That determination to win put him on the path to politics. He arrived at South Dade Senior High School in the fall of 1968, a few months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. His senior class was the first to be integrated at the school, and white students welcomed their black classmates by lynching a black dummy from the flagpole.

Things got worse. Wallace had played the trombone since grade school. But South Dade High's mascot was a Confederate rebel, and Otis was expected to don the gray uniform of the South and play "Dixie." "Even the tubas had Confederate flags on them," he says. "I couldn't stomach that."

Wallace led black students in protest. But school administrators did nothing, and Otis began receiving threats at school and at home. "I knew better than to go to the bathroom or the parking lot by myself," he says. Angry whites would call his house at all hours of the night. Eventually, the school board allowed him and other black students to transfer.

Gayle Marshall with police reports on her eviction.
Michael E. Miller
Gayle Marshall with police reports on her eviction.
James Brady holding a sign moments before the polls close January 24.
Michael E. Miller
James Brady holding a sign moments before the polls close January 24.

Wallace won a scholarship to Michigan State University, where he excelled. When he returned home four years later to attend the University of Miami law school, he found that racial tensions had dissipated, but inequality hadn't. There were sidewalks and clean streets on the south, white side of town. But public services scarcely existed in black neighborhoods. Wallace began attending city council meetings while studying for the bar.

"It got to the point where I thought the political system could work for me," he says. He decided to challenge then-mayor John Calautti's political machine by visiting every black household in town. It worked. In 1976, Wallace became the first black man elected in Florida City.

Eight years later, he took on Calautti himself. In true Perry Mason style, Wallace pulled out an amazing upset, garnering twice as many votes as Calautti.

Within months, he established a formula that would serve him well for the next 28 years. He coaxed hotel chains to build on the cheap land astride U.S. 1. Then he used the added tax revenue to extend services such as sewer and water hookups to his poor constituents.

From the beginning, however, politics and moneymaking were a volatile mix for Wallace. His full-time mayor's salary was just $23,000 a year at the time, so Wallace purchased 223 low-end apartments in Florida City and Homestead. In 1989 — a year after Wallace was re-elected without opposition — the Miami Herald revealed that many of the mayor's properties were slums. Some were crack houses. Wallace had been slapped with 178 housing violations in the previous two years for everything from cockroaches to exposed high-voltage wiring. Investigators even found children cooling off by playing in septic water from a faulty sewage line.

"It was one of those get-rich-quick, no-money-down things," Wallace told New Times in 1996. "The property was in the same condition the day before I bought it... but the minute I bought it, it was supposed to be instantly transformed with a magic wand into beachfront condos."

Wallace paid several thousand dollars in fines and sold the properties shortly thereafter.

The scandal was quickly forgotten on August 24, 1992, when Hurricane Andrew tore through Florida City. The storm obliterated nearly 400 homes and heavily damaged hundreds more. Entire blocks were gone. City hall was destroyed. So was the mayor's own house. But Wallace kept working, overseeing rescue missions from a trailer. Barbara Jordan drove down to see her brother a few days after the hurricane.

"It looked like a Third-World country," she says. "Otis was walking around just trying to bring in whatever help he could to put the city back together."

Barely two years later, Wallace cut the ribbon on the massive Florida Keys Factory Shops off U.S. 1 to widespread acclaim. "The hurricane hit, and we had to dig in to survive," the mayor says. "Any thought of leaving office and playing lawyer was brushed to the side."

But in the years after the catastrophe, shortly after the $20 million mall opened, county officials discovered that Florida City inspectors had never reviewed the designs. Even worse, they found that plans for an entire neighborhood had never been filed. The shady subdivision was the Village of Palm Bay, where Wallace and his family were living. Suspicion fell on Florida City's director of building and zoning, Robert Barrett, a close friend and real estate partner of Wallace's. Barrett refused to cooperate with the investigation. He resigned a month later, citing heart problems. Neither Barrett nor Wallace was charged.

Wallace was celebrating 23 years in power when another of his top employees was arrested on corruption charges in 2007. Housing director Matthew Price II admitted to pocketing $10,000 for steering a $4 million contract to a friend. He also copped to fraudulently acquiring a mortgage, collecting rent on city property, and flipping city land for a personal profit. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Wallace was never charged in the case and indeed points out he fired Price months earlier.

Now released, Price won't discuss the case. "That's not something I'm interested in talking about," he says.

Like the slum housing scandal, Wallace miraculously emerged untouched. He was re-elected in 2008 and again in 2010.

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My Voice Nation Help
11 comments
g3j5
g3j5

what if he had her son killed... and if u stay in Florida city you know how this shit is they jus start building shit down here lol them ugly ass trees they put up that nigga pocketing all the money put his sister out and he got millions talkin bout he be at the football games he should be at every game its fuckin 120$ to play this shit is corrupt down here only thing the police do is ride around and fuck hoes

Pj3x71
Pj3x71

Mayor Otis Wallace is a very honest hard working man that i have none for quit some time. I meet him when my kids start playing football at the park, where he spend lots of hour cheering and supporting our kids.Continue doing your job that you have done so well..... I here the same guy that went to the FBI is also a convicted felon himself, that also sold and use drugs himself...

runrandrand
runrandrand

WHY IS THIS USELESS STORY IN IT'S THIRD WEEKEND CYCLE? THE NEWS IS EVEN SLOWER THEN THE DAYTONA RACE START THAT WASN'T-----! MAYBE THE HERALD PRESSES SHOULD INK UP AND START PRINTING COUNTERFIT MONEY TO HELP THE BANKRUPT CITY---WHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

Hym
Hym

Damn! The New Times sure does have a way and a tone to how they write these character assassinating stories. I have never met Mr. Wallace and even though I did not graduate from high school, I can read. I can definitely read through this bull and see that the New Times failed to substantiate the title of the article. Other than putting his sister out of the house, the story reads like a desperate attempt to sell newspapers. I must admit though, it was entertaining.

Dannykeehan
Dannykeehan

Martin Luther King will be turning in his grave. give a poor man the same job and leave it for 28 years, then at the end of it find out if he has change. i bet he will?

Joy
Joy

So hot! Do u need meet more hot girls? Come here! Just click hereā†’stDsTer.,.c0m.You won't be disappointed!

jtp12
jtp12

Good job Mike Miller. If you had the time, I am sure you could uncover even more. All the land, hotel/motel, real estate transactions should be investigated in that area.This is exactly what is wrong with America today. This whole scenario infiltrates our entire system. Unfortunately, it is investigated and then nothing is ever done.We just need more good reporters like you. Power, money, and corruption. Will it ever end?

Oh, one last thing, do you have a bodyguard?

husterredt
husterredt

typical in Florida City & Homestead, corruption is everywhere, Bateman is not far behind, actually he is partners with Wallace, Berrones and Henschel, its about time the FBI looks intoit..Good Job, Get them all!!!!!!!!!!!

Kcgriefs
Kcgriefs

So since he makes an appearance at a park filled with constituents he is corruption free? I am not sure what is weaker, your spelling or your logic.

Bebep
Bebep

A desperate attempt to sell their FREE newspaper.

Congratulations on not graduating high school.

Ash
Ash

You might be able to read but perhaps you have a problem with comprehension. It's sad because he did many admirable things (as this article points out). He couldn't resist the temptation of corruption. He's slippery but they all get caught eventually.

 

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