Had his charmed life endured, 50-year-old Alex Daoud might still be mayor of Miami Beach, spending this late-summer evening holding forth at some high-society cocktail party, toasting the fabulous recovery of his city. Conceivably he might pick such a moment to announce his intention to seek yet another mayoral term this fall or, his political aspiration knowing no bounds, maybe to drop a serious hint about running for something loftier, something in Washington, perhaps. Later he might turn up on South Beach, schmoozing up and down the glittering guest list at the opening of a new nightclub, he being the tall, charismatic king-of-the-jungle-gym in this nightlife playground, after all.
That, though, is fiction.
Fact is, Daoud is alone at the end of this muggy day, straightening plastic deck chairs beside the swimming pool in the courtyard of a modest apartment building on a Miami Beach back street. A few months ago the chore was part of his duties as the building's manager, in exchange for which he lived rent-free. These days Daoud is helping out the new manager and trying his best to keep busy.
Dressed in a T-shirt, flip-flops, and Mount Sinai Hospital scrubs, he lumbers unsmiling around the pool deck. There's no reason he should feel buoyed this evening, of course. In a few weeks he'll be sentenced in federal court for bribery, money laundering, tax fraud, and obstruction of justice. He faces four to five years in prison for his crimes, committed during the Eighties, amid the steep upward swoop of a political career that seemed to hold unlimited promise.
Daoud is courteous, if a little startled by my appearance on his doorstep. He doesn't want to talk, not to a journalist at any rate; his attorney has advised him to withhold comment until after the sentencing. But I stick around, anyway. Reticence was never Daoud's strong suit. As mayor, he never withheld comment.
I try to explain that I want to write a story about what he's been up to since he left office two years ago. "How tall are you?" he asks suddenly. "You look like you work out. How much do you weigh?" Placing a hand on his slightly bulging stomach, he laments how he abandoned exercise for too long and allowed himself to balloon from his 220-pound "fighting" weight to a high of 285. At one time an avid amateur boxer, the six-foot, four-inch Daoud could often be found hitting the heavy bag at the storied Fifth Street Gym. While he no longer laces on the gloves, he tells me, he has recently begun visiting a local gym for the treadmill and weights and has dropped fifteen pounds. We exchange trivialities about the importance of exercise and the demise of the Fifth Street Gym, then I steer the talk back to how I want to find out what has happened to him. "You've been very considerate," he says after some pause. "Come on upstairs and we'll talk for awhile."
I follow him into his dimly lit one-bedroom apartment, accidentally kicking a toy gun, the kind that fires darts with suction cup tips. The floor is scattered with what appears to be the entire contents of a child's toy chest, not to mention the odd dirty sock, shoe, and towel. Laundry is piled high on an old couch. A large table pushed into a corner of the living room is buried beneath a heap of old newspapers, books, mail, and more toys.
Pushing aside some motley furniture to make a path through the clutter, Daoud invites me to sit on a well-worn, high-backed swivel chair ("The best seat in the house," he says) and offers a perfunctory apology for the mess: His four-year-old son had visited and he hadn't got around to cleaning up. "Would you like something to drink?" he asks, shuffling into the kitchen, where I can see a sink piled with dirty dishes. He returns with water in a Burger King-issue Aladdin cup for me, a Mickey Mouse glass for him.
"You don't know what it's like to take on the federal government," he remarks, as he slips a cassette into a small tape player. Repetitive, quasi-melodic synthesizer sounds permeate the room. "Subliminal music -- it helps me relax," he explains. He slumps into a chair against a bare wall; all the walls in the place are unadorned. "I've never read it in a book," he continues, his deep voice dropping to a near murmur. "I've never seen it in a movie or on television. No one can possibly know what it's like to go through a federal criminal trial. The moment you start that indictment, your life is unalterably changed."
He tells me how, in order to pay his legal fees, he was forced to sell his pricey Corvette and his $485,000 home in the exclusive Miami Beach enclave of Sunset Island. I comment on the contents of several tall bookshelves around the perimeter of the room, packed floor to ceiling with scores of hefty black binders. These contain documents Daoud used in his defense. Photocopying cost: $40,000, he says. He got rid of most of his belongings and furniture ("I don't need the memories"), keeping only a few mementos: figurines from the Far East that belonged to his mother, some photographs, a fragment of a Scud missile he found during the Gulf War on one of his frequent visits to Israel. The only items of any monetary value in the apartment appear to be a bicycle and a laptop computer. On closer inspection the latter proves to be a cheapo clone, brand name Delite.
