That Old Familiar Face

When you hear the name Maurice Ferré, what comes to mind? Something positive? Negative? Anything at all?

Ferré also believes Diaz hasn't "defined" himself clearly. "First-time candidates have to do that," he says. "I've always known how to define myself. Few have really done that, and the ones who have wish they hadn't."

That last comment clearly refers to Mayor Joe Carollo, el reinoof unflattering press. Election-watchers and an important June poll predict a runoff between the long-time foes. (Ferré still bristles when reminded of an infamous 1983 press conference at which Carollo, then a city commissioner, was expected to endorse Ferré for mayor but instead condemned him.) "I don't care what anyone says, Carollo is not a concern," Ferré predicts. "But I'm not going to talk about that. Issues only."

He pauses and then gives in.

Ferré in his heyday as Miami's first Hispanic mayor
Ferré in his heyday as Miami's first Hispanic mayor
Attorney H.T. Smith says black voters are asking, "What has Ferré done for us lately?"
Steve Satterwhite
Attorney H.T. Smith says black voters are asking, "What has Ferré done for us lately?"

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"I'm not against Carollo," he begins. "He's not been a bad mayor. His problem is that he spends the majority of his time getting even with people and suspecting them of treachery. Instead of directing his energy into being creative, he's worried about who's going to stab him in the back. As a consequence he doesn't have a single friend anywhere. Find one person who can actually say they like him."

To the rest of the world, Miami is a petri dish of corruption, and Carollo's antics have only exacerbated that perception, he says. "This city has a bad reputation, and well earned," Ferré contends. "In the last ten years there have been 28 different negative-headline stories -- from the school board scandal to the mayor [physically abusing] his wife."

Let the spin begin.

If Ferré can convince voters that Carollo is an embarrassing hothead and sell himself as a class act, he's halfway to city hall, says former mayor and election insider David Kennedy, who is running the mayoral campaign of Commissioner Willy Gort. "We've got three ghosts from the past here: Suarez, Carollo, and Ferré," Kennedy notes. "Carollo's mistakes are fresh in everyone's minds. Suarez some. Whatever fouls Ferré made, voters aren't going to remember. Being away is not bad. That's the best thing he's got going for him."

No one seems more aware of that than Ferré, who relishes his image as the city's returning white knight. In fact he is relying on that image to carry him to victory this fall. If it lacks the crispness of detail, that's fine with Ferré. Details have never been his strong suit, especially details about his personal finances.

Over the course of several weeks, New Times repeatedly asked Ferré to explain how he earns a living. Repeatedly he balked, referring to himself simply as "an investor who puts deals together." Most of his income, he says, is generated from "offshore" transactions that are "private" and therefore not subject to disclosure under state law.

According to city clerk Walter Foeman, Ferré was not required to file a financial-disclosure form for this year's mayoral election because he had already submitted a form for a 2000 mayoral election that never took place. In November 1999 Miami voters approved a referendum calling for the creation of a strong-mayor form of government. The first strong mayor would be chosen during a special election slated for March 2000. Ferré quickly jumped into the race and in late 1999 filed the required "statement of financial interests" covering calendar year 1998. But Joe Carollo went to court and succeeded in having the March election canceled. (The courts ruled that forcing Carollo to run for re-election twenty months before his term expired constituted an illegal form of recall.)

The financial information Ferré filed back then remains valid. "Once he files, he doesn't have to file a second time," says clerk Foeman. "There wasn't an election, so the form holds over." Of course Ferré could have voluntarily filed a new, updated disclosure form, but he chose not to do so.

Anyone wishing to determine whether Ferré's business interests might present potential conflicts for him as mayor would get little help from the form he filed in 1999. He listed only two sources of income, both described as "investment income," one with United National Bank, the other with a Maryland-based investment-management company called the Torray Fund. Ferré also noted that he owned stock in the Ferré Development Corporation. (The company, he says, is a 50-year-old private Puerto Rican real estate corporation. He estimates the value of his stock at roughly $500,000.)

Those portions of the form devoted to business income and business-ownership interests were marked "N/A," or not applicable. Yet during recent interviews, Ferré readily acknowledged that he had earned approximately $300,000 during 1998, the period covered by the form. The income, he said, came from "putting [business] deals together." But because the transactions took place outside the United States, he argued, they were not subject to disclosure on the statement of financial interests.

At New Times's request, Ferré eventually had his accountant fill out a new financial-disclosure form covering the year 2000. It notes that his primary source of income was interest from deposits at First Union bank in Charlotte, North Carolina. It also offers more information regarding "intangible personal property" such as stocks and bonds -- a total of eight separate sources. But once again information about earned income or business ownership is marked "N/A," even though Ferré says he earned about $300,000 in 2000.

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