The doorbell of the modest waterfront house on Biscayne Point plays an electronic jingle beginning "My Country 'Tis of Thee." High camp, but not for Mel Richard. And not because he's been a politician most of his life, but because he's never lost the idealism of his youth.
I've been reading about this man in news clips and photos; he created a firestorm in 1949 and 1950, meriting scores of stories in the local and national press. And as I wait to be greeted, I half-expect to meet the 37-year-old Melvin J. Richard, crime-fighting crusader. A small man of 86 answers, deep lines in his high forehead, thin silver hair. Forty-nine years have passed in an instant. He laughs gleefully at my disappointment.
Fifty years ago Richard was known as a tenacious, uncompromising warrior -- the only person in South Florida to run for office on the bold promise to confront local gangsters who controlled illegal gambling. The man who almost single-handedly persuaded a U.S. Senate committee to hold public hearings on the way organized crime had corrupted the police and municipal government of Miami Beach and other South Florida cities.
Throughout his long life, Mel Richard has lived the courage of his convictions. His explanation is simple: "I've always had a feeling that things should be right, they should be honest, and they shouldn't be otherwise."
He learned early on what it meant to confront men more powerful than he, and he came to appreciate rare alliances with those who understood the principles he cherished. A student at the University of Florida law school in 1933, he wrote a column in the student-run Florida Alligator criticizing the editor of the Tampa Tribune. On February 15 of that year, Giuseppe Zangara, a suspected anarchist, had tried to assassinate president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt after a brief speech in Miami's Bayfront Park. His bullet missed FDR but hit Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who died from his wounds three weeks later. Every newspaper in the state demanded Zangara's hasty execution. The Tribune called for him to be boiled in oil. But Richard's column appealed for cooler heads. He suggested that Zangara was getting railroaded and, in fact, just might be insane.
Edwin Dart Lambright, the Tribune's editorial page editor, was incensed. And he was the chairman of the board of control that funded state universities. Lambright lambasted the school for allowing the column to run and threatened to withhold the school's operating money unless Richard was expelled. The president of the university begged Richard to apologize, but the law student stood his ground and refused. As a compromise, he was forbidden to write again for any student publication. The Alligator staff reacted by electing him editor, which prompted the university to padlock the paper's office. The Gainesville Sun then rode to the rescue and offered to print and distribute the Alligator for free.
Since then, plenty of Richard's enemies have hoped he'd just go away. But not only has he never given them the satisfaction, he's outlived most of them. He resists retirement even now. Each morning he goes to work at the South Bayshore Drive law firm Richard & Richard, which he founded but which his son Dennis now runs. Richard made one of his few concessions to age last year, when he gave up driving. These days a limo takes him back and forth to the office, or his wife Janet drives.
Richard grew up in Brooklyn and moved with his parents to Miami Beach in 1930. In 1934, law degree in hand, he opened a practice on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach, netting $120 his first year. Seven years later he was appointed a Miami Beach municipal judge. But after the start of World War II, he resigned his judgeship and joined the navy. Returning from the war in 1946, he took up private practice again. Though he was gone just three years, he was amazed at the changes: "I found there was a criminal syndicate running Miami Beach," he recalls. "If it was here before I left, I didn't know anything about it."
His first encounter with the syndicate was tame, he says. "I'd learned to play four-wall handball in the navy. It was a good game, and I went to the city commission to see if they'd build courts in Flamingo Park. I went, and they wouldn't listen to me. I couldn't even get anyone to make a motion."
In front of city hall, a stranger approached him. "He told me, 'I heard you asking about four-wall handball courts. I think it's a good idea.' I laughed. 'What can you do? They wouldn't even listen to me.' He said, 'I think I can exert some pressure.'" At the next council meeting, a motion was made and passed without dissent.
"I thought, Who was this guy?" says Richard.
Once he learned, he never played on those courts.
In 1947 Richard ran for a seat on the Miami Beach City Council, promising voters he'd see to it that bookie joints were shut down. "If the chief of police won't arrest them," he said, "then I'll do it myself till we get a new chief."
