Ooooh yes. Oh yes. Yes. Yes," moaned a voice deep inside Miami City Hall. No, it wasn't Mayor Steve Clark having his back scratched (or scratching someone else's). Nor was it Commissioner Miller Dawkins on the phone with deposed Haitian strongman Raoul Cedras. The aural display of orgasmic pleasure emanated from the office of Joe Carollo, and the recently elected city commissioner was anything but enraptured. "Just last week my little girls were here," he snarled, sounding as angry as Charles Bronson in Deathwish. "We tried to get Nickelodeon for them on the TV and lo and behold -- " the commissioner paused, barely able to speak the words " -- and lo and behold we find that we have the Playboy Channel."
The Playboy Channel, now officially known as Playboy TV, that hotbed of soft-core porn, a rumpus room for Video Playmates and assorted adult temptresses, a cable television channel where shows such as Secrets of Making Love, and 101 Ways to Excite Your Lover share airtime with The Best of Pamela Anderson, a program described in a Playboy press release as a collection of Ms. Anderson's "erotic steamy videos," and "classic sensual outtakes from [her five] Playboy pictorials." Playboy TV is available in 135 territories worldwide. It is received in 10.9 million homes nationwide. And until last week, it played citywide to a select group of government officials. Then Joe Carollo, true to his campaign pledge to clean up the City of Miami, stopped the fun. "I never thought I would find any public office in the United States that would have the gall to put Playboy in the office," he grumbled.
Carollo's receptionist, Patty Gonzalez, first discovered the porno peccadillo. "I was trying to find the county channel," she explained, gesturing toward the Magnavox television parked in a cabinet behind her desk. "It was the day that Commissioner Ferre was giving his press conference and I didn't know what channel it was on. So I'm pressing the button and flipping through all the channels and all of a sudden I'm like -- " Here Gonzalez let loose with a shriek. "Everyone in the office thought I was having a heart attack."
The two other members of Carollo's all-female staff ran into the room to find a gasping Gonzalez pointing at televised ladies in various stages of arousal and undress. Senior policy adviser Charlene Watkins quickly turned off the television, then sat down and wrote an angry letter to City Manager Cesar Odio: "As professional women working in the public sector, all members of Commissioner Carollo's staff have echoed the commissioner's and my shock and outrage that channel-surfing in the office of an ethical public official should provide such offensive 'entertainment.'" Late last week Carollo personally delivered the letter to the manager.
Before the letter was circulated, however, Watkins offered to show a reporter exactly how inappropriate it was to find Playboy in a high-minded legislative environment. But she mused that Playboy TV might not operate round the clock; there might not be any show-all nudity during her lunchtime demonstration. "I don't think the channel is on during the day," Watkins speculated. "Not that I would really know, of course."
She pressed a button and flipped from Channel 10, on which Gonzalez was watching CNN's Headline News, up to Playboy at channel 58. As Watkins had anticipated, the screen displayed no gyrating nymphos but only a magician levitating a young woman whose body, clad in a glittering purple bikini, hovered horizontally three feet above a stage floor. "Oh, no," Watkins pouted, relieved that there was no nudity but frustrated that she couldn't prove her point. "This is only a magician. This must be their daytime programming."
Suddenly the magician snapped his gloved fingers and the levitating woman's bikini disappeared. The camera then panned up from her bare feet to her bare midriff to her bare breasts. Gonzalez ran from the room.
"That's enough!" Watkins announced, furiously flipping back to CNN, where Office of Management and Budget Director Alice Rivlin droned on about economic indicators. Gonzalez peered in from an adjacent room. "Is it off now?" she asked timidly, and then returned to her desk, where she straightened a bouquet of dandelions she nearly toppled in her hasty retreat.
"I personally find it offensive to have Playboy put into this office," Watkins concluded. "It's sort of like requiring every city commissioner who subscribes to the Miami Herald to also get Hustler magazine."
Carollo handed Watkins's letter to Odio on Thursday of last week and informed the city manager that Pamela Anderson had no place on his staff. Less than one hour later, a manager from Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), which serves the City of Miami, arrived at the commissioner's office to disconnect the offending channel. The manager, Anthony Pope, explained that Miami City Hall, like most government buildings in cities serviced by TCI, receives its cable free of charge.
In fact, Pope added, there were supposedly twelve active cable boxes at city hall, nine of which were programmed to provide Playboy TV along with other so-called premium channels such as HBO and Cinemax. But Pope could find only seven of the boxes, and could not say exactly which of those seven units received the premium channels. Commissioner Miller Dawkins claimed not to have them. Same with City Manager Odio. Lael Schumacher, an aide to Steve Clark, said the mayor's office wasn't wired with pornography. "At least not that I know of," he hedged. "I should flip around there a little bit." And J.L. Plummer? Is he learning 101 ways to excite his lover from the comfort of his office La-Z-Boy?
"Negatory," barked the veteran commissioner, though he hinted that he wasn't exactly happy to discover he has been living without. "Carollo came by to check and see if anyone in my office is going to be embarrassed by turning to the Playboy Channel. I said, 'Embarrassed? Hell, I was shortchanged!' All I ever watch is CNN news. Well, that and the city channel when the commission meets."
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Plummer has good reason to feel left out of the action. Government officials indulging in the sexual candy available to them is nothing new, according to Assistant City Manager Ron Williams. "I know we had a little trouble with the 900 and 976 phone craze," he recalled. "I was in charge of the city phones. I had to rapidly get those numbers blocked." Williams chuckled when told that Playboy TV was available in a city commissioner's office. "People never learn, do they?"
Carollo inherited his office, and the cable channels on the television, from his nemesis, Victor De Yurre. "I didn't even know I had it," says De Yurre, who was ousted by Carollo this past November after eight years on the city commission. "I knew we had cable TV, but what was on was not my concern. When I was there, I was meeting with people and taking care of city commission business. It was not like I had idle time in the office to sit around and watch television."
The controversy was lost on Jim Nagle, Los Angeles-based director of public relations for Playboy Enterprises. "Unless people are neglecting their duties by watching Playboy TV, we don't see a reason why this is an issue," he contended. "We believe Playboy TV is as compatible with city government as HBO, the Disney Channel, and Comedy Central."
Carollo canceled those channels, too. He had TCI's Anthony Pope eliminate all the premium channels his office was receiving. And now he's trying to ban premium channels on every television at city hall. "I think my not accepting Playboy TV in this office tells you a lot about the difference between Mr. De Yurre and myself and our styles of government," Carollo huffed. "Then again, De Yurre was quoted as saying that there has to be an upside to being a city commissioner. Maybe this is how he got his upside.