Down but Probably Not Out

What a couple of losers have to say

The sky overhead is slate gray, the river below is mud brown, and Alberto Milian is staring somewhere in between, trying to picture a future that is as opaque as the elements before him. "I'm just considering the options," says the hard-charging loser in the Miami-Dade State Attorney's race during a recent lunch at Joe's Seafood, on the rear deck perched over the Miami River. "I need a job."

You wouldn't think the election was over the way Milian enters the restaurant. He glad-hands the valet and waitstaff, vigorously asking everyone how they're doing. It's hard to tell if he's naturally this way or if he's hoping for a glimmer of recognition in their eyes, an acknowledgement of his brief celebrity.

Demetrio Perez: "I always say that I wish I could have read the map more carefully that first time"
Steve Satterwhite
Demetrio Perez: "I always say that I wish I could have read the map more carefully that first time"
Alberto Milian: "I didn't have support in the African-American areas, which I'm disappointed about"
Steve Satterwhite
Alberto Milian: "I didn't have support in the African-American areas, which I'm disappointed about"

Odds are his celebrity has only begun. By conventional standards the 40-year-old Milian pulled off a remarkable feat on election day. Despite having spent his entire legal career in the Broward County Prosecutor's Office and despite campaigning here as a virtual stranger (although he did have help from the majority of the county's police unions), he racked up 44 percent of the vote. The accomplishment was even more stunning given that he was fresh from the controversy that dogged him throughout his campaign: the pesky matter of decking a defense attorney during a dispute over jury selection.

But to hear Milian tell it, he actually thought he would win, had his heart set on it in fact. Which helps explain why he can't seem to find the exit ramp off the campaign trail. "The problems we complained about during the election are still out there," he says as urgently as if he were chatting up los viejos in Little Havana. "And if Katherine Rundle focuses on public corruption, violent crime, and provides the leadership for police that they need, then we've won the election."

Clearly Milian isn't going to shut up, and he isn't going to go away. So what will he do with his newfound popularity? Not surprisingly he's been approached about running for mayor of Miami next year: He's a proven candidate who is very popular among the city's elderly Cuban voters. He also could make another run at the top prosecutor's job in four years, which, he acknowledges, he's definitely considering.

"He certainly has a bright future," says John Rivera, president of the powerful Police Benevolent Association, which recruited Milian to run against Rundle. "His name is even being floated around out there by some influential people as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, if George W. Bush wins the presidency. I mean, the people who voted for him are so loyal it's incredible."

If Milian chooses to run for office again, it's obvious he'll need to make inroads beyond Latin, and especially Cuban, Miami. "I haven't seen the election results yet," he says. "I understand I did well in the Hispanic areas but I didn't have a lot of support in the African-American areas, which I'm disappointed about because I think I would have done some phenomenal work regarding crime in those communities."

According to the county's elections department, he pulled in about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote, capitalizing on, among other things, his Cuban heritage and the fact that his father, Emilio Milian, is a popular talk-show host on La Poderosa, WWFE-AM (670). Rundle, knowing there would be a Cuban backlash against Democrats because of Elian Gonzalez, campaigned hard in Miami-Dade's black community, with the help of stalwarts such as congresswoman Carrie Meek.

That was a wise maneuver, as it took advantage of two things: the flip side of the Elian factor -- namely, the sense of political disenfranchisement blacks felt at the hands of Cuban politicians; and the black antipathy toward Gov. Jeb Bush's "One Florida" initiative to phase out affirmative action. (See this week's "DeFede" column, page fifteen, for more on the black vote.) As a result Rundle garnered an impressive 96 percent of the black vote. In other words black Miami handed her the election. (Anglos voted for Rundle by another 70 percent.) "No doubt about it," Rivera says, "had it not been for the African-American community, he would be State Attorney."

So Milian, in his first bid for public office, is left to learn from mistakes. Meanwhile he's keeping his name out there by substituting as a host on his father's radio show. La Poderosa's president, Jorge A. Rodriguez, sees a future for Milian on the airwaves. "He needs a little bit of training, but he expresses himself very well in Spanish, and no question about it, he has a lot of supporters already. This would only help him politically."

But first things first: Milian must find a paying job. After twelve years prosecuting the wicked, he is not keen on the idea of criminal-defense work. "I don't think temperamentally I'm suited for it," he says without a hint of irony. When asked about civil law, he perks up: "I could be interested in civil work, as a personal-injury lawyer. In injury cases you're always representing the victims."

But he slumps almost as quickly, gazing out at the slow-moving river. "I've got my heart set on being a prosecutor," he confesses.

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