He lost, but afterward, Jules Levitt -- who'd gotten the handball courts built -- tried to befriend him. Levitt, in fact, told him that in the next election Richard would become mayor of Miami Beach (in council races then, the candidate with the most votes won a mayoral term), and he offered to finance the campaign.
But Levitt was part of the bookie organization Richard wanted to close. In 1944 Levitt had joined forces with four other men -- Harold Salvey, Charles Friedman, Edward Rosenbaum, and Sam Cohen -- to form the S&G Syndicate. (The initials didn't mean a thing, though some suggested they stood for Stop and Go, for the moments its members had to lie low when the heat was on. State incorporation records listed S&G as an investment company.)
Before 1944 Miami Beach bookmakers, operating out of cigar stores, hotel beach cabanas, or by telephone from hotel rooms, had worked solo; but S&G had then flexed its muscle to force about 200 independent bookies into its fold. Those initially hesitant to join were subject to raids by Pat Perdue, Miami Beach's one-man bookie detail.
S&G demanded a 50 percent cut of profits but provided services in exchange. The syndicate itself didn't directly accept bets; rather, it acted as a clearinghouse. It subcontracted for racing news by wire service from Continental Press Service, which reported immediate racing results as well as morning lines and scratches. The syndicate also obtained phone service for its bookies (during and after the war, the public waited months for phone installation). Bookies phoned in their bets to S&G; at the end of each day, a courier arrived to take their winnings or, when the bookie lost, to deliver cash. The syndicate accepted "lay-off" bets, those too large for small bookies to handle, and paid their "ice," or protection money, to cops. It took care of fines the city levied against the bookies through "enforcement" of the anti-gambling laws. (In fact, the city annually budgeted $70,000 in expectation of bookie fines.) Furthermore, the syndicate funded local political campaigns and donated to charities.
None of this information would have startled residents at the time. Miami Beach's economy was almost entirely tourist-driven, and most locals tolerated S&G. Some even found the syndicate desirable for the city. The Beach was facing a bright future after the war: tens of thousands of men had gone through military training camp here, and now many were returning for vacation or to settle down and begin families. During the winter season, every major entertainer played clubs on the Beach: singers like Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney, comedians like Jimmy Durante and Danny Thomas.
To be politically "liberal" in Miami Beach, then, meant supporting a liberal interpretation of state and local gambling statutes, which enfranchised horse and dog tracks and jai alai palaces but made private bookmaking a crime. On Miami Beach, as well as around the country, most people didn't understand the distinction, since bookies made pay-outs identical to track odds. But where the state took a cut of legal betting pools, all but the smallest private bookies made profits for the larger criminal syndicates.
Throughout the country, only a few bluenoses wished to ban all gambling, and Richard was not among them, though he's never placed a bet. "I don't gamble because I don't think there's any chance of winning," he says. "I think people are stupid to invest in something where your chances of winning are one in five million."
Yet even more than the illegal gambling itself, what upset Richard was the control that gangsters, like S&G in Miami Beach, suddenly wielded over local governance. "I said, 'It's terrible that the city was being run by people who weren't elected. Even the public officials in the city had nothing to do with its operation. They were rubber stamps for the syndicate.'"
By the late Forties, S&G's annual "handle," the gross bets accepted, was between $26 million and $40 million. S&G partners invested their profits in prime Miami Beach real estate, as Richard discovered in public records. The property included much of the Beach's aging Millionaire's Row estate district on Collins Avenue between 44th and 60th streets, an area they pushed to rezone for huge hotels and apartments.
In those same years S&G had rough company: Every major U.S. crime syndicate kept winter headquarters in Miami Beach. In early 1946 then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, himself vacationing in Miami Beach, had remarked of the city: "If you put a dragnet around 23rd and Collins and slapped every mobster you caught into jail for life, you'd end organized crime in America."
But S&G ran a tight ship and fought hard to keep out-of-towners out of power here. Careful not to kill the golden goose of tourism, the local group condoned none of the violence other gangsters fostered back home in cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles.
