That Old Familiar Face

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

Ferré speaks with excitement and enthusiasm about such projects, but when it comes to the current civic agenda -- a new baseball stadium and the Latin Grammys debacle in particular -- he quickly grows exasperated. "Geez, that's such a simple matter," he groans. "The stadium has been mishandled just like the awards. My God, any intelligent person could have foretold what was going to happen. How can you not bring the exile community and the ACLUtogether with Grammy organizers in advance? And why was there no contract? If there were, [Grammys chief executive Michael] Greene wouldn't have been able to walk away without a major penalty. The stadium has similar haywire potential. [Marlins owner John] Henry should sign a contract agreeing not to sell the team until we make a lot of money. To me that's business."

The business of government itself also needs an overhaul, according to Ferré. "One of the first things I'm going to do," he vows, "is get the county and the city together for regular meetings. There's an attitude of us against them and vice versa. That's got to stop."


With $275,000 in his campaign booty, Ferré works the room at a July fundraiser
Steve Satterwhite
With $275,000 in his campaign booty, Ferré works the room at a July fundraiser

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At Little Havana's Ogles Apostolic Presbyterian Church, the congregation bows in prayer. Oh, heavenly father.... Ferré reaches into his navy-blue suit's breast pocket. If we walk in the light as He is in the light.... Retrieving a Palm Pilot, he cradles it low. We have fellowship with one another.... He strains his eyes to see the day's schedule. Hispanic church, check. Black church before lunch, next. It's a slow Sunday. He usually visits at least three before noon and one in the early afternoon. "We're a little behind schedule," he whispers. "We're not going to make it to the black church on time."

But Ferré is going to be even later than planned. After the final hymn, he becomes the Tom Jones of Miami politics, an aging star who still inspires his aging groupies. An elderly Cuban parishioner with poinsettia-red lipstick and Cruella De Vil hair uses her cane to whack her way through the church. "Señor Ferré, Señor Ferré!" she shouts as other ladies encircle the former mayor. With tears welling, she says, "Tengo fe" ("I have faith in you").

As Ferré listens to the woman, an elderly, lanky man asks him to autograph a church program. "This is part of it," wife Mercedes says. "Everyone always wants to touch him."

Several handshakes and hugs later, the couple is back in the car, racing to Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church. They arrive just as Rev. James Kinchen wraps up a fiery sermon. Across the aisle Vernon Clark waves.

Ferré's eyes and ears in Miami's black neighborhoods, 65-year-old Clark plugs the candidate at labor-union meetings and other gatherings. He relates stories of a long-ago mayor who did good by jitney drivers and old men playing checkers along 62nd Street. Clark, an Amtrak attendant and Ferré campaign bee for nearly two decades, is convinced that his man will sweep the black vote.

Tapping his toe to the gospel music, Ferré holds Mercedes's hand for a moment. Later he'll joke that he's tone deaf and rhythmless. "I'm not so hot on the dance floor," he offers. When the organ dies down and the flock shuffles out of the church, he and Mercedes stand like flight attendants bidding farewell to passengers. Ferré repeatedly introduces himself and compliments women on their Sunday dresses. When the last of them has left, Ferré's pageant-queen smile fades and he heads inside the church to talk with Clark.

Willie Nyman, a 61-year-old Opa-locka nurse, still sits on a pew fanning herself and talking about how hot the day is bound to get. A few yards from Ferré and Clark, she asks, "Now, who is that again?"

One of her three friends answers, "Some politician."

Nyman has lived in Miami 41 years but barely remembers Ferré. Neither can the women next to her. "It's been so long ago," she says, straining to remember. "I think he did some good."

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