"God," Daoud sighs, visibly folding, his head drooping into his hands. "If I had known what I'd go through, I would have pleaded out at the beginning. Depression. Extreme depression. You don't know what it does to you. During the trial, people would come up to me and say, 'How's it going, Alex? How's it going?' How's it going?" He feigns a look of astonishment. "I'm dying, that's how it's going. I'm dying in here! Slowly. A little bit every day."
He lost his 83-year-old mother to arteriosclerosis this past year, Daoud tells me, just two months before the trial. She had moved into the house with him and his wife and son. "I had polio as a kid. I was in the hospital. I remember her face looking through the little window at me in the hospital. That image is burned into your heart, into your soul. I'm thankful she didn't have to see what happened to me." During the trial, Daoud's wife, Terri Noe, took their son and moved out. They have since divorced.
Daoud feels, too, that he has been abandoned by his friends -- or by those people he considered friends. Only four old buddies, all of them friendships that predated his political life, lent him support. Most days, his trial was sparsely attended. "This has been -- I wouldn't say a good lesson in life -- but it's been a very interesting lesson in life and it's taught me a lot about human nature. Most people have very little real character when it comes to standing up. Most people are just worried about themselves." Very few people, he adds, made sympathy calls after his mother's death or came to her funeral. "If I'd still been mayor," he muses, "how many people do you think would've been there?"
He pauses, then jags off in another direction: "Dexter Lehtinen was really after me," Daoud snarls, referring to the acting U.S. Attorney who released the 41-count indictment that detailed his alleged transgressions. "I was a big trophy for him. I think he had a big vendetta. And the Herald really did a number on me. We don't have government by the people; we have government by the paper! To me it's so obvious. How do they justify the editorials they write? These people are so upset by politics, why don't they run? Don't keep criticizing! Anybody can be a critic! Become part of the system and change it!
"I'm writing a book," he confides, interrupting himself again. Picking up a draft of the first few chapters, he asks if I'd like to hear some of it. The work begins with an architectural description of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in downtown Miami. "'Most people visiting the building don't notice its architecture or mixture of design or filth surrounding it,'" Daoud recites solemnly. "'For all defendants called to trial here, this building signifies the end of their worlds. But their worlds don't end quickly. They end very slowly and with deep, unbearable suffering.'"
He tells me it's a novel, a project that consumes several hours of each day. In fact, writing the book has become his primary activity when he isn't with his son, whom he sees on weekends and occasional holidays. The plot concerns a vain and gregarious Miami Beach mayor named Michael Morgan, who exercises regularly, has a penchant for attractive ladies, a sense of paternalistic care for his citizenry, and a loathing for his city manager and city attorney. As the novel progresses, Daoud promises, the mayor will stand trial on public-corruption charges and go to jail. "I hope I can touch some people through this book," he says earnestly, "or through your article, to help people from taking the fall that I took."
Daoud's current geography begs to be juxtaposed against his former glory: From the roof of the Almond Garden Apartments, on Michigan Avenue north of Seventeenth Street, it's nearly possible to glimpse his old office at Miami Beach City Hall, a mere three blocks away. His former Sunset Island residence is a half-mile in the opposite direction. Moreover, in wealthier days Daoud and his mother used to own this very building, which in turn was built on the site of the boyhood home where he grew up along with his brother and sister, both of whom have since died. Daoud says he sold the building earlier this year to cover mushrooming debts and legal expenses. (He didn't hire cut-rate attorneys by any means: Roy Black and David Garvin represented him during the trial; Bruce Rogow is handling the pleas and sentencing.) "I'm broke," Daoud complains, adding that he is living off the very last of the inheritance left to him by his parents, an impressive nest egg amassed from their auction and jewelry businesses. (According to court documents Daoud's net worth is $100,631; he contends that his debts vastly outweigh his assets.)
