By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
He stopped at a downtown Kinko's and had 150 copies printed on canary-yellow paper. Graves had chosen to focus on the downtown courthouses and government buildings between Flagler and NE Second Avenue, descending around 4 p.m. on Miami's government nerve center, where he preyed mostly on the elderly (they moved slower).
Reactions ranged from confusion to abject horror. A few signed his petition, hoping their chicken scratchings would placate the energetic pastor.
Gilbert Saint-Jean signed outside a Cuban coffee joint while awaiting his cortadito. The middle-age Haitian-American was not dressed in attire indicating any official capacity, but he seemed to scan the street for supervisors before taking Graves's pen. "They can't touch me," he said finally, jotting his name at the top of the bare sheet of paper.
Public meetings of the Miami-Dade County Charter Review Task Force: January 9 at 10 a.m., Main Library Auditorium, 101 W Flagler St, Miami; January 16 at 6 p.m., Stephen P. Clark Government Center, 111 NW 1st St, 2nd Floor, Miami; January 17 at 10 a.m., Stephen P. Clark Government Center, 111 NW 1st St, Conference Rooms 18-3 and 18-4; and January 23 at 10 a.m., Main Library Auditorium, 101 W Flagler St, Miami.
Graves worked his way back to the foot of the monolithic Stephen P. Clark Government Center, where he locked in on a middle-age paralegal dragging a caddy full of files. "This is so silly!" she cawed, stomping her foot in the crosswalk. "This is never going to happen. I'd sign onto this if you had anything here that might actually happen."
"Ma'am," Graves countered, raising an eyebrow, "anything is possible."
She shoved the flyer back into his hands.
Hours later, the pastor ended the day with 15 signatures — five of which were illegible. As the sun disappeared behind the skyline, he resolved to try for one last name. A pale woman in a heavy white sweater agreed to speak with him on the way to her bus. Graves worked her in just half a block, explaining the merits of his mad plot in clear, plain English.
She turned to him at the corner and reached for his pen without asking a single question. "Sounds fair," she said and signed her name as Hertase.
"Hallelujah!" Graves cried, hopping jauntily into the air. "I do believe I've got it!"
The next afternoon, Graves appeared to have lost it. He arrived after lunchtime and leapt, head-first, into the hungry midday rush of bureaucrats. The suits didn't like him much, insisting at every approach that they were needed in court.
Just when all hope seemed lost, he was rescued by Juver Diaz. At 29 years old, Diaz stood a couple of inches over Graves. The man's shoulders stretched wide under a dusty pinstripe coat, and his head was a sweaty ramp of wavy sun-bleached hair. A four-inch scab stretched across the back of his neck. His face remained flat and severe as he watched Graves get rejected by everyone he approached.
After a few minutes, Diaz accosted the portly pastor, demanding money. "I'm sorry, my son," Graves uttered. "I can only offer you an everlasting spoonful of Jesus."
"I'm not your son," Diaz said, flicking his spent cigarette butt over the pastor's shoulder. "I'm your brother." Diaz told Graves everyone feared and respected him on the streets of Miami because he was the son of God. "No one can hurt me," he said.
Graves seemed touched by this outpouring. "You're right, Juver," he agreed. "We're brothers."
Diaz snatched Graves's clipboard. "Lemme show you how it's done," he muttered. In 10 minutes, Diaz (whom court records show was arrested for aggressive panhandling just three weeks earlier) filled an entire column with signatures. He kissed women's hands and pledged to marry them. He roused vagrants with idle threats and beat his chest with each passing person, shoving out flyers with a cracking bark: "Respect!"
"God bless you, Brother Diaz," Graves said after the flurry was over and Diaz had gone his way. When Diaz was out of view, Graves prayed. He asked the Lord to protect and keep Brother Diaz. He asked that Diaz one day become a part of the New Covenant Bible Church, perhaps even like Luke was to Jesus — a warrior for Christ.
"If I had five men like Brother Diaz," Graves began, tears welling in his eyes, "we'd have 10 dunking stools in this county by next Sunday."
Graves rushed home early to meditate on his meeting with Juver Diaz. After several hours, he called New Times with a plot to petition every elected official in Miami-Dade County. "Let everyone who believes they are above reproach say so," he declared.
On Friday, December 7, a petition was sent to every elected official in the county — dozens in all, from the recently elected mayor of Homestead to the most senior commissioner of Sunny Isles Beach — explaining Simon Graves's plan. Attached were two questions:
1. Would you agree to be dunked should you be caught doing anything fiscally untoward?
2. If not, why?
So far no one has answered the query.
"Lordy, I feel like Noah," Graves cried over the phone last Thursday. "Is there not a good man in all of Miami?"
Graves says he and his wife are considering selling their home and buying a boat. He says it's possible he won't even live in Miami by the time the task force hands its charter review report over to the county commission on January 28. But he acknowledges there's a better chance he might attend one of the four scheduled task force meetings between now and then.