Saint Pizzi

Rundle, Milian, or Pizzi as state attorney in '04?

Meanwhile Pizzi wants Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge John Gordon, who is handling the case, to hold Shiver in contempt for allegedly misleading the court about his knowledge of a much-publicized pollution case. Shiver declined any further discussion while the lawsuit is pending.

Pizzi's cluttered Brickell Avenue office is adorned with plaques from the DEA, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, commending his work. Although he's developing a star reputation as a criminal defense attorney, Pizzi remains a cop at heart. For the past few months, he's been considering a run as a Republican against Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, a Democrat, in 2004. Despite her winning re-election in 2000, local political pundits believe the two-time state prosecutor is vulnerable (rumors from knowledgeable sources say she may not even seek re-election). One reason: Alberto Milian, Rundle's Republican opponent in the 2000 race, garnered 44 percent of the vote, despite having never run for office before. Milian did an effective job of pointing out Rundle's shortcomings -- such as her perceived soft approach to fighting public corruption, and that her office drops a full third of the arrests police make. Milian also had the full support of the Miami-Dade County Police Benevolent Association, which has a long-running feud with Rundle. No word yet if the PBA plans on re-endorsing Milian, or if the group would take its chances with Pizzi. The PBA supported Pizzi in his re-election last year to the Miami Lakes Town Council. But John Rivera, PBA president, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The Pizzi clan: Maria, Stefan, Michael, and Jennifer
Steve Satterwhite
The Pizzi clan: Maria, Stefan, Michael, and Jennifer
Criminal-defense law partners Don Bierman (sitting), Ed Shohat (left), Ira Loewy, and Michael Pizzi, Jr.
Steve Satterwhite
Criminal-defense law partners Don Bierman (sitting), Ed Shohat (left), Ira Loewy, and Michael Pizzi, Jr.

Milian says he intends to run again in 2004; this would hurt Pizzi's chances, says Dario Moreno, a political science professor and media pundit from Florida International University. "Unless Pizzi can make a dent in the Cuban-American vote, he'll have a hard time against Milian," Moreno surmises. For one thing, there's Milian's name recognition. He's the son of Emilio Milian, the recently deceased radio broadcaster and Cuban-exile hero whose legs were blown off in a 1976 car bombing. In his run against Rundle, Milian was strong in Cuban-American neighborhoods such as south Hialeah, where 75 percent of the voters backed him. Milian has only bolstered his stature since 2000, working as a radio commentator at first WWFE-AM 670, and currently on Radio Uno, WKAT-AM 1360, talking about all things Miami, including (surprise, surprise) public corruption in this town. Milian also has experience. He spent twelve years as an assistant state attorney in Broward County. "The voters know me," Milian relates. "Three years ago, I was the only person willing to take [Rundle] on. I was the only one with the courage to say she wasn't doing her job, that she was soft on public corruption, and that she was squandering resources."

But if somehow Pizzi could get past Milian in the September 2004 Republican primary, the former parole officer would have a good shot at beating Rundle in the November election, presuming Dubya's approval ratings are still soaring. "During a presidential election, Hispanics tend to vote party over ethnicity," Moreno theorizes. In Miami-Dade, Hispanic Republicans outnumber Hispanic Democrats by 237,817 to 105,536. "So Pizzi would carry the Hispanic Republican vote, and then he could pick up the Anglo Republican vote and enough Anglo Democrat voters (the ones who don't vote for Hispanics) to put him over the top."

Pizzi also fits the mold of the old American political stereotype of the Republican reformer, immortalized by headstrong, heavy-handed politicians like Theodore Roosevelt and Rudy Giuliani, Moreno adds. "He's made his name by taking on big government and big industry. In a community that has seen one scandal after the other, and where the average citizen is cynical about government, a candidate like Pizzi is appealing to voters." But of course Pizzi's crusading has angered a lot of traditional fundraisers, so his campaign might be difficult to finance.

Pizzi's desire to run for higher office does not sit well with his wife. "I can't stop him, but I certainly won't be a part of his campaign," she reflects. "Especially after what we had to go through during his re-election campaign [for town council] last year." In that race, Pizzi's opponent, Maggie Clavelo, who had never run for public office, turned into a rainmaker in the final two weeks of the campaign. According to her finance report, from September 14 through October 3, Clavelo (who declined comment) collected a total of $27,749 in campaign donations. By contrast, Pizzi only raised roughly $10,000 for his entire campaign. Clavelo collected contributions of $100 to $500 each from construction companies, housewives, and office administrators from Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Hollywood, West Palm Beach, and as far as Springfield, Virginia, all of whom suddenly took an interest in Miami Lakes politics.

Clavelo also had the support of an anonymous group calling itself Citizens for Responsible Government, which spent big money on a slick ad attacking Pizzi's law practice. The group could have consisted of Pizzi opponents such as rock mining companies Rinker Materials Corp. and White Rock Industries, Lowell Dunn, Raul Gastesi, with a little Tomas Mestre sprinkled in for good measure. Still no one has ever come forward and taken credit on behalf of the group. The flyer, mailed to Miami Lakes residents the week before the October 8, 2001, elections, said things like, "While Pizzi tells you he wants to make the streets of our community safe for our children, he and his partners pride themselves on representing serious narcotics-related cases," and "Why doesn't Pizzi tell you that he and his partners make their money representing corrupt public officials caught on tape and charged with bribery and money laundering." That was a reference to law partner Ed Shohat's defense of former County Commissioner Jimmy Burke, who was convicted on charges of bribery and money laundering in 1999; Shohat took on the case prior to hiring Pizzi. "It was propaganda after propaganda," Maria groans. "I don't want to go through that ordeal again."

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