North Bay Confidential

It takes a village -- North Bay Village -- to raise this much racket at election time

On Halloween night in 1967, a connected thug named Thomas Altamura -- “the Enforcer” to his business associates and police -- stood in the foyer at The Place for the Steak waiting for his usual table. Anthony “Big Tony” Esperti, a member of a rival organization, walked into the restaurant and canceled Mr. Altamura's plans for the evening. Actually he canceled Mr. Altamura. With a bullet to the head. Newspapers speculated the incident had something to do with dividing up the action in North Bay Village.

The mob eventually left town, but the ethnic rifts, turf wars, and palace intrigue that defined those days endure in the city's political scene. Recent elections have produced some curious and disturbing episodes. In 1992 Albert Sakharoff, an insurance agent, was forced to withdraw from the mayor's race owing to anonymous threats of violence, leaving incumbent Mayor Paul Vogel free to run unopposed for the fourth consecutive time. (Vogel finally stepped down in 1998, when term limits were instituted.)

In this year's election, anonymous threats have been replaced by anonymous mailings. Early in September residents of the town received a letter in the mail warning potential voters of “a situation on [sic] our upcoming election.” The letter, which read like a ransom note hastily assembled by a dyslexic, accused Coletta of wanting to open not just a nightclub but a “striper [sic] nightclub on our peaceful city.” It also charged the developer with “using” the recently formed Latin League of North Bay Village to achieve his evil purposes. The letter closed with the ominous-sounding question: “Who is this man, Mr. Coletta?” It was signed “Roman Perdomo.”

Yeah, that's the ticket: Al Coletta says his candidates will clean up politics in North Bay Village
Steve Satterwhite
Yeah, that's the ticket: Al Coletta says his candidates will clean up politics in North Bay Village

A few weeks later, a second letter circulated, calling Coletta “the extortionist of North Bay Village.” It too was signed “Roman Perdomo.”

What's so anonymous about two signed letters? The fact there doesn't appear to be any such person as Roman Perdomo. At least not in North Bay Village, despite the inclusive references to “our” city and “our” election. And not anywhere else for that matter. Coletta went looking for him. “Roman Perdomo? I found one in South Beach. I rang the bell, and this little old fuckin' guy comes out,” he laughs. “He didn't know anything about anything.”

Nevertheless the letters have had an impact. Armand Abecassis, a candidate in the Treasure Island commission race, left “The Team” after being named in the letter under the category of Coletta “puppets.”

As for the charge Coletta is using the Latin League? The developer does have an appreciation for the role ethnic politics have historically played in North Bay Village, in particular the advantage once enjoyed by Jewish candidates. “I used to tell people: “You got a cat named Cohen? Leave him home, and I'll get him elected.'” Coletta, though, says those days are over.

Last year he and Rachel Dugger -- candidate Bob Dugger's Cuban-born wife -- founded the Latin League, a grassroots organization ostensibly designed to encourage Hispanic participation in community affairs by increasing the number of Hispanics on citizen advisory boards and in local civic organizations. Coletta and Dugger deny that the league has anything to do with the upcoming election or with Bob Dugger's candidacy.

“What the Latin League is doing is joining the city together,” emphasizes Rachel Dugger, who characterizes ethnic relations in North Bay Village as strained. “Before moving to North Bay Village, I lived in Kendall and never thought of myself as a Latin,” she explains. “Here they put you on the defensive.” The league has sponsored social events and a voter-registration drive targeted at the city's Hispanic residents, who now make up an estimated 50 to 66 percent of North Bay Village's population and account for a third of its voters.

Eric Isicoff, who claims he's been publicly (and wrongly) labeled by the group as anti-Hispanic, says Rachel Dugger's official line regarding the Latin League's mission is nothing but a smoke screen. “She's decided to get involved in a political action committee to further her and her husband's political interests,” he asserts. “The Latin League exists to get the Hispanic vote riled up.”

Gabrielle Nash-Tessler, a perennial candidate in North Bay Village elections over the past decade (she's running again this year), is inclined to agree. With everyone. “Politics in North Bay Village aren't dirty,” she says in her squeaky French accent. “They're filthy.” Nevertheless Nash-Tessler remains optimistic about the city's future. “This election,” she volunteers with appropriate civic pride, “is the most democratic election North Bay Village has ever had.”

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