The Ghetto Governor

Dorrin Rolleís dedication to his district is in question

In the end, Rolle's gambit paid off. Penelas beat Teele and served two full terms as county mayor. Rolle was among Penelas's reliable allies on the county commission. His relationship with Miami-Dade's first executive mayor gave Rolle access to a network of business people and community leaders he didn't have before, Balsera says.

It is a network Rolle has tapped into during his last and current campaigns for re-election. During a recent interview, lobbyist Sylvester Lukis acknowledged hosting a Rolle fundraiser at his client Alan Potamkin's Coral Gables palace that netted nearly $37,000 in campaign contributions in one day. "Rolle is a good commissioner," Lukis says. "He does a phenomenal job."

According to his campaign finance reports, Rolle has collected $9000 from Potamkin and $7000 from home builder Sergio Pino. Ex-felon and former-Hialeah-councilman-turned-affordable-housing-developer Silvio Cardoso, his family, and business partners kicked in $6500.

Dorrin Rolle
Steve Satterwhite
Dorrin Rolle
Lawyer Al Maloof (shown here) says Dorrin Rolle is a man of 
Bill Cooke
Lawyer Al Maloof (shown here) says Dorrin Rolle is a man of integrity

Others who generously gave to the Rolle re-election drive included H.J. Russell & Company — a firm that holds a multimillion-dollar contract to manage the redevelopment of the James E. Scott and Carver public housing projects in Rolle's district — and the Miami office of law firm Genovese Joblove & Battista, where Miami-Dade planning advisory board chairman Al Maloof is a partner. Maloof, his law firm, his consulting company, and several Genovese lawyers contributed $2250 to Rolle.

Maloof, who is registered as a lobbyist representing twenty companies, including his own law firm, says he supports Rolle because the Governor has done a good job fostering economic development and supporting youth-oriented community organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boy Scouts of America. "He takes care of the community," Maloof says.

It's one of those unbearably sticky Miami afternoons. Liberty City activist Brian Dennis is strolling through the desolate construction site that used to be the James E. Scott and Carver public housing compound on NW 22nd Avenue, between 68th and 75th streets. Dennis's shoulder-length dreadlocks and scruffy beard are beginning to sprout a few gray coils, possible signs of wear and tear from more than eight years of community activism.

The 39-year-old Dennis was among the hundreds of community activists and former residents who unsuccessfully fought Miami-Dade County's plans to replace Scott-Carver with a controversial redevelopment project that displaced 800 low-income families — nearly 3000 inhabitants. "Rolle got rid of entire families," Dennis gripes. "All the residents won't be able to afford to come back. Sure, you'll find a few. But what about the rest of them?"

For more than 50 years, Scott-Carver was the epicenter of the drug-related crime and violence that envelopes Liberty City. Three years ago, the county razed most of the 850-unit military barracks-style apartment complex, paving the way for a mixed-income community consisting of more than 400 affordable single-family homes, townhouses, and low-income apartments. Demolition of the remaining empty 314 units is set to begin later this year.

From day one, Rolle has been the controversial project's champion — a fact that has significantly hurt his standing among his core constituents in Liberty City. Even though he led the chorus of promises that residents would be given the opportunity to return once the redevelopment was complete, community activists assert most of Carver's denizens will not be able to afford the new homes.

Had James Burke not been indicted, the Scott-Carver redevelopment would have been dead in the water, Dennis relays. "Burke may have been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but he grew up in Scott," Dennis says. "He wasn't going to allow it to run like that. Now you see what Rolle did."

Gihan Perera, executive director of the Miami Workers Center, an organization that assists inner-city residents, says Rolle has been a disappointment and has lacked the leadership to really help his community.

Throughout the struggle to stop the razing of Scott-Carver, Perera says his group tried to impress upon Rolle the importance of listening to the residents' concerns about being uprooted from the gritty place they called home. "If he didn't step up and take care of these people," Perera recalls, "then he was going to lose his core constituency."

Instead, Perera continues, Rolle ignored the residents. For instance, on September 6, 2002, fifteen members from Low-Income Families Fighting Together (LIFFT) — a grassroots coalition of Scott-Carver residents — stormed JESCA's headquarters on NW 54th Street to deliver a letter urging Rolle to attend an upcoming community forum. The group accused Rolle of refusing to meet with them to hear their concerns.

At a June 22, 2004 county commission meeting, Rolle prevented LIFFT members from commenting about a county report showing a disproportionate number of vacancies in the county-owned housing project. "We've asked Rolle to meet with us many times, and he has never responded," says LIFFT member Jearline Borders.

To date, only four new single-family houses have been built on the former public housing site. Those were developed by Habitat for Humanity, which has a contract with the county to build another 52 homes. Construction won't commence on the remaining 354 townhouses, single-family residences, and public housing apartments until at least 2008, according to a recent housing agency report.

Of the 800 families, only 56 have qualified to purchase a home in the new development.

On the other hand, Balsera notes that Scott-Carver was a blight on the community. "It was not a situation that offered hope or optimism to anyone who lived there or in the surrounding community," Balsera opines. "He made the tough decision to displace all these families in exchange for building a much better community. That shows he is willing to make political sacrifices for long-term gain."

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