Though S&G zealously prevented Northern gangsters from gaining a foothold in Miami Beach, those crime syndicates successfully influenced public officials elsewhere in South Florida. Dade County Sheriff "Smiling Jimmy" Sullivan increased his net worth within five years in office from $2500 to $96,000 while on a salary that peaked at $12,000. Sheriff Walter Clark of Broward and his brother, Assistant Sheriff "Handsome Bob" Clark, both took campaign contributions from Jake and Meyer Lansky, who ran plush casinos in Hollywood. The Clarks also ran a bolita lottery and a slot-machine business that grossed $1.1 million between 1945 and 1947. When Fuller Warren, a Miami attorney, won the governor's race in 1948, his $400,000 campaign was financed almost entirely by three men, including William Johnston, who owned horse and dog tracks in Florida and Illinois, and who was tied to the Capone mob.
Richard campaigned again for the city council in 1949, pledging as his first order of business to raid S&G's offices. For an underground criminal organization, the syndicate maintained headquarters that weren't hard to find; the name S&G was emblazoned on the door of suite 373, 420 Lincoln Rd., the most luxurious office building in the city. Now the Barnett Bank building, formerly called the Mercantile Building, it was owned by a previous Miami Beach mayor, Marcie Liberman. Richard rigged an amplifier to the roof of his ten-year-old Chevy and drove around the city in search of opportunities to make speeches; crowds coming out of a movie house, for example, would stop to listen. "I always told people I ran poor campaigns financially," he recalls, "and that they should go to my opponents' rallies, eat and drink their food, then come listen to me say why they shouldn't vote for them."
For a time, he held nightly rallies outside his office in the courtyard of the Sterling Building on Lincoln Road. Then his landlord asked him to stop. "I don't want to say any more," he told Richard, "but they've threatened me. They told me I have to get you out of there." Richard didn't hesitate to keep the heat on the S&G, and as the campaign progressed, he began to feel a groundswell of support from residents who'd silently endured the syndicate's influence in Miami Beach. A friend offered him the use of an empty lot off Lincoln Road for his nightly speeches. One evening Richard arrived and found that a veterans' group had wired the site for lights and installed benches. When Miami Beach Police Chief Philip Short asked Richard to stop holding rallies there because crowds and triple-parked cars were blocking traffic, the candidate told the chief that was his problem.
Richard spent $3000 on that council race, most of it from friends and his father; some of his opponents were rumored to have spent as much as $90,000 to win a seat that paid $3000 a year. This time Richard got 5409 votes, placing him third among 22 candidates. The top three vote-getters won seats for four years; leader Harold Turk became mayor.
Reporting election results, the afternoon Miami Daily News early edition bannered: "Richard Promises to Rid Beach of Control by S&G Syndicate." By the final edition, the headline type was even larger: "S&G Bosses Jittery." That very day, the syndicate ordered all its cigar store and cabana books closed. S&G was losing its grip, one bookie told a reporter: "They couldn't even beat Richard."
The swearing-in of the new council took place on a Friday, three days after election day. And Richard's war officially began. The new council's first order of public business was to reappoint City Manager Claude Renshaw, the only man who'd held the post since it was created back in 1925. Had Richard not been elected, the reappointment would have been routine. Instead, he demanded to know whether Renshaw would help fight the rackets. At first Renshaw shaded his eyes, doodled on a pad, and refused to respond. "Make him answer!" the packed gallery heckled. Finally Renshaw shook his head. No, he wouldn't do it.
Renshaw was reappointed by a vote of 6-1, with only Richard dissenting. For his second official act, the newly elected councilman made a motion to order the city manager and police chief to crack down on S&G. The motion failed, 4-3. Yet even so, the tide had begun to turn; the next day, the Miami Herald reported that some citizens wanted to recall the council members who had defeated Richard's motion; and the Florida Sun, a Miami Beach tabloid daily, called for their impeachment.
"The lid is on!" the word passed from bookie to bookie on Monday. By noon, minutes before Belmont Park's first race, Beach hotel cabana operators herded bettors out, apparently on S&G orders, pending a meeting that afternoon of the city council, during which a new police chief would be appointed to replace Philip Short.
