Days of El Portal's Lives

This tiny village is one of the county's most diverse, and boy do they fight about it

Sometime in mid-June, BOSS 104.1 apparently went off the air (there are unconfirmed reports Michael is broadcasting on another frequency). This followed the eviction of the station from its office on NE 125th Street in North Miami; the eviction was for nonpayment of rent, but Michael had no occupational license, FCC permit, or permit for its antenna, and violated zoning codes. Michael and Fred Thomas have now added several City of North Miami officials to their enemies list.

While embroiled in their North Miami legal complications, Michael and Thomas paid for a small ad that ran in New Times on May 23. It was titled "Democrats/KKK vs. Black Republicans" and began with the false statement, "North Miami trying to destroy the only Black owned radio station in Miami."

Back in El Portal, Daisy Black is catching less vitriol for the moment. But the political bottom line here is that ethnicity and race, while used as weapons, have never mattered nearly as much as the ability to win friends and influence people.

Little Farm Mobile Court is on the wrong side of the tracks and low on respect
Steve Satterwhite
Little Farm Mobile Court is on the wrong side of the tracks and low on respect
Councilman Craig Smith is the future of El Portal: Professional, white, gay, and proud of it
Steve Satterwhite
Councilman Craig Smith is the future of El Portal: Professional, white, gay, and proud of it

For instance Black was low on influence when she was forced off the council in 1995 by a faction led by yet another sworn enemy, Lawrence Kennedy, also African American. That was the year Black had just been chosen the town's first African-American mayor, but not everyone celebrated this political landmark. Lingering resentment from the town's old white guard was expected; however, Black also encountered some opposition from her own race, reluctant to acknowledge a woman as El Portal's number-one official.

Kennedy and his supporters publicized several damning (but unproven) allegations against Black, including unauthorized expenditures of public money and a rumored "sealed" police record. After that election Black filed complaints against Kennedy and two other candidates with the Florida Election Commission and the Miami-Dade Elections Department; Kennedy threatened to bring unspecified criminal charges against Black. The next year, after Black went public with Kennedy's past arrests (carrying an illegal weapon, domestic violence, and DUI, on none of which he was prosecuted), he and another foe of Black's were defeated and Black was returned to the council with the largest vote total of any candidate.

The following year Black was a target, along with two white council members, of a recall attempt. Among the recall leaders were Kennedy and Earl Carroll, Dade's first African-American commissioner, who was indicted in 1970 for soliciting a bribe and recalled from office in 1972. The 1997 recall failed. But the dramas continued.

As was evident during the police-chief fistfight, power politics doesn't just involve politicians in El Portal. The men (and women) in blue are a big factor.

The police department, which is at the mercy of the council in funding and personnel matters, has experienced its own factionalism and instability. For a time during the mid-to-late Nineties, a series of chiefs and acting chiefs popped up and down like so many shooting-gallery rabbits.

In 1996, after police chief Zane Mason was fired and before Fred Thomas took over, Ofcr. Gari Senderoff -- whom Mason had fired in 1993 but who arbitrators later ordered reinstated -- was named acting chief. In 1997, then-councilman Mason lobbied for an internal affairs investigation of Senderoff, and then-chief Marvin Wiley fired Senderoff from the force a second time. Senderoff went to court and won reinstatement a second time. When Wiley himself was terminated in 2000, Senderoff was back for ten months as acting chief. He's still on the force, facing sexual harassment charges, but currently Sgt. Eugene Morales is El Portal's acting police chief; there's no word on when the council will hire a permanent chief.

During Wiley's three-year tenure he also fired a part-time officer named Islande Salomon. She had just returned from helping the U.S. government train police officers in Haiti, but an El Portal police internal-affairs investigation found she had misrepresented her position in El Portal to get the high-paying federal job.

In December 1998, Salomon was elected to the El Portal council, along with long-time resident Audrey Edmonson. And the next year Laura Charlemange-Vancol won a council seat. She, Philippe Derose, and Salomon composed the first Haitian-majority municipal governing body in the nation. But by mid-2000 the maneuvering and sniping among council members had grown so vicious residents were known to walk out of meetings in disgust -- those who weren't haranguing or threatening their elected leaders. Once-robust attendance at meetings was down, and the Miami Herald even published an editorial in March 2000 scolding the village's elected officials for "engaging in petty politics in the worst sense of the phrase."

The editorial was triggered by the firing of police chief Wiley by a council divided along ethnic lines: Islande Salomon enlisted the help of the two other Haitians to get rid of Wiley, the man who had fired her a few years earlier. This move was supported by little more than Salomon's complaints that Wiley was "lazy." Through this and other disputes, Philippe Derose, the nation's first Haitian mayor, developed a true politician's talent for compromise, flexibility, and being on the winning side. He voted with his Haitian cohorts on the Wiley firing, but he's been able to work with different council factions over the years. This past December Derose was re-elected to a fifth term with the highest vote total of any candidate.

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