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"We checked the house, the lights were on. I could see through the screen door, she didn't even have her front door closed. She had curlers on and her phone to her ear," he relates, back in the moment. "She kind of motioned to me, 'Come back tomorrow.' Turns out she was part of a Miami Herald focus group and she must have thought this was something worth calling a reporter and making a big deal over."
She almost shot you!
"I think that would say something about the lady, not the mayor," Suarez snaps. "I got a letter from a guy in Los Angeles saying, 'Gee, I wish mymayor would come visit me. I don't care if it is 10:15 p.m.'"
Suarez continues painstakingly running over the details of that night, one that has come to publicly define his career: He never saw a gun. Mrs. Benson didn't seem all that upset at the time. Did he mention her front door was open, practically inviting guests to stroll on in? Finally he stops short with what sounds like a breakthrough.
"I was too sensitive," he concludes. "I just didn't know how to defuse things. I didn't have the ability to go back the next day to see Mrs. Benson. I sent an aide -- I should have gone myself and had a photo opportunity."
Kulchur decides to seize the moment and play therapist. I'm having a hard time separating these two men, the Xavier Suarez of 1998 and the Xavier Suarez I'm talking to right now. I have to ask: Were you all right during those 111 days? Was there something going on in your personal life that left you a bit unbalanced?
"No! It was just the opposite!" he thunders, his moment of clarity instantly dispelled. "It was the enthusiasm of being able to run the city correctly, having executive powers, but being frustrated at not being able to govern! And having people question your every motive when you're trying to do good things!"
The Xavier Suarez of today definitely doesn't sound crazy. A little deluded? No doubt. But steering the conversation away from politics reveals the erudite Harvard law and Kennedy School of Government graduate who first impressed folks back in the Eighties.
Suarez is putting the final editing touches on his book, A Unified Theory of God, Mind & Matter, a sprawling treatise on, well, everything. In excerpts provided by Author House (the book's "self-publisher" -- not, they stress, a "vanity press," though if you mail them a check, they'll self-publish you too), Suarez breezily moves through discussions on metaphysics, the pros and cons of Darwinism, the existence of a higher being, and not least, why we're all here on this planet.
"I got started about ten years ago with Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time," he says. "It was mesmerizing to think that we're on the periphery of the expanding universe." Dan Brown's best-selling The Da Vinci Code served as a further impetus to attempt fusing religion with science, and if the results don't always cohere, they're no less fascinating for their intellectual twists and turns. Who knew the former mayor had been a budding philosopher this whole time?
"My interest was accelerated when I was thrown out of office in 1998," Suarez explains with a good-natured laugh. "One of the beneficial side effects was that I had a lot of time on my hands." Time, he adds, to see that "in the first half of the Twentieth Century, science explained everything. In the second half -- I'm borrowing from Jacques Barzun here -- it couldn't explain anything!"
If scientists can't even agree on why gravity exists, he continues, then don't expect them to understand the rise of fascism. Or how to enact economic theory. But it's here, just as Suarez is blaming a misunderstanding of "entropy" for many of Miami's ills, that he begins to get into trouble. He has plenty of novel ideas for county government, but somewhere in the journey from his brain to the outer world, matters get a little hazy.
Forget about an independent airport authority. Suarez wants to privatize the airport. And where has privatization been done? "Peru," he answers matter-of-factly. "There's a couple in Europe, I think. It's a growing trend!"
Likewise Suarez believes he's hit on a solution to the heated debate surrounding Miami-Dade's gay-rights ordinance, which Christian Coalition activists are once again gathering signatures to overturn. "Remember when President Clinton was elected, what he did with gays in the military? 'Don't ask, don't tell.'" Suarez is positively bursting to announce his own version for Miami's gay-rights ordinance: "Don't repeal, don't enact."
Yet when informed by Kulchur that "don't ask, don't tell" has been an unqualified disaster for all concerned -- record numbers of gay soldiers have been discharged, even Arabic linguists at a time when their translation skills are needed more than ever -- Suarez can only stammer back: "I really don't know about that."
To be fair, though, while Suarez's notions may be half-baked, the same can be said for much of the brain trust currently occupying the dais at the county commission chambers. Perhaps that's the reason Suarez's political resuscitation has been making some surprising headway.