Racketeers and their public relations men began the offensive: Should the Beach enforce gambling laws, they said, at least 2000 residents would lose their jobs. Some of their tactics took more sinister form. "Lay off Chief Short and the syndicate -- this is your last warning," an anonymous caller cautioned Richard at his office. Another council member who had voted with Richard on the S&G crackdown got a similar threat.
"I had an awful lot of nerve back then," Richard says now. "They thought I was a nut." And in retrospect, he doesn't disagree. "I had a good friend, Ken Oka [who later served as Miami Beach mayor], and he'd tell me all the time, 'Why do you want to make enemies?' He said, 'There are people on the city commission who haven't talked to you in years. All they want is a little cooperation.' People used to say to my wife, 'How do you live with that guy?'"
"Janet!" Mel beckons from the bright Florida room, with a sliding-glass view of Biscayne Bay. His wife arrives from the kitchen, where she's fixing a bagels-and-Nova lox lunch. It's a Saturday, and her hairdresser, who makes house calls, has done her blond hair perfectly.
"He was really a pussycat," she says, "and he still is. I remember [Miami Daily News reporter] Milt Sosin came to the house and watched Mel roll around with our youngest child, Barry. Sosin said, 'If people could see this blood-and-guts guy lying on the floor with this kid ...'"
Janet turns to prompt her husband. "Tell him how my cousin introduced you on the golf course," she says. Mel runs with the set-up line: "He said, 'This is my cousin. He isn't afraid of anybody in this whole world -- except his wife.'"
As the 1949 winter tourist season approached, the city buzzed with debate in the newspapers and on radio, but the books stayed closed. Barry Gray, a midnight talk-show host on then-WMIE-AM (1140), ranted about the issue nightly. The new councilman was honest but misguided, he said. "I don't believe he can change our syndicate picture without driving gambling underground, and then it will really bring about something we've never had -- gangs and gang politics."
But behind his tirades lay the gamblers: WMIE belonged to Arthur McBride, who owned the Continental Press Service racing news wire -- which counted S&G among its subscribers. One of the richest men in America, he was connected to both the Cleveland and Chicago mobs. (He also owned the Cleveland Browns and was one of the University of Miami's largest donors.)
The Miami Beach hotel owners' association and Mayor Turk berated the Herald and Daily News for publishing stories alleging racketeer control of the city. Bad publicity, they warned, was scaring away tourists. The dailies, however, weren't nearly so close to the inside story as was a tabloid weekly, the Miami Beach Times. Richard and his followers were targeting only S&G, the paper warned, but their all-out crusade to break the local syndicate was actually helping its gangster rivals -- whom, the Times insinuated, Richard was actually representing.
It was true, at that moment, that S&G was wilting under a bigger challenge, but Richard was oblivious to it. S&G had never monopolized all Miami Beach bookmakers, just those in prime locations, such as along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. Meanwhile local gambler Sammy Clark had organized some remaining bookmakers into the "Little Syndicate."
S&G hadn't bothered with Clark until he tried to lure away S&G-controlled bookies in the beachfront hotels with a deal that undercut S&G's 50-50 split of profits. S&G had retaliated by having the police lead a series of raids on Little Syndicate locations.
But more ominously, the large out-of-town mobs had already made forays onto Miami Beach S&G turf. In advance of the 1947-48 season, for example, New York mobster Frank Erickson offered the Roney Plaza -- then the Beach's best-known hotel -- $45,000 for its bookie concession, more than S&G had ever paid any hotel. Owner Meyer Schine would later testify that Pat Perdue, still Miami Beach's lone bookie patrol, warned him, "We don't want any outsiders in here. We would rather you gave it to our local syndicate." Schine took Erickson's money anyway, and the New Yorker opened shop in one of the Roney's cabanas. Two weeks later police raided the cabana and brought along newspaper reporters to record the scene. Schine returned the concession to S&G.
By early 1949, however, the Chicago mob -- remnants of the old Capone gang -- sent Harry "The Muscle" Russell to make S&G an offer it couldn't refuse: Make us a partner. (When Chicago had issued such a proposal in 1946 to James Ragen, who then controlled Continental Press Service, which was used by 50,000 bookies in 300 cities, Ragen had declined but didn't long survive his decision.) S&G mustered its courage and said no.
