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Armesto was 22 years old and residing in Los Angeles when he married his first wife Sara, who was age 17. According to Los Angeles County court records, he filed several domestic violence charges against her. (Details of the incidents were not available owing to California's restrictions on public access to court records.) The couple were raising three children in Los Angeles when he divorced her in 1987. Subsequently both moved to Miami-Dade, began cohabitating again, and had two more children together, this time out of wedlock.
A Miami-Dade judge issued a restraining order against Armesto on October 22, 1992, after Sara filed a domestic violence suit against him. One police affidavit described him beating Sara -- who was seven months pregnant at the time -- with a wooden hanger. The case was eventually dismissed but unfortunately the nickname El Percherito, or Little Hanger, stuck. When the incident resurfaced in the 1996 mayor's race, Armesto told the Miami Herald he acted in self-defense.
In 1995 Armesto filed a custody suit against his former bride. But a Miami-Dade family court general master upheld the Los Angeles court ruling that had given custody of their three eldest children to Armesto; the two youngest stayed with his ex-wife. In April 1998 three of his children filed domestic violence charges against him, but a judge dismissed them about three months later. Armesto married another woman in 1997, but they divorced less than a year later.
Armesto steers away from questions about him and his family. "Ultimately this fight is not about one single person in this county," he insists. "It's not about me. I could resign tomorrow and work on something else. The fact is that as an issue the people of Dade County deserve better than to have to be put through all this rigamarole."
Which was exactly Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas's point last December when he invited Armesto, his dad, and several other Take Back leaders to his 29th-floor County Hall office and asked them to drop their referendum drive, because it would cause a lot of pain. Instead the anti-homosexualists practically mauled him. "What do you consider human rights?" Armesto-Garcia railed, according to a Miami Herald account. "If a human being wants to sell marijuana, is that a human right? If a human being wants to snort cocaine, is that a human right? If a human being wants to be nude in front of my young child, is that a human right?"
Armesto chimed in by saying he had hoped Penelas was going to announce he was defecting to the Take Back side. Penelas said never. (The mayor did not respond to several requests for comment.)
Personal conduct issues aside, Armesto and his dad are able to amplify Take Back's anti-homosexualist message with articles in El Nuevo Patria, a monthly Spanish-language newspaper they publish. One front-page article printed last October about then-Miami mayoral candidate Manny Diaz at the peak of the race, with the headline "Diaz Allied With Homosexualists," denounced Diaz for having an "arrogant disdain of traditional moral values."
Armesto explains why he and his editors decided to run the article. "Mr. Manny Diaz very corruptly hid his homosexualist position from the Cuban-American voters in Little Havana very dishonestly," he submits. "You know, when you have a position you should have the courage to stand by it.
"Mr. Manny Diaz was very dishonest with the voters. If he agrees with SAVE Dade's position he should have had the balls to put that in his campaign literature. He never did."
Armesto maintains that Diaz's SAVE Dade endorsement was a secret, despite the best efforts of El Nuevo Patria. "In the Cuban-American community it was [a secret]," he insists. "Yesireee. It certainly was. Absolutely. Absolutely."
Diaz says Armesto's claim is bogus. "My position on the issue has always been clear. It's clear now," the mayor states. "I'm against repeal. And those specific statements that he makes, I'm not even going to respond to them."
And Armesto's notion that nonhomosexuals will claim to be homosexuals so they can file discrimination complaints? Diaz almost snickers. "I think it's absurd," he scoffs. "I think we ought to be concentrating on bringing this community together and working to make this a better place for all of us to live in." Diaz recently met with SAVE Dade organizers and expects to do so again to help plan strategies for saving the ordinance.
Just how will Take Back be framing its issues in this campaign? One bold stroke will involve Armesto casting himself as a spokesman for homosexuals. "I've gone into stores and I've seen people saying, 'Oh, these fags, they want to do this and they want to do that,' and I've had to tell people, 'You know, the majority of homosexual persons do not agree with these extremists that are running SAVE Dade. The majority of homosexual persons are respectful people. They keep to themselves, they do their job, they're our neighbors, they're our friends, they're our co-workers, some of them are our family members.'" How many friends of his are gay? "At least nine," he replies. "Plus two employees."
Another Take Back plank is one the group used to persuade county commissioners to vote against the ordinance in 1998, namely, that there was no "demonstrated need" for it. "It wasn't a response to discrimination," Armesto insists. "That was one of the other arguments that we made. We said, 'Listen. All laws are enacted on the basis of a demonstrated need.' That's just common sense. Why don't we have a law against flying saucers parking on city streets? Well, because nobody's been able to show there's a need for such a law because there aren't flying saucers parking on city streets."