For this archetype of the local-boy-made-good, it's been a long way down.
After he attended Miami Beach High School and was graduated from the now-defunct Miami Military Academy in 1961, Daoud worked for his parents' business, then moved on to the University of Tampa and later to law school at Northern Illinois University. In 1978, the year he received his law degree, he opened a private law practice on the Beach. A year later he won the first of three consecutive elections to the city commission, followed in 1985 by a record three consecutive terms as mayor. He bought the Sunset Island house and the Corvette. Locally legendary as a glutton for publicity, he was known to leap into the boxing ring for a charity match at the clang of a fight bell. He appeared in bit parts on two episodes of Miami Vice. At balls he danced suavely with elderly women, at nightclubs he partied relentlessly with the young. He was the charming cheerleader of the Miami Beach renaissance, the perfect mayoral image for those heady times.
But the veneer was as cheap as the ceremonial keys to the city Daoud doled out like free ice cream. As the 64-page federal indictment alleged, he had been selling his vote on the commission for private gain, using his office to extort money, property, and other benefits in exchange for official favors (see accompanying sidebar). "Alex Daoud was indicted for engaging in a pattern of corrupt practices and violating the public trust," announced then-acting U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen at the time of the indictment. "Corruption by elected officials destroys public confidence in our democratic institutions."
Handed down in October 1991, the indictment resulted from a lengthy federal investigation that probed, among other things, Daoud's murky relationships with contractors, developers, and labor unions, some of whom had won -- or were in the process of seeking -- multimillion-dollar building and renovation contracts in Miami Beach. Significantly, the charges linked the mayor to former CenTrust Savings Bank chairman David Paul, one of Miami's most high-profile men-about-town, who also happened to be under the scrutiny of investigators after one of the more spectacular collapses of the nationwide savings and loan crisis. (Paul is scheduled to stand trial in federal court next week; among several dozen charges, he is accused of having spent millions of his depositors' dollars to finance his own lavish lifestyle.)
Gov. Lawton Chiles wasted no time suspending Daoud from office. The deposed mayor proclaimed his innocence but was convicted last September, at the close of a four-month trial, on a single count of accepting a $10,000 bribe from a Miami Beach boxing promoter and convicted drug dealer. Acquitted on nine corruption counts, he still faced a retrial on 24 others, plus a separate trial on six tax-evasion charges. He was released on a $500,000 personal suretybond.
This past June Daoud pleaded guilty to three of the outstanding allegations: that he had accepted a $5000 bribe from a CenTrust Savings subsidiary in return for a favorable vote on a zoning variance for bank chairman David Paul; that he had applied the CenTrust payment toward the purchase of a certificate of deposit; and that he had failed to report more than $160,000 in personal income for 1988. He also pleaded guilty to a charge that arose after the trial: that he had obstructed justice by persuading his secretaries to lie on the witness stand, to doctor documents, and to relay to him secret grand jury testimony. The plea agreement precludes any new trials, appeals, or parole. Daoud's day -- another sad metaphor for the decade of excess in which he rose to eminence -- was over.
I ask Daoud about his case: Could he refresh my memory as to exactly how many charges his sentencing will involve and what kind of prison term he expects? He says he can't remember. That's all in the past, he says. He doesn't want to talk about his crimes, he wants to talk about his pain, the hurt. Daoud as victim, not Daoud as wrongdoer. "The real story is that nobody cared," he says. "That's the amazing thing. If it weren't for my four or five close friends, I probably wouldn't be here."
He says this reminds him of a story about Pinklon Thomas, the former heavyweight boxing champion he once faced in a three-round charity match. Before a bout with Mike Tyson, Thomas's dressing room was packed with 350 friends, well-wishers, hangers-on. Thomas went ten rounds before Tyson knocked him out. "Back in the locker room, only one person was there: his father," Daoud recounts. "His father hugged him -- Pinky was a recovering addict -- and said to his son, 'I told you not to take the fight, but I still love you.'"