Consequences came slowly. Russell began to coerce Miami Beach hotels to leave S&G and grant bookie concession rights to a new syndicate he was building. Then William Johnston -- the Chicago mob-connected campaign contributor to newly inaugurated Gov. Fuller Warren -- asked the governor to investigate gambling in Dade. Warren sent W.O. "Bing" Crosby, who reported to Sheriff Jimmy Sullivan. Russell provided information about which Miami Beach bookie joints to raid. Not surprisingly, they were all S&G-affiliated.
The crusher came in February 1949 when Chicago, now in full control of the monopoly racing wire service, stopped delivery to S&G. Paralyzed, the syndicate succumbed and accepted Russell as a sixth partner.
That Chicago had broken into Miami Beach distressed New York/New Jersey mobsters. They regarded South Florida as their territory, controlling books and casinos in Broward and Palm Beach and casinos in Dade. Although S&G had kept them off Miami Beach, New York had long been covetous of the turf.
At first Frank Costello inserted New Jersey gambler Benny Kay behind the Little Syndicate to rival the Chicago-led S&G; then Costello demanded a mob summit with Chicago. He sent Meyer Lansky, who later agreed that New York would drop its objection to letting Chicago in Miami Beach -- in return for 30 percent of the bookmaking profits.
With the infighting resolved, the new S&G management turned its attention to Mel Richard. A new Miami Beach tabloid daily, the Morning Mail, began publication in January 1950 with a transparent agenda. Immediately it mocked the Herald and Daily News for supporting the councilman.
On January 27 the Mail editorialized: "It is a matter of hard, cold fact that as of today there are 12,000 fewer guests in Miami Beach hotels than there were a year ago," although the remainder of the state's resort towns were jammed. Why? "The Rule or Ruin gangs [the Miami dailies] have spread through this country publicity that has caused thousands upon thousands of people to stay away."
When Costello himself arrived in Miami Beach, the Mail welcomed the New York mobster. "What little we know about Frank Costello indicates that he is a gentlemanly person. He lives quietly, and apparently, a life of rectitude. His donations to charities, not only in New York, but throughout the nation, are a matter of record, despite his modest attempts to hide them."
Mail publisher Harry O. Voiler filed suit against the Miami Daily News, which had reported months earlier that S&G money was behind his paper. But then the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Voiler had an interesting criminal record of his own, which included a conviction for armed robbery with intent to kill. He also had two other arrests: In 1930 Chicago police had charged him on "general principles," and in 1937 a Los Angeles grand jury indicted him for stealing $20,000 in money and jewels from Mae West.
Voiler's paper folded after just 37 days.
The Post-Dispatch broke another bombshell in January, when Richard accused his top political backer, whom he wouldn't name, of brokering a bribe to him. If Richard would arrange a punchboard concession in Miami Beach drugstores, hotels, and nightclubs for the backer and his three pals, the councilman could keep a fifth of the profits -- worth at least $150,000 a year.
Punchboards were colorful games costing pennies to quarters, in which a few coupons for prizes were hidden inside pierced holes. They were extremely popular and completely rigged. A 1950 Herald story estimated that 15 million Americans, including children, played them; the proprietors' profit was 50 to 85 percent.
A few days later, Harry Plissner admitted it was he who had brokered the bribe, and he vowed to get revenge on Richard for embarrassing him. Plissner then put his energy into a "Recall Richard" campaign, well financed apparently by S&G and complete with headquarters in a local storefront. Taxi drivers were paid ten dollars a day to collect signatures. The Herald retaliated by reporting the names of residents who said solicitors knocked on their doors, offering three dollars a signature. Every Miami Beach voter got a postcard offering free transportation to sign the petition. And petition backers drummed up signatures by stationing themselves in front of city hall. But Richard received his share of public sympathy. The Herald reprinted a Post-Dispatch editorial: "Rarely is any public official subjected to the kind of pressure and pounding now being turned on Melvin J. Richard, young city councilman of Miami Beach. The trouble with Richard is that he is honest." A Herald letter writer asked: "In what city other than Miami Beach could a man who admitted he tried to bribe a city official spearhead a movement to recall the very man who refused the bribe?"
