With the City of Miami's mayoral election less than a month away, the Miriam Alonso campaign has shifted into high gear. And no one can deny that Leonel Alonso, Miriam's husband and chief advisor, has been hard at work plying his own unique form of public relations -- all while driving a luxury car courtesy of Miami's taxpayers.
In the past month, Leonel Alonso, notorious among former Alonso supporters for his trip-hammer temper, has reportedly initiated verbal confrontations with two local citizens, both of which resulted in 911 emergency calls to police.
The first incident occurred on the afternoon of August 27. Alonso, once an ambassador for Fidel Castro who defected to the United States with his wife in 1966, pulled into the McDonald's at 2940 SW Eighth Street. He parked his vehicle -- a charcoal gray Cadillac Seville actually rented for his wife by the City of Miami at a cost of $769 per month -- in a space designated for drive-through customers, then went inside to eat. The McDonald's manager, Eduardo Mederos, approached Alonso in the restaurant and asked him to move the car. According to a police report Mederos filed that same day, the 61-year-old former diplomat ignored the request, finished eating, and walked outside. He then grabbed a bank-deposit bag from the trunk of the Cadillac and started to walk across the street.
The 28-year-old Mederos again asked him to move his car. "Suspect [Alonso] became violent and began to use foul language," the police report notes. "Suspect then stated to victim to get in the car and we'll drive across the street and we can take care of business and fight it out." When Mederos declined, Alonso purportedly said, "'I'll come back at 5:00 p.m. and we'll fight it out or shoot it out.' Victim was in fear of his life that this suspect would return to shoot him."
According to a supplementary police report, on September 13 Police Chief Calvin Ross's office ordered an officer to investigate. But Mederos told the officer he had decided not to press charges for verbal threats of violence, a second-degree misdemeanor. Leonel Alonso's attorney, Jose Quincentsn, told police his client was ready to give a statement, but such a statement was no longer necessary.
Why did City of Miami police take more than two weeks to investigate the complaint? "Basically that wasn't that high a priority for us," explains Public Information Officer David Magnusson. "When you've got murders and aggravated batteries, you've got to prioritize, and this was, at best, a misdemeanor."
Quincentsn did not return phone calls from New Times seeking comment. Neither did Commissioner Miriam Alonso. Mederos refused to say why he decided to drop the matter.
Ironically, on the same day Quincentsn spoke to the police, his client was reportedly involved in another dispute, again involving his wife's Cadillac. Mike Karaty, president of the Miami Roads Neighborhood Civic Association, was driving north on SW Thirteenth Avenue when he saw an elderly man driving south. "I'd seen this guy driving that car before and I wanted to know who he was, because the car had a tag in the front and rear-view window A 'City of Miami Commissioner' A and I knew he wasn't a commissioner," says Karaty, who supports Steve Clark, Miriam Alonso's chief rival in the mayor's race. Karaty made a U-turn and slowly glided past the car, which had pulled onto the shoulder of the road, and wrote down the license plate number: NSY 45A. (The "Miami City Commissioner" emblem allows commissioners to park anywhere without fear of being ticketed or towed, as long as they are on official city business.)
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Then Karaty continued home. He thought nothing of the incident until he saw the Cadillac in his rearview mirror, fast approaching. Karaty says the driver pulled up beside him at a stop sign, seething. "He had one hand on the wheel and one hand on the floorboard like if he was grabbing for something," Karaty recalls. "His face was somewhat reddish-blue in color and he was literally foaming at the mouth. I'd just picked up my son from school, but I told him to put his head down in my lap." Karaty claims Alonso demanded to know why he'd been followed. Karaty explained that he wanted to find out who was driving the city car. "He told me, 'I'm the husband.' Then it hit me: He was Miriam Alonso's husband. He said I shouldn't have followed him," Karaty recalls. "I told him, 'I wasn't following you.' He said, 'I'm warning you!' That's when I took off."
Karaty says he was afraid Alonso was going to follow him home, and he immediately called 911. He spoke to a police officer but says he decided not to file a complaint because it would have required taking a patrolman off the street. Karaty was also concerned about the fact that Alonso was driving his wife's city-financed car. But according to several city officials, that is all perfectly legal.
In 1989 the city commission passed a resolution providing the commissioners "full, unrestricted personal use" of city-owned vehicles. By City Manager Cesar Odio's orders, that includes providing gas, insurance coverage, and unlimited mileage for commissioners and their spouses. Odio did not return calls from New Times, but his special assistant, Dulce Borges, confirmed that "this city manager will tell you that spouses are covered."
Ari Fernandez, deputy director of the city's General Services Administration, says the city usually arranges a cheaper, long-term lease for commissioners' cars. But because the November 2 election makes Alonso's future with the city uncertain, officials in May rented her the four-door sedan with leather interior on a more expensive, short-term basis. By the November 2 election, Miami, a city in dire financial straits, will have spent $4614 for Alonso's Cadillac.