Hialeah. What a place. One minute it's a big, brawny city in search of respect, the next it's a juvenile delinquent caught in the act. Second in population, first in corruption. No tolerance for boredom, a gifted talent for entertainment. If it isn't political intrigue, it's political farce. As Carl Hiaasen once put it, "FBI agents spend so much time at Hialeah City Hall, they ought to have their own parking spaces." For sober citizens it may seem like a nightmare, but for journalists it's a dream. And we're going to miss writing about it.
Not that we won't try to write about Hialeah. Given the boundless supply of daffy material, who could resist? It's just that doing so usually requires at least a modicum of cooperation from city officials. After a story we published last week, however, cooperation appears to be about as likely as a week without an indictment. In a town that takes perverse pride in its bitter factionalism, we managed to achieve what no voting bloc or back-room deal has ever accomplished - we forged a potent alliance among political enemies. The unprecedented consensus: Never again will Hialeah speak to New Times.
The incident that precipitated this otherwise admirable sense of unity was a modest little story we gleefully titled "It Ain't Knot's Landing, It's Hialeah." For those of you who missed it, the article recounted a recent matter that had preoccupied functionaries at city hall. In early April, council members received a letter alleging that Mayor Julio Martinez was "spending our tax dollars dining and romancing" Gilda Oliveros, mayor of neighboring Hialeah Gardens. Supposedly it was written by Bertha Pardillo, a former loyal assistant to Oliveros.
Instead of ending up in the collective waste basket, the missive was circulated throughout city administrative offices. Pardillo countered with her own letter to the two mayors and all residents of both cities: Oliveros and Martinez are her friends, she admires and respects them, and she'd never write such a thing in the first place. It was, she said, nothing more than a dirty trick.
Then some goblin arranged to have a queen-size mattress delivered to Mayor Martinez's office, prompting arched eyebrows and snickering aplenty. That was followed by the bizarre appearance of pantyhose scattered here and there around city hall. The mystery of the undergarments was enlivened a couple of days later, when council members received yet another letter. This one was addressed to Gov. Lawton Chiles and was penned by somebody with aspirations to the job of gag writer for Andrew Dice Clay. Virtually every elected Hialeah official (and a few former honchos as well) was involved in some sort of weird sexual escapade, from adultery to cross dressing to homosexual high jinks in school bathrooms. The governor was sternly admonished to investigate these outrages. A tremendously good hoot, made the more so because it was "signed" by ex-Councilman Bob Ruiz, who, when we told him about it, nonchalantly noted the obvious: "Sounds like someone is pulling a prank.... This kind of stuff happens up here all the time."
Happens all the time! See what I mean about Hialeah? World-weary city officials shrug their shoulders and chuckle as they pass along the latest bit of municipal business. Daily survival in political Hialeah, obviously, requires a sense of humor.
Having been blessed with both a sense of humor and civic responsibility, we at New Times realized it was unfair for council members and administrators to keep all the trashy fun to themselves. If mattresses and pantyhose and low comedy were distracting bureaucrats at city hall, the citizens of Hialeah (and the rest of our readers) deserved to be let in on the joke.
Upon publication, former councilmen Evelio Medina, Bob Ruiz, and Alex Penelas (now a county commissioner) were reminded of the insular nature of Hialeah politics. All had been skewered in the letter addressed to Governor Chiles, but all had been excluded from the laugh loop. Medina in particular was miffed. "I basically disregard those types of allegations. But the person is sick," he says of the unknown letter writer. "This person is either sexually deprived or has some different sexual feeling.... It's a prank," he adds, repeating Ruiz but lacking the tittering smirk that only insiders seemed to share.
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And now those very insiders are backpedaling faster than Pee Wee Herman at an X-rated movie. The same people who mischievously alerted us to the city-hall shenanigans have begun issuing ominous warnings: "This might close a lot of doors to New Times..." and "Something that might have been fun turned out not to be fun. People in Hialeah are a little different."
Indeed. Word filtering back through what has now become a humorlessly circumspect grapevine has it that certain officials are (brace yourselves) embarrassed, and they've righteously instructed Hialeah's city attorney to explore the possibility of suing New Times for the naughty indiscretion of printing what was big-time chatter among a privileged class of public employees. On top of that, we've been blackballed. No more interviews. No more chitchat. No more absolutely vital information to a readership hungry for news of Hialeah at its best.
What a pity that would be. Who else is going to peek under the tent to report on the biggest circus in town