Within weeks a grand jury indicted Plissner, although charges were later dropped.
Beach books never opened that 1949-50 season, despite constant rumors that they would. Hotel cabanas, equipped with loudspeakers and boards to list scratches and prices, stayed locked. Hotel bellhops and waiters, however, made themselves available to take bets on the sly and phoned them in to S&G.
Finally, on an April Saturday, Richard discovered the Delano Hotel bookie cabana open. The next Saturday he asked new Police Chief Albert Simpson to let him accompany Pat Perdue on his rounds. The Delano was taking bets when Perdue and Richard arrived but immediately shut down. The two men went on to the next hotel and found it quiet. "I said, 'How come there's nobody operating here?'" Mel recalls. Perdue answered, "I'm sure the minute you left that first hotel, calls went out to every hotel in the city. They got a network."
Other U.S. cities were also getting wise to the fact that they had been corrupted with wholesale bribery. New Orleans Mayor de Lessepa Morrison, spokesman for a group of mayors, had called on Washington in 1949 to investigate organized crime. Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon, were hit particularly hard, he said.
For his part, Councilman Richard wrote Florida Sen. Spessard Holland asking for help. Holland never responded, but Richard received a call from Sen. Estes Kefauver, a first-term Tennessee Democrat from Chattanooga who had donned a coonskin cap to defeat an opponent backed by Memphis's Boss Crump.
"He wanted to know if I could prove all the things I made reference to" in the letter to Holland, says Richard. "I said yes, I can, and a lot of things that aren't in the letter as well."
A week later Kefauver called again. He had wheedled the Senate for $150,000 to investigate organized crime in America, and he wanted to make Miami the first stop for public hearings.
Richard knew that Philip Short, police chief from 1947 to 1949, then demoted to lieutenant, had disliked playing ball with the gamblers. In preparation for the hearings, Richard got Short to talk about it on the phone and taped the call. "I'll tell you, I did a rotten thing to Short," Mel admits today. "I could never force him to do anything about gambling. I guess he was on the spot. He didn't want to refuse to do what he knew he should do -- and he didn't want to get kicked out as chief of police for doing it."
In the conversation, Short described an incident that had taken place before he was chief. He had witnessed card playing inside the Club Collins on 23rd Street, but his chief had ordered him not to make arrests. Richard then asked Short if, when he later became chief, someone in city government had issued him similar orders.
"Well," said Short, "as a rule, it was [city manager] Mr. Renshaw.... I usually took my orders from him." But Renshaw was an honest man, Short added, and was just taking orders himself from the majority of Miami Beach council members.
Public hearings began on July 13, 1950, in Miami's downtown federal building. Richard testified about the phone conversation, followed by Short, who denied he'd been ordered to lay off the bookmakers. Rather, he said, he had told Pat Perdue, "I don't want to know anything about the books."
"If you were chief of police, wasn't that your job?" Kefauver asked.
"I have been an officer for better than twenty years, and I knew what hot potatoes were," answered Short.
Frenchy Gips, a bookmaker's clerk, later told the committee that Perdue tipped off the bookies he was about to raid and suggested they always keep someone ready to take a "pinch" -- an arrest. That duty usually fell to a minor clerk. Perdue would take the clerk to headquarters, book him, and release him. An hour later the clerk would be back at work.
All of the S&G members ducked service of their Senate subpoenas. Still, with their operation now in the national spotlight, they decided their outlook was grim. A mere week after Kefauver left town, S&G announced it was leaving the book business.
At first, Richard refused to believe it. "And if they have," Richard told the Daily News, "I think they should go to jail anyway. I don't think a group of men should be permitted to take millions of dollars in illegal profits and then, when things get tough, just announce that they have decided to be good and live on their income."
