Down in Flames

Miami's business leaders vowed to yank MIA from the clutches of politicians, but the politicians yanked back

The truthful answer: Most people believe this batch of commissioners cannot be trusted, period. Poll after poll has shown this, including one conducted by Bendixen & Associates in conjunction with New Times ("Tell Us What You Think," September 18, 2003). Had the Business Forum planned ahead, and had its members been honest with themselves, they would have had to agree with the public: No bond issue until the scoundrels on the commission are replaced by somewhat more trustworthy scoundrels.

But that kind of brutal honesty would have presented serious problems for several Business Forum members who had a pressing interest in the bond measure. One of them, attorney Aaron Podhurst, is chairman of the board of the Miami Art Museum. Forum members Cesar Alvarez and Paul Cejas, as well as the wives of members Woody Weiser and Herald publisher Alberto Ibargüen, also sit on MAM's board. If the bond were to pass, MAM would stand to reap a whopping $100 million to build a new home in Bicentennial Park. Between the Miami Museum of Science, Metrozoo, and the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens -- all slated to be bond beneficiaries -- even more Business Forum members would have had difficulty facing the facts.

So they chose hypocrisy over honesty.

Miami Business Forum executive director  Mario Artecona bravely blasted the county commission, but when the dust settled,  it was Angela Gittens who was injured
Jonathan Postal
Miami Business Forum executive director Mario Artecona bravely blasted the county commission, but when the dust settled, it was Angela Gittens who was injured
Angela Gittens
Angela Gittens

During a June 8 dinner meeting at the Coconut Grove Ritz-Carlton, the Business Forum wrestled with the issue and decided to punt on the airport, fearing that a commission-bashing election campaign would endanger the bond issue, which they (hypocritically) were willing to entrust to county commissioners.

Jorge Hernandez-Toraño, chairman of the Forum, explains it this way: "Airport changes are necessary. Our desire to see that happen has not waned, it's just been postponed. By the same token, the infrastructure improvements destined to take place if the bond passes are also of concern to us, as they should be for the entire community.... The bond issue is a long-term program. Commissioners are only there for their own terms."

As well-intentioned as Hernandez-Toraño and his Forum colleagues may be, they emerged from this political fight as losers, battered and bruised. Worse still is the perception they were compromised by the self-interest of a few members. Not exactly an auspicious activist debut for a group that has ambitions to leadership, and definitely not the kind of outcome that inspires confidence in future endeavors.

One observer familiar with the Forum's referendum debacle, who asks not to be named, draws a gloomy conclusion. "Their unwillingness to take on this battle was very revealing of how weak they are," he says. "In other communities in this country, the öestablishment' isn't so dependent on a political body like the county commission to fund cultural institutions, art museums. Elsewhere there's more commitment, funds are raised privately. But here in Miami, people have to go hat in hand to the politicians."

Meekly approaching Miami-Dade's county commissioners, hands outstretched, beseeching them for financial assistance on behalf of your needy cultural group? Now, that stinks to high heaven.

MIAMI BUSINESS FORUM

Leonard Abess

Chairman and CEO, City National Bank

(executive committee)

Henry Adorno

President and CEO, Adorno and Yoss

Cesar Alvarez

President and CEO, Greenberg Traurig

Micky Arison

Chairman and CEO, Carnival Cruise Lines

Adrienne Arsht

Chairman, Total Bank (executive committee)

Philip Blumberg

President and CEO, American Ventures Corporation

(executive committee)

Paul Cejas

Chairman and CEO, PLC Investments

Charles Cobb

Chairman, Cobb Partners

Armando Codina

Chairman and CEO, Codina Group (executive committee)

Peter Dolara

Senior vice president, American Airlines

Albert Dotson

Partner, Bilzin Sumberg Dunn

Richard Fain

Chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (executive committee)

T. Willard Fair

President and CEO, Urban League of Greater Miami

George Feldenkreis

Chairman and CEO, Perry Ellis International (vice chairman)

Mehdi Ghomeshi

President, Great Florida Bank

Adolfo Henriques

CEO, Southern Banking Group, Union Planters Bank (executive committee)

Jorge L. Hernandez-Toraño

Partner, Holland and Knight (chairman)

Alberto Ibargüen

Publisher, Miami Herald

Brian Keeley

President and CEO, Baptist Health South Florida

Joseph Lacher

President, Florida, BellSouth (executive committee)

Miriam Lopez

President and CEO, TransAtlantic Bank

Modesto Maidique

President, Florida International University

Albert Nahmad

CEO, Watsco, Inc.

Susan Norton

Managing partner, Allen, Norton, and Blue

Jeanne O'Laughlin

President, Barry University

Armando Olivera

President, Florida Power and Light

Marvin O'Quinn

CEO, Jackson Health Trust

Eduardo Padrón

President, Miami Dade Community College

R. Donahue Peebles

President, Peebles Atlantic Development Corporation

Aaron Podhurst

Chairman and managing partner, Podhurst Orsek Josefsberg Eaton (executive committee)

Ray Rodriguez

President and COO, Univision Network

Peter Roulhac

VP/dir. of community development, Wachovia Bank

Carlos Sabater

Managing partner, Deloitte and Touche

Carlos Saladrigas

Chairman, Premier American Bank

Robert Strauss

President, CEO and chairman, Noven Pharmaceutical

David Weaver

Chairman and CEO, Intercap Investments

Dorothy Weaver

President, Intercap Investments

Sherwood Weiser

Chairman and CEO, Continental Hospitality Holdings

Ed Williamson

President, Williamson Cadillac Co.

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