By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
That is the kind of Armesto-ite verbiage that doesn't surprise but still exasperates proponents of the sexual-orientation amendment. "We're tired of having to respond to these ridiculous, nonsensical accusations that only serve to divide us and only serve to underscore the negative components of our community," laments Jorge Mursuli, who is openly gay and was executive director of SAVE Dade when the ordinance was passed. (He is now Florida state director of the People for the American Way Foundation.) "Are they that interested about somebody else's personal life that they have to rally around it? It's one thing to rally around the defense of your life. It's another totally different thing to rally around an attack on somebody else's. What's the point? Get a grip."
Mursuli laughs at the shakedown accusation. "I don't know what he's talking about," he says. "If he means we've gone out and secured support from people who believe this ordinance is a good thing whether they're gay, straight, black, or white, the answer is yes, and people have willingly come forward and said this is important about the quality of life for everyone. The fact that he's resorting to these ludicrous verbal attacks is indicative of the fact that they have no argument. Where are the intelligent, educational points of view that would warrant some sort of authentic, credible attention to what he is saying? There are none. So they have to come up with these colorful, attention-getting, bizarre statements that frankly make everybody smirk rather than pay any serious attention to them. I guess to them it doesn't really matter as long as they get attention."
Ludicrous or not, there is a precedent for Take Back's drive to succeed. A 1977 referendum led by singer Anita Bryant and her Save Our Children organization overturned a similar Dade County ordinance protecting homosexuals against discrimination. That is one reason SAVE Dade is taking the matter very seriously, plotting media strategies and canvassing efforts. In recent weeks its volunteers have been knocking on doors in high-turnout precincts in West Miami, Hialeah, Coral Gables, and Kendall. According to SAVE Dade executive director Timothy Higdon, the organization's core belief is that "no one should be a victim of discrimination."
As the campaign heats up, political leaders across the county, especially Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, will be faced with the vexing problem of just how to react to more volleys from Armesto. Vexing because those volleys could hit hard in their own back yard, the powerful voting bloc composed of elderly, religious Cuban Americans.
"When you establish sexual conduct as the basis of a right," Armesto fires off, "you are basically going against United States legal tradition and jurisprudence. And you're promoting bad public policy because in essence it opens the door for anybody -- sadomasochists, people who are pedophiliacs, people who practice incest, all these people -- to later come in through the door and say, 'I want my sexual conduct or orientation protected as well.'"
In Eladio José Armesto and his 65-year-old father Eladio Armesto-Garcia, Take Back does have some vulnerabilities, though. For example they know firsthand how easily the personal becomes political when one's platforms are based on moral supremacy.
Armesto-Garcia was part of the Cuban-American Republican tide that swept from Miami-Dade into the state legislature in the early Nineties. In 1992 the wooden-pallet vendor and former City of Miami Planning Advisory Board member decided to run for the Florida House District 117 seat. In the primary he defeated State Rep. Bruce Hoffman, then the only non-Hispanic Republican in the Miami-Dade delegation. With no Democratic challenger, Armesto-Garcia took the seat directly. He voted against keeping anti-abortion protesters away from clinics and for a restaurant tax to fund homeless programs in Miami-Dade. He sponsored the Free Cuba Act, which prohibited the state from conducting business with any foreign companies trading with Cuba.
Owing in part to revelations he had fathered a child out of wedlock, the Christian Coalition member lost his seat after one two-year term to another Republican, Carlos Lacasa. During the campaign information had surfaced that a woman named Dulce Espinosa had successfully filed a paternity suit against Armesto-Garcia in 1985 and that he had failed to make child-support payments. A Miami-Dade family court judge had ordered him to pay the mother $25 per week for child support, but in November 1989 he was $1251 in arrears, prompting a judge to find him in contempt. (Armesto-Garcia finally paid up three months later, according to court records.) After he was elected, Armesto-Garcia put Espinosa on the state payroll as his executive secretary, until the day he was no longer obligated to pay child support, the day their daughter Maytee turned eighteen. (Maytee Armesto, now age 25, currently serves on Miami-Dade Community Council 12, which is responsible for building and zoning matters in Kendall.)
Unlike his dad, Eladio José Armesto has been unelectable. In 1992 he also ran for a state house seat as a conservative Democrat but lost in the primary. At the time he was publisher of the monthly newspaper El Nuevo Patriaand a member of the Miami Planning Advisory Board. In 1996, after the death of Miami Mayor Steve Clark, Armesto ran for mayor of Miami but lost to Joe Carollo. During that campaign, Carollo did not hesitate to mention that Eladio José, like his dad, has also had moral challenges close to home.