Daoud begins knocking his clenched fists together repeatedly, staring down at the floor. "You know," he says, "if I were mayor, the Fifth Street Gym would still be standing. I would never have let it be knocked down. There was such history there, Ali, Beau Jack, Sugar Ray Robinson...." A glimmer of life, a sharpness, flashes in his eyes. "Sometimes during the trial I imagined going a few rounds with the prosecutors, mano a mano. That would've been beautiful!" He's animated now, upright. "You know, I feel great since I started working out. I've dropped fifteen pounds. God, I never would've let 'em knock it down! What a tragedy!"
He slumps back, dejection collapsing into his face. "Politics in this town is a real sewer. I can't wait to go to medical school and get out of here. I don't want to be here any longer. I'd like to go practice medicine in a Third World country somewhere. I'd like to do some good."
Straining, he pushes out of the chair, muttering under his breath about his back. "Lead story!" he bellows abruptly. "Exclusive! Defrocked mayor!" He lets out a churning laugh that sounds like an old car's starter, then continues in the dispassionate voice of a narrator: "Sitting in his apartment, he looks back on the shambles of his life, discussing his times and his ways, his beliefs, what happened to his dreams and his hopes."
He changes voices. "So, what's it going to be called?" he asks, meaning my story. "'What Ever Happened to Alex Daoud?' Or, how 'bout, 'What Destroyed Alex Daoud?'"
Alex Daoud doesn't get out much any more. In a typical day as mayor, he might have had breakfast with a group of developers, gone to a Jewish National Fund luncheon, an afternoon reception for the Latin Builders Association, a couple of cocktail parties at the homes of wealthy campaign contributors, and a hundred-dollar-a-plate dinner for the United Negro College Fund. At each occasion, he'd likely have given a speech. Office meetings, too, would be scheduled throughout the day. "If you were ever with him when he was mayor," remarks one old friend, "it was incredible. You'd walk down the street, and everybody would go, 'Hey, Alex! What's going on, Alex? Howya doing, Alex?'"
Now, though, Daoud spends most of his time puttering around his little apartment, showing vacant units to prospective renters, pecking away at his novel on the laptop computer, or playing with his son when they're together. "I've become a prolific reader," he says, supplying a recent rundown: The 120-Year Diet, The Pelican Brief, The Firm, and Jurassic Park ("a very good book," he comments).
He says he's happiest at the Gridiron, a local gym where he has begun spending a couple of hours every day: an aerobics class or four miles on the treadmill in the morning, a weightlifting session at night. I meet him there a couple of times. He leads me through a fairly strenuous free-weights workout. After half an hour my arms feel like noodles. "You're getting a good workout, aren't you?" he inquires, clearly enjoying my pain. "I don't want you to go home and say, 'Jesus, that guy's a wimp.'" He slaps me on the back. "I like you. You have courage. 'Portraits in Courage,'" he proclaims, holding his hands aloft for emphasis. "The young writer approaches the bench, determined not to let the old corrupt mayor show him up. It was more than strength at issue here. It was pride."
He asks eagerly, "How many 50-year-olds can do this? Do I look like I've lost a little weight since you met me? Do I look flabby to you?" His conversation zigs and zags perpetually, leaping from topic to favored topic. The more weight he lifts, the harsher the invectives against the federal government and the Miami Herald, with a special tinge of bitterness reserved for Luis Feldstein Soto, the former Herald reporter who dogged Daoud for months with stories about his offenses. "Could you imagine Feldstein Soto doing this?" Daoud grunts, teeth clenched, tugging on a heavy curling bar. "You'd never see Feldstein Soto doing this. That rat-faced weasel. God, I wanted to get in the ring with him. I told him I would've fought him with one hand. I have to show you the tape with me and Pinklon. If the Fifth Street Gym was still open, we would've gone there," he says. "We would've hit the heavy bag there."
Without notice, he's off in another direction: "I thought about going to Africa." He grins impishly. "They don't have extradition there. Yeah, it crossed my mind. Making a run for it. Very romantic, very Ernest Hemingway, don't you think?" He heaves a few shoulder presses and smiles again. "Yeah, a mad dash for the border."
Daoud can hide at the gym. The clientele is young -- here 40 is old, 50 geriatric. It's unlikely many of the members were around when he held office at city hall, and if they were, they probably weren't paying attention. Surely Daoud would be invisible among the weights, if not for the fact that he's constantly saying hello to everyone. It's never the other way around; no one acknowledges him first.
