather than having said, “I'm just the schmuck who takes the heat,” he more correctly should have said, “I'm just the schmuck.” Then the egomaniacal, do-nothing Joe Geller would have been correct.

Harvey Slavin
Hollywood


ERRATUM: The August 10 “Kulchur” column (“What Makes Alvaro Run?” ), by staff writer Brett Sokol, contained several reporting errors. Miami attorney Victor M. Diaz, Jr., was misidentified as a member of the Miami Beach Design Review Board. He is a member of that city's Historic Preservation Board. Neither the Design Review Board nor the Historic Preservation Board voted to deny the Miami City Ballet a certificate of occupancy, as reported in the column. At an August 1 meeting, the two boards, meeting jointly, unanimously requested that the Miami City Ballet resubmit proposed modifications to the exterior design of its new building. The ballet company's certificate of occupancy was not at issue. (Currently the Miami City Ballet operates under a temporary certificate of occupancy.)

Also the quotation from the Miami Herald attributed to Miami City Ballet board president Mike Eidson was subsequently clarified by that paper. According to the Herald, Eidson and Diaz “concur that during the [telephone] call, Diaz never threatened retaliation against the ballet himself, but only warned that others might retaliate if the ballet opposed Miami-Dade's “Cuba Affidavit' policy.”

The Citizens Accountability Network, which Alvaro Fernandez once served as president, no longer exists. It has been reconstituted under the aegis of the League of Women Voters.

Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Gersten was not the “predecessor” of former commissioner Bruce Kaplan, as reported. Kaplan's 1993 election from District 5 was the first under the county's newly created system of district voting.

Also Kaplan was not convicted of mortgage fraud as reported. As part of an April 1998 agreement with the State Attorney's Office, Kaplan pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of filing false financial disclosure forms. He also resigned from office.

New Times regrets the errors.

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