What Did You Do in the War on Poverty?

Always fighting the good fight, Miami's politicians have been tireless in assisting the city's poor huddled masses

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Miami underwent significant change between 1990 and 2000, not least of which was the city's poverty rate: It grew with such exuberance that Miami climbed from fourth to first place among the nation's most impoverished big cities. That's reality. But if you believe the elected officials who served during that decade, it seems more like illusion. New Times posed this question: What did you do during your term in office to fight poverty in Miami?

image J.L. Plummer
City Commissioner
1971-1999
I did a lot to fight poverty while I was in office. I led the effort to establish the East Little Havana nutrition centers. Today there are nine centers that feed seniors three times a day, seven days a week. We provided housing and all that through the community development corporations in East Little Havana. We also provided transportation for the elderly to go to doctors.

image Joe Carollo
City Commissioner
1979-1987 and 1995-1996
Mayor
1996-1997 and 1998-2001
Carollo did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

image Miller Dawkins
City Commissioner
1981-1996
Thank you for keeping me in mind, but I have no comment for your newspaper. [Dawkins was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison after pleading guilty in 1997 to accepting bribes.]

image Xavier Suarez
Mayor
1985-1992 and 1997-1998
In 1985, when I was first elected, the main problem with local government's ability to alleviate poverty was that we didn't have a housing agency. I activated the housing and conservation agency and worked with community-based organizations. Pretty soon we were able to energize the community-based organizations. By 1993 we had 1500 affordable housing units in the city. The more respectable projects include the Rio Plaza straddling Flagler Street in East Little Havana; Edison Towers, the pink apartment buildings off Interstate 95 and NW 58th Street; and Overtown Park West in downtown Miami. In Allapattah there was Melrose, which was spectacular. Those units were all home-ownership. People were able to put down $100 a month until they could close on a unit during the preconstruction phase. Housing is the lowest common denominator. If local government can't provide that, there's not a helluva lot government can do. Also I was instrumental in creating Miami Capital Development. For eight glorious years it was going gung-ho. We put together microloans with very little collateral. Sometimes we just gave out money from wherever we could find it. Miami Capital Development was an incredible effort. We got Z-Mart off the ground. We assisted the Caribbean Marketplace. [Both are now defunct.] The single most important thing we did was the minority component for Bayside Marketplace. We lent four or five million dollars to the minority retailers at Bayside -- although some were not exactly downtrodden minorities, such as [restaurant magnate] Felipe Valls and Las Tapas. [Las Tapas is now defunct.]

image Victor de Yurre
City Commissioner
1988-1995
I can't put my finger on anything now. I can think of global things, like funding low-income housing projects. We also had those façades on Eighth Street, Overtown, and Liberty City -- injections of money that helped people spruce up places. I can't think of any individual thing I did. I really can't think of anything else I could have done.

image Miriam Alonso
City Commissioner
1990-1992
Alonso did not respond to New Times. She has been indicted by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office and faces multiple felony charges, including grand theft, unlawful compensation, fabricating evidence, and fraud.

image Wilfredo "Willy" Gort
City Commissioner
1993-2001
I think we did plenty with the tools we had. I feel very good about the job I did. We had financial problems from 1995 through 1999. We had to work very hard to keep the city alive and attract new businesses and improve the public rights-of-way with limited resources. Now you're beginning to see the plans to improve quality of life in the city being implemented. There are sidewalk repairs throughout several neighborhoods. In downtown Miami we secured $14 million in federal, state, and local funding to renovate Flagler Street and other side streets to make it more attractive. Now people are building condos on First and Flagler. The Congress Building was empty for 25 years. Now 90 families live there. In Allapattah we had problems with the produce markets. I stepped in there with the merchants, NET office, the Environmental Protection Agency, and state and county environmental agencies to clean up the area. You go by there now and it's clean, the homeless have been given training, and they're working there. We maintained existing businesses. One example is Trujillo & Sons, who just underwent a ten-million-dollar expansion of their warehouse. Look at Bobby Maduro Stadium, where a residential development is going up. That's going to create new consumers in Allapattah. Now we have small merchants living in that district.

image Humberto Hernandez
City Commissioner
1997-1998
I went after the slumlords. I started these sweeps in different apartment buildings to bring properties up to code. A lot of the tenants were seniors living in Section 8 properties with absentee landlords. Many were roach-infested, lacked a/c, had roof problems. My main focus was to fix these problems and the abuse they were taking from landlords. The sweeps improved the quality of life for these people living on a fixed income or below the poverty level. It gave people a more habitable environment to live in. Secondly I went after the food quality of the senior centers. I improved the quality by getting more state money into the food programs. I invested my time in lobbying the state legislature, which controlled the purse strings. [Hernandez was recently released from prison after serving sentences for convictions on a state charge of voter fraud and federal charges of money laundering and mortgage fraud.]

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