"I got a thing going: I'd like to memorize every single person's name in that gym before I go," he says, only half-jokingly. "It freaks them out." He waves at a young woman shifting weight machines nearby and cheerily calls out her name. She responds with a startled smile and returns the wave; clearly she has no clue who Daoud is.
"God, I used to be able to turn on the charm," he says, as if to imply that his present behavior is, comparatively speaking, ostrichlike. As mayor he was known for being zealously gregarious, perhaps to a fault. An editorial writer for the erstwhile Miami News recalls that whenever Daoud stopped by the paper, "It was like having a big, obnoxious dog around who always wants to sniff your crotch."
Robert Joffee, Miami-based director of the Mason-Dixon Florida Poll and former Miami News political editor, recalls accompanying then-presidential candidate Richard Gephardt around Miami during the early stages of the 1988 presidential campaign. They were waiting in the lobby of Daoud's office for a scheduled appointment. The mayor arrived late, stormed past the men into his office, then returned. "Glad to meet you, Congressman," he said, shaking hands with Joffee. "I wish you luck in your campaign."
"I've always liked that story," Joffee laughs, "because I think it shows his single-minded determination to glad-hand full speed ahead without doing a great deal of homework."
That once-overflowing energy and desire for affection, while severely depleted, is still alive. Daoud boasts about his ability to remember names -- it seems to be an important talent to him. In fact he seems to have a preternatural desire to know everybody he comes in contact with. At a fast-food restaurant he hails the grill cook like an old chum and jokes loudly with the manager; at a deli he immediately asks the waiter his name, where he's from (Singapore), and proceeds to make small talk about how clean and cultured the country is. Outside his apartment building, as I'm getting into my car, he interrupts our goodbye several times to say multilingual hellos to everyone walking down the sidewalk. "God," he says finally, catching himself. "It's like I'm running for mayor again."
In his waning days of freedom, though, the reserves of Daoud's famous sociability seem mostly to be directed toward young, attractive females. One evening, while we're seated at a restaurant, a thirtysomething woman is dining at a nearby table with two young kids. Daoud cranes his neck. "Does she have a wedding ring? I can't see if she has a ring." He wanders over to strike up a conversation. He introduces himself -- "Alex," no last name. The woman has a ring. Another time, walking past a record store, he stops to admire a poster of an exceedingly fit performer in a tight-fitting spangled dress. "Heyyyy," he says. "Look at this. Wow." I inform him that RuPaul is a drag queen.
Daoud is profoundly alone, awaiting prison. Almost all the people who once flocked to him for favors -- or basked in his reflected renown, or worked alongside him, or sought his advice or gave him their own, or ensured that he was on every -- list -- have scattered. Very few want to speak candidly about Daoud or their involvement with him, about his mayoralty, his motivations, his misdeeds. Fewer still want to speak publicly.
"The story is rather simple," explains a longtime friend, one of the few who still see Daoud regularly. "Alex is a very likable person. But he was manipulated and used by a lot of people. There were perks that people got from being his friends. He was a great source of everything, from free tickets to the Theater of the Performing Arts to getting appointments on boards. If you went to Joe's Stone Crab with Alex, you got seated immediately, so he was always good to invite along. But Alex is naive. He thought they were really his friends. As soon as the shit hit the fan, all of a sudden he was by himself.
"Let me tell you, Alex is no brain surgeon," the friend continues. "He's not the brightest guy in the world. He did some real stupid things and he's being punished for it. But he's not cold and calculating. I think the real story is the absolute lack of loyalty, but I guess that happens in politics. The real story is that political friends aren't your friends."
That, indeed, is the direction in which Daoud wants to direct our conversations. "The amazing thing," he says repeatedly, "is that no one cared." Call Abel Holtz, he recommends, see what he says. Daoud named his son after Holtz, chairman of Capital Bank. Holtz was Daoud's best man at his wedding. Daoud characterizes the banker as one of his advisers when he was mayor, but says Holtz abandoned him after the indictment. He has since changed his son's name.
Holtz didn't return calls requesting comment for this story.
