As Nasty as He Wants To Be
"You want my prediction for Memorial Day Weekend?" asks Rudolf with a mischievous grin. The Billboardlive nightlife director pauses a beat for dramatic effect and then cracks to Kulchur: "It's not going to be nearly as interesting as last year."
That's certainly the message the city of Miami Beach was hoping to send at last Wednesday's meeting of the Nightlife Industry Task Force. Inside a packed city hall room, Rudolf was joined by a veritable army of nightclub figures -- including Level's Gerry Kelly, crobar's David Silver, Spin's Tony Cho, and SMAC Entertainment's Angel Febres -- who had been personally asked to appear by the city manager's office. Along with an array of police officials, Beach assistant city manager Christina Cuervo laid down the law.
Yes, the city was expecting full occupancy in its hotels. And yes, some 250,000 to 400,000 predominantly black revelers were anticipated, all looking to get their groove on alongside P. Diddy, Busta Rhymes, and a who's who of hip-hop's glitterati. But, Cuervo stressed, the looming holiday weekend would not be a replay of last May's chaos when the Beach's avenues hosted gridlocked tailgate parties by day, and mass brawls by night.
"Last year caught everybody by surprise," conceded Beach police Capt. John DiCenso to the gathered audience. "We did lose control of Collins Avenue." This May 23, however, "When you come across the causeway to Fifth Street, you're going to be greeted by a county uniformed officer at each intersection," part of the 87 Miami-Dade officers and an unspecified number of Florida Highway Patrolmen who will be supplementing the Beach's entire force of 380. "We're not looking to make mass arrests," DiCenso added, but drinking on the streets will not be tolerated. "If they don't comply, then they're going to be arrested."
Conspicuously absent from this city hall meeting -- and from most of the Beach's Memorial Day weekend plans as of press time -- was Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell and his Progressive Righteous Organized Inc. (PRO). Only a few weeks ago, Christina Cuervo was singing the notorious rapper's praises.
"I have all the confidence in the world in Luther Campbell and his PRO group," Cuervo declared, voicing approval for PRO to close Ocean Drive for "Umoja," an African-arts-themed festival, as well as host three nights of hip-hop concerts inside the Miami Beach Convention Center. The city commission gave its thumbs-up as well. It was hoped that once the Beach's nightclubs had reached capacity, these events would draw the crowds left milling outside.
On the surface it certainly seemed like a winning alliance. Last year's Memorial Day fracas left Beach officials caught between outraged residents looking for a law-and-order crackdown, and critics such as then-Miami NAACP head Bishop Victor T. Curry, who saw racism driving the city's pained reactions. Curry even publicly floated the idea of moving the 2003 NAACP national convention from the Beach in protest -- a contretemps that ended in his own resignation.
Into the breach stepped Campbell, looking to placate both camps: Here was a black entrepreneur -- a class of '78 Beach High graduate, to boot -- offering up his own plans for dealing with Memorial Day. And if Campbell managed to turn a nice buck while keeping the peace, well, as he unabashedly told Kulchur, "It's about time black folks were allowed to earn a living on Miami Beach."
Behind the scenes, Beach officials were understandably less sanguine about their new business partner. After all, Campbell's celebrated hitmaking days as the frontman of 2 Live Crew are a decade gone. Local media may continue to lionize him, but the rapper has long since passed over to the margins of the music industry -- which calls into question just how much influence Campbell could wield on the national hip-hop milieu set to arrive here.
Indeed, since emerging from a 1995 bankruptcy, Campbell's mainstay has been his Luke's Freak Show X-rated video line, dedicated to capturing on camera the fine art of separating a woman from her thong -- preferably in front of a hooting crowd of spring breakers. There is no small irony in this being the precise scene Beach officials are looking to prevent.
Even Campbell himself seemed amused at his newfound role of civic diplomat. During an April interview with Kulchur inside his 12th Street office, he explained how PRO was hoping to coordinate the booking of hip-hop acts throughout South Beach's clubland. He wanted to ensure "crazy-ass artists" and their "crazy-ass" fans would be barred. And just which rappers was the onetime defender of free speech hoping to censor?
Campbell answered with a triumphant laugh and switched to the third person: "I wouldn't let a nightclub book Luke! You want Luke and the Luke girls? Nah, you can't have Luke. All those girls getting naked, girls getting sexually active -- Memorial Day weekend is a family-oriented event!"
Confused? Campbell proceeded to break down his tangled persona, one that finds his office walls decorated with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King portraits next to posters of the leering rapper in a hot tub, surrounded by a bikini-clad harem.
"I'm an entertainer," he explained. "Five percent of the time I'm Luke. Ninety-five percent of the time I'm Luther Campbell ... I've got political concerns like anybody else. I care about what's going on in Jerusalem, the state of Florida -- why they didn't count all our votes. I really want to run for governor! But if I go political, I might go broke. So I gotta stay on the wild side to pay the bills."
Not that Campbell hasn't proved adept at working the political angles of the Beach's racial jitters. He freely admits that back in February, while officials were quietly mulling his offer, he convinced sympathetic writers at the Herald to put his proposals into print, hoping to force the Beach's hand.
"Miami Beach wants to prove to the NAACP that it's not racist?" he explained of his press tactic. "Then let's watch exactly how they treat me. If they're not racist, then they'll treat mejust like they treat the Winter Music Conference, [Ocean Drive magazine's] Volleypalooza, and the 'N Sync concert they had on the beach."
