That Old Familiar Face

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

Ferré says that's exactly what he wants to do. He doesn't intend to dwell on his private life or divulge any more details about his livelihood. And he won't identify the individuals with whom he does business. "All of it is legal and carefully thought through," he says. "I learned my father's lesson. As far as conflicts of interest, I don't have any and won't have any."

The Culmer-Overtown Neighborhood Center is a boxy, concrete building at 1600 NW Third Ave., just north of downtown in the heart of Overtown. Paint is chipping from its walls. Sixty or so neighborhood residents have gathered here on a Saturday morning eager to listen to a promised lively mayoral debate. But it will be neither lively nor a debate. Only four of the eight candidates bothered to show: Ferré, Xavier Suarez, Emiliano Antunez, and Danny Couch. Instead of engaging his fellow candidates, each man makes a speech.

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?"
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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When it's Ferré's turn, he locks his brown eyes on the crowd. "The city needs a mayor who will represent it with dignity!" he nearly shouts. "This city needs a mayor who will not embarrass it!"

Punching the air with his fist, he continues: "When I was mayor, it was a progressive city." Fist. "We had $38 million in the bank." Fist. "We had more minority directors in city departments than we have ever had before or ever since." Fist with emphasizing thumb.

The crowd is quiet. Only a few random claps.

When the four candidates finish, the forum opens to questions. An elderly black woman in the back of the room asks when any of the men, if elected, would install air conditioning in this public building. Looking slightly annoyed, Ferré explains that the building isn't owned by the city, but he'd do what he could. Each candidate gives her a perfunctory "I'll do my best" response. But none of them capitalizes on the larger significance of such a question.

"We need someone to pay attention to our neighborhoods," explains prominent black attorney H.T. Smith. "We see how Brickell looks and we see how Overtown and other black sections still look."

Because six of the mayoral contenders are Cuban, that community's influential vote, often concentrated enough to boost a candidate to victory without a runoff election, will be diluted. Which means the city's black voters (31,000 out of 133,000 total registered voters) will play a critical role in determining which candidates make it to a runoff. Attorney Smith assures that the city's black community will flock to the polls in record numbers. "We'll prove that the presidential election wasn't an aberration," he says, referring to last year's unprecedented high black voter turnout, locally and statewide. "And people want to pass the [police] citizen-review panel referendum. They'll vote for mayor while they're doing that."

So candidates, Smith warns, had better come up with fresh approaches. "The day when they could waltz in with a fried-chicken dinner, put money in someone's pocket, and expect votes is over," Smith says. "They'd just be whistling Dixie, and we're tired of that song. Ferré has to show us not what he did then, but what he's going to do now."

Ferré's platform relies heavily on changes in education, crime, and economic development, the last of which includes relocating to Miami from Washington, D.C., the Inter-American Development Bank, the hemisphere's largest and oldest Latin-American fiduciary. Ferré says he's tossing the idea around with bank president and friend Enrique V. Iglesias. "If it moved here," he says, "Miami would then indeed become the capital of Latin America."

Adding another bank to Brickell Avenue would seem to be vintage Ferré. But the candidate says he's ready to roll up his sleeves and concentrate on improving neighborhoods, ready to become the proverbial pothole mayor. "Miami's population has grown proportionately poorer," Ferré notes. "It's not white flight; it's middle-class flight that's a problem. The city is an entry point for Third World people and exiles. They do well and they move out of the city to Kendall or somewhere because housing is cheaper. We have to sponsor equal growth in the inner city so that people want to stay."

High crime also drives people out of the city, he acknowledges. "Close to 50 percent of kids in schools within the city live in poverty," he says. "It's clear from all the stats I've examined that crime in the city is committed by young, uneducated men. Once I decrease crime, education follows, and employment increases."

Ferré would like to found an educational program in Miami similar to Pennsylvania's Glen Mills Schools, the nation's oldest high school for court-referred teenage boys. The year-round curriculum concentrates on vocational education and post-graduate employment. Grants, loans, and scholarships are offered to those who show the desire and ability to straighten out their lives.

Among other specifics Ferré considers part of his campaign platform: Turning the Miami River into a tourist attraction dotted with outdoor cafés similar to Lincoln Road, building a new science museum in the downtown area, and cashing in on what he says is ten billion dollars in federal funds to build a citywide trolley system that would decrease traffic congestion.

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