Among other once-close advisers, Daoud lists Beach publicist Gerald Schwartz; Bonnie Levin, a lawyer who testified against him and affirmed to the court that they had been lovers; and Dr. Leonard Haber, a psychologist and former Miami Beach mayor who had a lucrative and controversial contract as the city's psychologist during Daoud's reign. All three are now estranged from Daoud. Told of Daoud's unflattering comments about him, Haber admitted he hadn't seen his former associate "for some time" but adds, "I feel like we're friends. When you're under attack, as Alex is, you start to look at the world in a different way and, I guess, treat people in a different way and keep them at a distance." Haber says he hasn't seen Daoud because Daoud hasn't called. Levin, who broke up with Daoud before the trial, couldn't be reached for comment. Schwartz refused to be interviewed for this article.
"In this business, when you're in office, you have an incredible amount of folks who wish to be your friends," observes Rob Parkins, the former Miami Beach city manager who left to assume similar duties in Palm Springs, California. "I was in Dade County politics for twenty years and I can count on one hand the number of folks who I truly count as friends."
But for Daoud, the line between political acquaintance and personal amity blurred. Even now he hasn't fully grasped the distinction. He tells me to call someone he describes as yet another confidant-gone-bad. "Ask him if I got him on the zoning board? Ask him if I helped him out? Then ask him: 'Why weren't you at Alex's trial? You were conspicuously absent.' Hit him with that. See what he says."
Daoud wants me to believe -- or wants to believe himself -- that he was first led astray by others who took advantage of him, then rudely betrayed. But it's not that simple. As we spend more time together, he gradually drops his shield.
"I did many stupid things," he concedes, "most of which I regret, and I will pay for them. I've paid for them already; I'll pay for them the rest of my life. "
We're back in his apartment. It is in the same state of disarray, but this time, several days after our first meeting, Daoud doesn't apologize for the mess. A stretch of printer paper cascades off a desk into a mound on the floor; he's been busy with his book.
He admits that he didn't give the legal consequences of his actions much thought. "I never saw anything wrong with it. When you're on the basketball court and you miss a difficult shot, you say, 'Man, I shouldn't have taken that shot! Why did I take that shot?' But if you make it, what do you say? 'Great! I've been practicing that shot all these years! I've been dreaming of that shot! I can feel it!'
"I thought I was unbeatable! I felt so good!" he goes on. "But it was also like I was on a merry-go-round and I couldn't get off. I couldn't say no. I've been trying to think of a mythical character who flew so close to the sun, it melted the wax on his wings and he fell to earth...."
He's thinking of the Greek myth about Daedalus, a craftsman who built a labyrinth to entrap the Minotaur, only to be imprisoned in his own maze by King Minos of Crete. To escape, Daedalus used feathers and wax to fashion wings for himself and his son, Icarus. Exalting in the joy of flight, Icarus failed to heed his father's warning and soared too close to the sun, whereupon the wax melted, and the boy plummeted to the sea and his death.
"Icarus," I say.
"Yes! Excellent! Icarus!" The name is an insect stinging the inside of his throat. Clearly, though, he's pleased to have nailed the metaphor, as if association with a mythological Greek figure makes his own tragedy more honorable.
To Daoud, accepting a payoff here and a kickback there came with the job. He had convinced himself he deserved it, considering the number of hours he worked and the measly salary he received in return. The mayor of Miami Beach, theoretically a part-time civil servant, is paid only $10,000 per year. Daoud says he made it a full-time job and sacrificed his law practice in the process. "I was trying to help as many people as I could; sometimes I'd take money out of my pocket to help people. I'd pay off their parking tickets. I felt like I should be appreciated as mayor, that I should be compensated for being around."
At the same time, he says, he was helping his then-wife through her medical residency and struggling to pay the hefty expenses on his house: "It's survival." He acknowledges he was living well beyond his means, trying to keep up with the wealthiest of the wealthy. And beyond the financial exigencies of that lifestyle, he wanted to feel as though he belonged among the rich movers and shakers of Miami society, like David Paul. "I resented them -- no, envied them -- and I'd say to myself, 'I'm just as smart, just as intelligent.' I was just insecure. I wanted to be loved."
