Ego Without End

Driven by shameless vanity and enabled by an obliging press, Maurice Ferré, unfortunately, is at it again

"There may be some truth to that," Ferré grudgingly admits. "It wasn't all my fault, but I don't want to get into a rehashing of the past.... I accept my responsibility for whatever pain I may have caused at the time."

Kulchur, however, is just getting started. Reaching into his briefcase, he pulls out an internal 1978 memo from then-Miami Police Chief Adam Klimkowski, who had called for a grand jury investigation into Ferré's interference with a police investigation of suspected Cuban-exile bombers Gustavo Castillo and Gaspar Jimenez. (Both men were later indicted in the car-bombing of WQBA radio commentator Emilio Milian, though prosecutors eventually dropped the charges.) Complaining that he'd been pressured by Ferré to have his department's detectives stop questioning relatives of Castillo and Jimenez, Klimkowski wrote, "It is particularly disheartening when [Ferré] chooses to publicly support known terrorists."

"Nineteen seventy-eight?" Ferré exclaims incredulously. "I've been up for sixteen hours and you're asking me about something that happened 26 years ago?"

Hizzoner has a long record of public service, much of 
it deplorable
Jonathan Postal
Hizzoner has a long record of public service, much of it deplorable

Just going chronologically. There's plenty more.

Kulchur begins working his way through the rogue's gallery of Cuban-exile commandos Ferré championed while keeping one eye on his mayoral re-election efforts, even as they were accused by the FBI of variously issuing death threats to nosy reporters, exploding bombs at offending businesses, and gunning down their critics: Alpha 66's Andres Nazario-Sargen, Omega 7's Eduardo Arocena, Rolando Otero, and most strikingly, Orlando Bosch, who served four years in prison for firing a bazooka at a Polish freighter in the Port of Miami. After his parole, Bosch was subpoenaed for questioning in the 1974 assassination of a Cuban-exile leader, and promptly fled the country. He was eventually jailed in Venezuela, where American officials believe he masterminded a string of attacks, most notably the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, including -- in a bold strike for freedom -- Cuba's national fencing team.

Bosch's imprisonment made him a cause célèbre for el exilio, and Ferré enthusiastically joined the Miami City Commission in declaring "Orlando Bosch Day" (March 25 for those feeling festive), as well as participating in a 1983 delegation to Venezuela on Bosch's behalf.

A tense back-and-forth follows, in which Ferré stresses he was merely acting to ensure Bosch received a fair trial. An exasperated Kulchur considers simply laying his head down on the table. Finally Ferré relents: "I understand a lot of people felt that I went too far in trying to help the Cuban cause, and that I was pandering to the Cuban community. And perhaps I was." Now, though, "I intend to be as fair and as good a mayor as I can be, and will not pander to that or any other community."

It's a nice sentiment, but his time out of office seems to have done little to alter Ferré's crass strategizing. During his 2001 mayoral quest, he quietly attended gay community events and gladly accepted their campaign donations, schmoozing his way through a SAVE Dade dinner and telling that group's members he was the preeminent choice for safeguarding gay rights. Yet unlike Manny Diaz and seven other of his opponents, Ferré refused to fill out SAVE Dade's written questionnaire, knowing full well this would disqualify him from the group's formal endorsement.

In Ferré's electoral calculations, gay votes are good, gay fundraising dollars are even better, but a gay endorsement? With conservative Cubans remaining mayoral kingmakers, best to play it safe and keep gays -- at least in public -- at arm's length. "He's old-school, and maybe he thought he'd lose votes," SAVE Dade chairwoman Heddy Peña told Kulchur at the time. Reminded of his little trick, Ferré immediately begins dissembling.

"No, I think I handed that questionnaire back," he stammers.

No, you didn't. Losing patience, Kulchur refreshes Ferré's memory with his earlier explanation: "I was trying to be pragmatic," he had said to Kulchur in a 2002 article. "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. " However, as a Puerto Rican fighting for Cuban votes? "Me? My answer becomes important."

So are you sorry for shamelessly playing politics with gay voters?

"That was a mistake on my part," Ferré says somewhat sheepishly, gazing dourly at the glass of Scotch before him. "Another mistake, which I hope to avoid."

What elevates all this from the pathetic to the truly disgraceful is Ferré's Nixon-like political rehabilitation among Miami's chattering classes. It was during 1985's mayoral race that the Miami Herald's editorial board declared, "It is time for a change, a profound change that can only come by ousting Maurice Ferré. The sad fact is that Maurice Ferré has become not one man but two. One is a charming, persuasive, urbane, occasionally visionary believer in and evangelist for Miami's potential. For all that this Maurice Ferré has achieved as mayor, grant him due credit. The other Maurice Ferré is venal, vindictive, obsessed with remaining in office at all costs. It is this persona, alas, that seeks a seventh term."

Yet by 1996, somehow Ferré the opportunist hack had been magically transformed into Ferré the elder statesman. For that fall's election the Herald editorialized: "In our view, Dade's new executive mayor should be the person who best embodies the qualities of maturity, experience, proven accomplishment, vision, and the ability to bridge the divides, at times considerable, that separate Dade's myriad constituencies. Our recommendation is for Maurice Ferré."

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