Mission Man

Miami's Downtown commissioner is still fighting, and still hopeful of big change

To fend off the angry ones, Winton has found a valuable ally in the Crazy Johnny that sometimes rises up inside him. "I even tell constituents -- lots of them -- to kiss my ass. And worse." He did so, for example, at a raucous public hearing over the proposed move of the homeless shelter Camillus House. "Some white guy claimed he'd lived in Overtown for 50 years," Winton recounts. "He was a complete jerk. I'd never seen him before. And he said to me, 'You haven't done anything.' You? Well, fuck you. You? You? What have you done? You've been here for 50 years, you tell me. You've been an activist for 50 years? You're the goddam failure, not me.

"I probably do things that I probably shouldn't do," he reflects. "And one day I will get burned. Because someday, you know, I'll do something that somebody doesn't like, and it'll be in the media some way or another. You know, I just decided I'm going to be me. I don't want to be somebody else."

Winton (right) has found Commissioner Teele (center) to be both a great teacher and a big enigma
Steve Satterwhite
Winton (right) has found Commissioner Teele (center) to be both a great teacher and a big enigma

Understanding the CRA, under Teele's tutelage, is part of Winton's learning curve. At present the agency presides over tens of millions of tax dollars, which must be spent to eliminate blight, stimulate business, and beautify the urban landscape in the most depressing sections of the city. While he admires Teele's nicely landscaped parking lots, Winton has yet to understand why his colleague insisted on making them the CRA's top priority. Still he has heard Teele's Overtown parking lot lecture so many times that he knows it by rote: "Because the black community has been shortchanged on parking from day one. The reason that nothing works on Third Avenue is because there is no parking for those businesses along there. And you have to have parking for the businesses along there. And we're going to create it." He lowers his voice. "And so they created all that parking along Third Avenue.

"No question you have to have parking," Winton continues. "But is that the first thing you do? Is it your first major bricks-and-mortar project?"

The Anglo Democrat doesn't think so, but since his election he has learned to choose his battles carefully with the African-American Republican. "I had that long argument with Teele early on. And as chairman of the CRA he felt very strongly about it."

Indeed one of Winton's most vexing lessons was finding out that Teele holds tight control over the CRA agenda. "Right now there's no road map [for the CRA]," Winton complains. "It's whatever idea comes to Art Teele based on somebody talking to him. And that's a terrible way to do it. And a very frustrating way." But the commissioner also found out that some of his ideas actually appealed to Teele. "It was me who pushed him to do the [CRA] master plan," Winton notes. "He agreed to do the master plan. He hired an excellent company [Dover, Kohl and Partners] to do it. He seems to be thrilled by their work. Once we get a master plan done, then we'll have a road map that will allow us to figure out where the money ought to go."

At a June 27 commission meeting, Winton suggested that Teele needed to start sharing more CRA information with his fellow commissioners. Teele angrily interrupted, accusing him of sounding like former Mayor Joe Carollo, a frequent critic of the CRA. "When I first got to the commission, Teele would go off on anybody," Winton recalls. "And he did it a fair amount. He doesn't do that a lot anymore. He's really toned down dramatically and is much more effective."

Moreover Winton has learned to legislate by observing Teele's machinations. A recent example involved the plan before the CRA to relocate the Camillus House from the heart of downtown to a largely nonresidential site east of Jackson Memorial Hospital. Winton and Teele both see the move as crucial to reviving one of the most depressed commercial zones in the city center. The proposal failed because only Teele and Winton voted for it. Winton criticized the commissioners who voted down the move for kowtowing to an angry group of Allapattah-based rabble-rousers.

Despite the loss, Winton got a valuable lesson in how to translate a plan into an ordinance and at the same time send a message to opponents.

"Teele had it all figured out ahead of time," Winton recalls. "So he comes in, opens the subject, reads off maybe fifteen resolutions. Action steps. Baboom, baboom, baboom. And what he was really saying is, 'You know all of you angry people out there, you can be as angry as you want, but here's what I'm doing.' And he was just brilliant at it, just resolutions, baboom, baboom, baboom. Then he said, 'Okay. Public hearing.' Then the public hearing was done.

"He took every little piece of what you could have put into one resolution and carved it up into ten separate ones. And it was just kind of a statement. 'Just so you hear this, folks. Just so there's no mistake, folks. Here's what it is, here's what I'm doing, here's how I'm doing it, and you can see it in black and white. And to let you know I'm making the decision and I'm willing to make the decision. And you're looking at it.' I sat there and listened to that and just thought, 'Wow.'"

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