Of the five original S&G members, only Jules Levitt suffered a criminal conviction. In 1955 he pleaded guilty to tax evasion and received a $5000 fine and a two-year suspended sentence.
The Richard recall petition got enough signatures, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the complaint wasn't specific about any malfeasance in office and threw it out.
In November 1950 a Dade County grand jury indicted Mail publisher Harry Voiler for renting a room to S&G for gambling purposes.
Kefauver held subsequent hearings in New York and Washington that were broadcast live on national television -- the first ever such TV event. His grilling of New York mobsters Frank Erickson and Frank Costello made Kefauver a star, a leading contender for the 1952 Democratic presidential nomination. After the hearings ended, Kefauver asked Richard to become his chief investigator for a new committee to investigate corporate monopolies. He said, "We're going to be in the White House together." But Richard declined. His wife didn't want to leave Miami Beach, and neither did he.
Kefauver knocked out Truman early in the '52 primaries, but urban Democratic party leaders, many of whom were in bed with local gangsters, looked to foil him. They backed Adlai Stevenson, who won the nomination and then picked Kefauver for his vice president. In November they lost to Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.
"People believed -- the hotels believed -- the bookies were making a major contribution toward the economy of the city," says Richard, "and without them, we'd have grass grow on the street. As long as they believed that, it was tough to get [the mobsters] out. And the public relations people sold a bill of goods. They were making it possible."
But after the bookies were banished, "I got letters and calls from hotels who said they wouldn't have believed this before the Kefauver hearings, but their business is doing great. They were glad S&G was out of their hair. I never had a hotel complain to me they were sorry S&G was out of there. The tourists kept coming. And the grass never grew on the streets."
In 1953 Richard ran for re-election, favored to win the largest share of the vote, which would make him mayor. But on election eve somebody slapped "Vote for Mel Richard" bumper stickers on hundreds of windshields at eye level. Voters blamed Richard, and he lost his council seat. In 1955, however, he was re-elected to the council and served through 1967. From 1963 to 1965, he was mayor.
Despite his reputation as a straight arrow, people still approached him with bribes. Janet remembers people coming to the house with thousands of dollars in cash. The couple refused such money because "we just wanted to be able to sleep at night," she says. Once, at a policemen's ball, an officer's wife admired Janet's small fur collar and said, "I am one who knows you could be wearing mink to the floor."
A Miami Beach tabloid publisher once raised his war of words against Richard to an assault. At a speech at the Shelborne Hotel, Richard raised a copy of Miami Life. "This is Reubin Clein's scandal sheet," he proclaimed. "He's an ex-convict. He and his newspaper ought to be driven out of the community." Clein was in the audience; at the end of the evening, Richard tried to elude him, but Clein caught up to him in the hotel's basement.
"I thought he was going to say something," Richard recalls, "but he didn't. He just started punching me, with both hands." Clein was twice Mel's weight. "I never had a chance to do anything. I was holding on to my briefcases. I don't know why I didn't sock him with the briefcases." At the hospital, a nurse asked him his address; still silly from the beating, he named the street he'd had moved from two years earlier.
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"I went to a luncheon at the National Hotel, and [Miami Beach public relations man] Hank Meyer said to me, 'You know, you've got great potential, and you could really go places. But you always want to fight with people.' I said, 'I don't fight with anybody unless they do something improper.' I said, 'I don't fight with nice people.' He said, 'Well, you don't have to do it the way you do it.'
"I met him several years later. I said, 'You remember the conversation we had at the National Hotel?' He said he did. I asked, 'Have you changed your mind?' I said, 'I've done all right, in spite of your admonitions.' He said, 'Well, you may be an exception. Maybe there are some people who can do what you do and get away with it. But most of the time, it won't work.'"
One day Lee Powell, an old rival on the council who was elected Miami Beach mayor three times in the Fifties but who wouldn't talk to Richard for ten years, spotted him on Lincoln Road. "He came over to me and he shook my hand, and he said, 'I want to apologize for all the grief I gave you.'" Mel laughs. "He said, 'I think you did a good job as a member of the city council.'
"I told Janet, and she said, 'Everybody who thinks he's going to die wants to apologize to you.'