But the decay of Daoud's ethics and morals began before he committed his felonies, he confesses. "It didn't happen all at once," he says evenly, "It happened very slowly. You see, what happens is, you begin to cheat on your marriage and you try to justify that. Then it gets easy to justify other things. Did you ever see the movie The Candidate with Robert Redford? How all of a sudden he starts losing his ideals? I think that's a great paraphrase of me." Gradually, from the time he was indicted, he began to realize the extent of his personal erosion. "I found out I wasn't the wonderful, great human being I thought I was. My impression of myself was kind of a like a big bear who would help people. I thought I was well-loved. I had my home phone number listed A even throughout my trial! But I guess I had a tremendous number of weaknesses. This realization infected me like a terrible disease, like a virus that eats your body. It started slowly, then all of a sudden you begin to get gripped by fear. I had really sold my soul! My character was rotten!"
He realized that no matter the verdict in his trial, his life was unalterably changed. He knew he was guilty. In fact, he says, the only count he didn't think he was guilty of was the one on which he was convicted this past September: accepting a bribe from boxing promoter Gilberto "Willy" Martinez.
Publicly, of course, he vowed to keep fighting. "I really in my heart believe I'm innocent," he told reporters after his one-count conviction. But now he tells me how, during the trial, he contemplated suicide. "I thought my life was over with," he says. "It didn't matter whether I was convicted or not. I realized that thirteen years of my life was void. What a phony existence I had. My God! Thirteen years of your life and you look back and you can't wait to get away."
At first he'd intended to shoot himself with a .38 revolver, one of the few belongings he'd held on to. "I was going to kill myself in my house. I'd written my will, set up everything. But it was amazing. A friend of mine came over, out of the blue. He never called to tell me he was going to stop by. I kept trying to get rid of him but he decided to spend the night. I didn't want to kill myself with him present," Daoud concludes the tale, "because I thought he'd blame himself."
Several weeks later, as the jury deliberated yards away, he nearly threw himself off the eleventh-floor balcony of the U.S. District Court building. "I had been waiting for the verdict all alone," he recounts. "Nobody around me, wife left me, child wasn't there, mother dead, nobody comforting me. I was leaning over the edge of the balcony, getting closer, but I realized there were people down there in the courtyard. And I said to myself, 'Wouldn't that be horrible, my last act would be to jump and kill somebody down there, probably some mother with her child.'" At that moment, he adds, he experienced an epiphany of sorts. "A small picture of my son, which I was carrying, poked itself out of my breast pocket. It had never done that before. I looked down and saw my son. It was a message I couldn't ignore.
"All of this," he goes on, "will be in the book."
In some retellings of the myth, the death of young Icarus goes unnoticed; even as he plunges downward, his father -- and the rest of the world -- flies on. Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel's famous painting of the event, in fact, depicts a plowman, a fisherman, and a shepherd all going about their daily business while a boy's legs, nearly indiscernible in the background, quietly vanish into the sea.
"As he drove to his sentencing, the defrocked politician contemplated the shambles of his life," Alex Daoud narrates as he grips the wheel of his monstrous, aging Cadillac Sedan de Ville and speeds across Seventeenth Street toward the causeways and the mainland. His sentencing is scheduled for 1:30 this afternoon, September 8; it's already 1:10. "But for all his popularity, for all his election successes, he drives to his sentencing alone. Maybe it was fitting that he end his political career in a manner that befits politics. Politics loves a winner. It loathes a loser."
He's not nervous, Daoud assures me; he's relieved that he'll finally be going to jail so he can get on with his life. He complains about soreness from the morning's workout and an ankle he twisted during an aerobics session. He ogles a woman on a bicycle ("Oh my God, what's this up here, this little tidbit?"). He wants to know whether I think he looks strong or just "kind of roly-poly." But beneath this surface of jocularity, he's undeniably tense. Back at the apartment he was a bundle of insecurities. "Does my hair look all right?" he'd asked as he dressed. "Does it look okay? Does this tie match this suit?" The brown ensemble was decidedly undapper. The tie was too short and looked as though it had been borrowed from a much smaller man. His white Oxford shirt was wrinkled.
