They're Here, They're Queer, They Vote

Opening shots on September 10th's gay-rights ballot

It may have been an impressive show of strength, but the preceding weeks were anything but tension-free. According to sources at Miami Beach's city hall, as well as figures at local gay organizations, Beach mayor Dermer remained incensed at SAVE Dade for its refusal to endorse his run this past November in favor of former state Rep. Elaine Bloom. Although he had publicly pledged his support of the gay-rights amendment, he reportedly refused to attend any SAVE Dade function -- a point driven home by his conspicuous absence from a March 24 "Town Hall Meeting" at Lincoln Road's Colony Theater. As SAVE Dade's leadership addressed a crowd of nearly 400 (including a flock of Beach and county commissioners) in the heart of Miami's largest gay community, the whispered question was: "Where's Dermer?"Was the mayor, still bitter, dishing some political payback?

Dermer had previously blamed personal enmity from SAVE Dade executive director Jorge Mursuli (who resigned to head up People for the American Way less than two weeks after Dermer's election) and SAVE Dade spokesman Jerome Baker -- whose PR firm worked on Bloom's campaign -- for his candidacy being passed over.

Mursuli insisted Baker had recused himself from any endorsement discussions, and, in a public statement, charged Dermer with being "inconsistent in the sincerity of some of his political actions," resenting his attempt to hog credit for the Beach's passing of domestic-partner health benefits for city employees. Privately SAVE Dade board members were less tactful, preferring to back even as nascent a convert to gay rights as Elaine Bloom over someone they viewed as a rank opportunist.

By late April, however, with September 10 fast approaching, several SAVE Dade figures were frantically trying to mend fences. Perhaps coincidentally, Jerome Baker's firm, Rosen Baker Cardenas, was replaced as SAVE Dade's flacks by Lisa Palley, the veteran rep for the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. And a new organization suddenly emerged: the No to Discrimination Committee, wholly staffed and funded by SAVE Dade, but lacking that parent group's overt imprimatur.

So was there a quid pro quo here? Ditch Mursuli, Baker, and even the SAVE Dade name itself, and Dermer would agree to finally get on board?

Absolutely not, insists SAVE Dade chairwoman Heddy Peña in an interview with Kulchur. Mursuli's decision to leave was his own, she says, while Lisa Palley is simply a better fit for the group. (Palley confirms she's considerably more affordable than the $5000 a month Rosen Baker Cardenas was receiving.)

"When people support us, I don't ask why," Peña says. "I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth; everyone is welcome. [Dermer] called me several weeks ago and told me he was pleased with the new direction SAVE Dade was going in."

What new direction?

"We're not doing any endorsements this year," she replies with a knowing laugh. "There have been some changes. And with change, you lose people." But most important, she stresses, "Mayor Dermer came forward when it counts. I couldn't be more pleased."

This doesn't explain the reasoning behind SAVE Dade creating the No to Discrimination Committee. After all, the outfit's own acronym stands for Safeguarding American Values for Everyone; Peña herself is a self-described "straight woman." How much more inclusive can you get?

"If you were to go to Kendall, most of the voters might think SAVE Dade is an environmental group," Peña explains. "No to Discrimination as a public campaign tells you what the issue is, and it tells you how to vote."

Still while Dermer and Peña may both be all smiles these days, some in the Hispanic community appear to remain skittish when it comes to the dreaded g-word. In the six days following No to Discrimination's initial press conference, the Heraldran no fewer than four stories on the group. Yet El Nuevo Herald deigned not to publish a single word about the event.

Back at Monty's, Jorge Diaz remains undaunted: "Would I have liked to have seenEl Nuevo Herald do something on it? Of course." Cocking an eyebrow at Kulchur, he continues, "I would've liked to have seen youdo something too.... You've gotta take it a step at a time and keep plugging away."

Diaz points to SAVE Dade's mayoral campaign endorsement of his brother, "one of the proudest days of my life," and by comparison, the actions of incumbent Joe Carollo and frontrunner opponent Maurice Ferré. Carollo declined to meet with SAVE Dade at all. In a previous interview with Kulchur, Ferré admitted that -- fully aware it would disqualify him -- he had refused to fill out SAVE Dade's endorsement questionnaire. This evasion came despite his attending SAVE Dade functions and telling the group's leaders in a private interview that he supported the gay-rights amendment.

"I was trying to be pragmatic," Ferré explained of his slippery move, arguing that ethnic blocs still unfortunately ruled the city's politics. "In the dirty campaigning of Miami, my [questionnaire] answers would have been used somewhere. It doesn't matter what Manny Diaz says about gay adoption -- he's Cuban!" But being Puerto Rican left Ferré in a vulnerable spot. "Me? My answer becomes important."

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