Melissa Thomas and Renee O'Brien are twentysomething professionals, just the kind of people Miami developers and city leaders hope to attract to the scads of new high-rise condos downtown.
So on the evening of February 7, the pair was invited to a soiree hosted by the developer of One Brickell Broadway, a 36-story rental apartment tower on South Miami Avenue. Held in the building's lobby, the event featured a piano player, a cabaret singer, a tap dancer, free food, and three open bars. "It was really cool," Thomas noted. "Everyone was chatting among themselves, having a good time."
And then the fun began.
The din made it difficult for the party's dapper elfin MC, Miami City Commissioner Johnny Winton, to get the guests' attention. So he began shushing the crowd with his microphone. "He must have done it like a thousand times," Thomas complained. "It was like nails on a chalkboard."
So Winton ordered the bar shut down, O'Brien said. "He admonished us for eating free food and drinking booze we didn't pay for," she recalled. "It was so offensive I just tried to tune him out."
"He said he was a city commissioner and a jerk," added Thomas, a 28-year-old graphic designer. "Everyone kept looking at him to see how much more obnoxious he could get." They didn't know who the raging man was until a fellow partygoer revealed his identity.
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The following morning Thomas and O'Brien e-mailed complaints to Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. "An apology to the whole audience would certainly not be out of order," O'Brien wrote.
Reached on his cell phone last week, Winton offered no mea culpa. Instead he said he lost his cool because the partygoers ignored developer Allen Ojeda's speech. "It's those two yahoos who should apologize," Winton snarled. "The proper protocol when someone is trying to speak is to shut up and listen."
The commish acknowledged calling himself a jerk and closing the bar. "That is how you get people to shut up," he relayed. "I've done a few of these events so I know from experience." Winton, who supplements his $58,200 annual public salary with $100,000 per year from his downtown property management and development company, says he shushed the crowd "800 times."
"The developer is providing free food and free drinks," he explained. "The least they could do is listen to his sales pitch."