Twisting the screws farther, Campbell arrived for a meeting with assistant city manager Cuervo accompanied by an aide to outspoken civil-rights advocate Rep. Carrie Meek; later meetings with Beach police chief Donald De Lucca saw Campbell flanked by Larry Capp, director of Miami-Dade's Department of Community Relations, and Tom Battles, Miami director of the Department of Justice's community relations service. Battles is a veteran of the headline-grabbing investigations and lawsuits surrounding Daytona Beach's 1999 Black College Reunion -- a 100,000-strong fest which, like last year's Beach Memorial Day mess, ended with conflicting accusations of widespread anarchy versus racist behavior. The implications of involving this negotiating team weren't lost on anyone.
"Campbell's very good at playing the race card," griped one Beach administrator to Kulchur. "Can you imagine any other city in America bending over backwards for a guy that makes porn films? If everybody wasn't so terrified of bad PR, [Campbell] would've been shown the door a long time ago."
As of last week, city hall finally looks ready to take that step. While the Miami-Dade Department of Community Relations has stepped in to co-sponsor the Ocean Drive arts fair, Campbell's PRO has scaled back its Convention Center concerts from three nights to just one. And the contract for even that single evening has yet to be signed; Campbell told Kulchur he was considering passing off the event to a different promoter entirely.
So why the turnabout? According to faxes sent between the city manager's office and Campbell's PRO, the rapper repeatedly postponed putting down the $24,000 security deposit and proof of insurance required to rent the Convention Center for three nights. After missing permit deadlines, Campbell then asked for only two nights, and presently just one.
The Department of Justice's Tom Battles attempted to do a little spinning via cell phone as he drove between meetings with City of Miami officials over a PRO concert on Virginia Key with Master P and Ja Rule.
"Luther Campbell couldn't come up with the right economic formula that was comfortable for him and his partners," Battles said, choosing his words carefully. "He wasn't able to meet some of the challenges placed on him."
Is Mr. Campbell broke? What exactly is the problem?
"I'm not sure specifically what he has a problem with," Battles answered, adding that he had yet to actually talk with Campbell about the matter. Battles chose not to tell Kulchur that he was sitting next to Campbell at that exact moment.
Tact was not one of the four-letter words Campbell aimed at Beach officials during an impassioned interview last Friday. Memorial Day weekend was "set up for a disaster," he warned, pointing the finger of blame squarely at Police Chief Donald De Lucca and the city manager's office.
"I feel like I've been fucked around, jerked around, bullshitted, for almost four months now," he said bitterly. "I always wanted to give the City of Miami Beach the benefit of the doubt. We're on the heels of a black boycott. As I explained to Victor Curry, I wanted to give them the opportunity to either shit or get off the pot. So I came with a solution."
Instead, he charged, Beach officials intentionally sabotaged him by constantly delaying his events' approval. "Their whole idea was to make sure we didn't have anything concrete, so we couldn't promote it around the country."
He denied being short on cash for the necessary deposits, security, and performers' fees, turning the question around: "Why didn't the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention Center, and the [Greater Miami] Convention [and] Visitors Bureau co-sponsor me right from the beginning? If they're with the program, they should be saluting me. They should give me a goddamn key to the city!"
As proof of what he calls the city's double-dealing, Campbell produced a series of faxes sent between himself, the Convention Center's Doug Tober, Beach City Manager Jorge M. Gonzalez, and Miami-Dade County Manager Steve Shiver. In them, Shiver originally promises to provide the Convention Center with both fire-rescue services and 31 police officers each evening, absolutely free -- a savings to Campbell of more than $100,000.
Then, on April 25, Campbell was informed that of the 87 county officers being sent to the Beach for the holiday weekend, none would be available for his Convention Center concerts, per the decision of police chief De Lucca. Instead De Lucca would provide only seventeen Beach police. Campbell's PRO would have to hire more security to make up the difference on its own dime -- a proposition PRO seemed unwilling, or unable, to entertain. "It's all a big goddamn motherfuckin' conspiracy!" Campbell snapped.
The Miami-Dade Department of Community Relations' Larry Capp -- at Campbell's side for several meetings with De Lucca and various Beach officials -- backed away from Campbell's accusations. "My dealings with them have been very much aboveboard," Capp said. Although he wished De Lucca would have reconsidered deploying county officers to Campbell's concerts -- "it's a no-brainer" -- he declined to cite a "conspiracy."
"I can't speak to any motives as far as sabotage is concerned," Capp continued. "Miami Beach can be very difficult to work with at times, and for someone who's not used to dealing with all these rules and regulations, it can be very frustrating. There's a lot of hoops to jump through. I would call it bureaucracy. I wouldn't call it racism."
Chief De Lucca did not return calls for comment.
"I'm scared of the police right now," Campbell cautioned. He was unsure what, if any, involvement he'd have with Memorial Day weekend. "I'm not going to be part of an event where I bring my people there, and they're going to get their ass whipped. Or get maced because they're just standing outside the club trying to get in, and now they're spilling over into the streets because I don't have the overflow outlet for them."
If this latter scenario unfolds, Campbell promises to join in mass civil disobedience blocking Beach-bound traffic. "I'll be right up on the MacArthur Causeway, laying down in the street with Victor Curry, saying, 'Don't go over to this motherfucker!'"
And regardless of what transpires, he vows to remain a highly visible local presence: "I've been working here on the Beach long before Christina Cuervo. Maybe she'll try and get her friends over at the Herald to write something like 'Luther doesn't pay his taxes' or some other bullshit. Well, fuck 'em. I ain't going away that easy."
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