"Do you think I'm going to cry?" he asks, slaloming through the MacArthur's midday traffic. He smiles. "Do you think they'll put me in chains right there? They could, you know." He's turned nervously eager, like a youngster heading off to camp. "Hey, d'ya think I can take a basketball? D'ya think I can take a tennis racquet? How 'bout my boxing gloves?" It is Daoud's last day as a lawyer: his suspension from the Florida Bar takes effect tomorrow.
I ask him how he left it with his son. "That was the toughest part," he replies. "I just told him that I was going away for a while but that I'd see him soon and after that we'd go to medical school together." Daoud has been teaching the boy the names of all the bones in the body. "He knows I'm going to prison. He's been singing me a little song. It goes: 'Bad boy, bad boy, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when the law comes for you?'" Daoud clenches his teeth, repeats the words in a slow, hushed tone, ominously. "'Bad boy, bad boy, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when the law comes for you?' So," he quips, "you think they're going to lock me up right there?"
On the approach to the courthouse after we park, he seems to shift emotional gears. He straightens up, squares his shoulders. A steely look of confidence comes into his eyes. He carves out his most telegenic smile. He pauses patiently on the sidewalk so a TV news camera can get a good shot, even directing the cameraman for the best angle. At the security desk, he greets the guards as if they were old drinking buddies, then holds the elevator door open for reporters, his attorneys, court personnel. For a moment he's back in his element, the center of attention, all jokes and platitudes. Apologizing to reporters for his lateness, he commends Channel 10's Michael Putney on his Sunday morning news program: "I always like to watch your show, Michael, you're one of my favorites." Everyone defers to him. For the first time since I encountered him, Daoud actually looks like a politician.
But the sentencing is banal and brief, and it takes place in the same small, sterile courtroom that housed last year's trial. The attendance is only a dozen or so, a few of whom are court junkies, plus several bored members of the press whose editors need to plot the final trajectory of Daoud's hapless flight. Only two well-wishers -- a Baptist minister and an old friend -- are there to greet the defendant, who sits ramrod straight throughout the hearing, enduring his angst in virtual solitude, insignificant.
Judge James Lawrence King hands down a fine of $10,000 and a combination of sentences that, running concurrently, will put Daoud in jail for five years and two months, with no chance of parole. This is the maximum under the sentencing guidelines; he'll be eligible for a sentence reduction of about nine months for "good time." (The sentences will run concurrently with another 41-month sentence Daoud received this past April on the Willy Martinez bribery conviction; a separate $75,000 fine was levied at that time.) At the request of the prosecution and defense attorneys, King recommends that Daoud be jailed at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in southwest Dade. (The facility's proximity to the federal courts would make Daoud more accessible, should he be called to testify in the pending David Paul trial, or if he were required to appear as a grand jury witness. Neither Daoud nor federal authorities will say why MCC was requested or whether Daoud is cooperating with the federal government. "The investigation that resulted in Alex Daoud's indictments and convictions is continuing," states Bruce Udolf, an assistant U.S. Attorney and co-prosecutor in the Daoud case. Udolf refuses to indicate any potential targets or areas of inquiry and won't comment about whether another grand jury is looking into these matters.) King releases Daoud under his own recognizance -- carrying over the $500,000 bond posted after his conviction -- with the demand that he surrender himself on October 13.
"So, do you think I cried?" Daoud asks me later, as we pull away from the courthouse. He didn't cry, I tell him. "Are you surprised I didn't cry? Was the media surprised? Hey, was I funny in the elevator?" We cruise through downtown in silence. "Icarus," Daoud blurts at one point. "Icarus."
We grab a sandwich at a deli -- no one indicates any recognition of Daoud, even though news of the sentencing has been on television for the past day -- then head back across the causeway to the Beach, down Fifth Street toward the ocean. "It really depresses me to come by here," he says. I think he's talking about South Beach, his old pastel kingdom, but then he slows the car and gestures toward a new parking lot, the asphalt expanse that occupies the site where the Fifth Street Gym once stood.
Moments later he leans forward over the steering wheel as if he has a pain in his stomach and murmurs something. "What's going to happen to me?" I hear him whisper. "What am I going to do now?
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