Promises to Keep

Bill Clinton has unfinished business in Homestead, a town he visited long ago but wouldn't recognize today

Late last year the church was christened as a concert venue by the Florida Philharmonic, which played before a packed house. "The acoustics were wonderful," Levine boasts.

One aspect of Homestead Levine finds appealing is its quaint rural ambiance. "The fact that it has been skipped over is part of its charm," he says. "It's like you've discovered a little gem."


It's a shame that in the final days of his presidency Bill Clinton can't visit Homestead, especially before he makes a decision about the future of Homestead Air Force Base. By now we all know that his campaign promise to rebuild the base was never realized. With bases closing all across the nation, and Cuba no longer a military threat to the United States, it never made sense to restore the base to its prior glory. Following the hurricane, however, the control tower was rebuilt and the Department of Defense did agree to station air force reserve units there. Those units remain in place.

The last time Clinton was in South Dade was in 1993, a year after he was elected. He renewed his pledge to support to the community, which was still reeling from the effects of Andrew.

You have to wonder to what extent that promise weighs on Clinton as he decides whether to allow the base to be turned into a commercial airport. Backers of the airport proposal insist it is essential to the economic well-being of the community, and that by endorsing it, Clinton finally will make good on his 1992 promise to help Homestead get back on its feet.

Guilt is a powerful tool, especially when coupled with ignorance. The president may not know, it but the Homestead of today is not the same one he visited more than seven years ago. Homestead already is back on its feet.

For his part Shiver continues to support the airport proposal promoted by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, despite the fact that it will sit between two national parks and is opposed by every environmental group in the nation, as well as Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner, U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch (whose district includes the Everglades and the Florida Keys), and incoming U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Shiver has been pragmatic, however. "We knew we couldn't rely on the airport being built, so we haven't placed all of our eggs in one basket," he points out. "Does the future of Homestead depend on having the base developed into an airport? No. Would we do better with it as an airport? I think we would."

Some people in Homestead might indeed do better with an airport. But at what price? The very qualities that make Homestead the gem it is today will be destroyed by the uncontrolled growth and pollution that inevitably accompany a new airport.

Clinton shouldn't run from the campaign promises he made in Homestead in 1992. Instead he should recognize that times have changed. But he should live up to the spirit of those promises. He should -- to use his words at the time -- "assume the responsibility" for ensuring the area's economic well-being. And to guarantee its long-term survival, he should permanently block any plans to transform the base into a major airport. The people of Homestead deserve nothing less.


What do you think?

Let President Clinton know how you feel about the air base and whether it should be turned into a commercial airport. You can contact the White House by calling 800-663-9566 or 202-456-1414. Follow the prompts to a White House comments-line operator, who will register your opinion. If you wish to send a letter, the fax number is 202-456-2461. Or send an e-mail to: president@whitehouse.gov

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