A Corrupt City, a Faltering Newspaper
On Saturday, November 9, Miami made the front page of the New York Times for the corruption that marks our city like the wine stain on Gorbachev's forehead. (The article was titled "Corruption and Money Woes Divide and Anger Miamians.") This bashing -- you can already hear the grinding teeth at the chamber of commerce -- calls to mind New Times editor Jim Mullin's column describing the paper's lawsuit against Knight-Ridder chairman Tony Ridder for participating in secret and perhaps illegal negotiations for a new arena ("Tony Ridder and the Heritage of Arrogance," October 31).
Is Miami more corrupt than any other American city? Probably not. In its lack of a moral compass -- a phrase describing civility and civic purpose -- is Miami different from any other American city? Yes. And the Miami Herald, whose independent voice has been dulled to pointlessness by compromising positions its leadership is wont to take, bears a heavy share of responsibility.
The New Times lawsuit explicitly calls for Ridder to be held legally accountable. Mullin's column calls for the Herald to be morally accountable to readers it has poorly served. He cites the Herald's paternalism (what's good for the Herald is good for Miami) as a particular form of arrogance, practiced with citadel-style discipline by its eminence grise, former Herald president and Knight-Ridder chairman Alvah Chapman.
At its core Chapman's Non-Group was an effort to preserve Anglo values in a society transformed by Hispanic migration. But the Non-Group, for all its pretensions, never stood for much more than a Hail Mary pass by Team Anglo -- on fourth down and long -- to save the present from the sordid past, a city built on a swamp at the expense of dim-witted voters in the Twenties, a legacy of making money the old-fashioned way: fast bucks and easy fortunes for developers, lobbyists, and politicians. It is a legacy that will haunt South Florida as long as people live here.
Today the misdirection of the Miami Herald is conditioned by fear more than arrogance, although the two are intertwined like bad twins: fear of declining readership causing the Herald to be ever so judicious in criticizing the current regime that happens, as a historical and geographical accident, to be Cuban American; fear of entertainment and new media causing the Herald to publish a TV-IQ equivalent of a newspaper; fear of a stern and unforgiving corporate father -- Knight-Ridder -- causing Herald leadership to be the good corporate son, putting shoulder to the wheel of profits first, advertisers second, and readers third; and fear of Spanish-language radio and printed cheat sheets causing near paralysis of everything between the covers.
That last is the biggest fear of all, and not surprisingly the New York Times article quotes Miami's radio-talk-show-host-cum-city commissioner Tomas Regalado pulling the ethnic card from its dog-eared deck: "[The corruption probe] has a lot to do with the resentment and disdain that some people feel against Cuban Americans. They can't stand the power we have acquired."
Most newspaper readers -- including the universe that reads New Times, the Miami Herald, and yes, the New York Times -- want more investigative reporting on Miami and Dade County corruption; pin the demagogues to the wall with truth, irrespective of their race and ethnicity. But the Herald is so torn and divided in its loyalties -- the legacy of Alvah Chapman -- that it has abandoned its purpose: journalism.
For example, when the Lobbyist Class behaves with impunity, skirting the edges of the law while burnishing its reputation, the Herald should be there from morning to midnight on the trail of the Ron Books, the Ric Sissers, the Rodney Barettos, the Chris Korges, the Dusty Meltons, the Carlos Herreras, the Ric Katzes, and the Jorge de Cardenases. But much too often -- and this is Mullin's most excellent point concerning Tony Ridder, Alvah Chapman, attorney Parker Thomson, et al. -- the Herald is on the same side as the Lobbyist Class and its clients, our elected officials. The effect on the public spirit is profound. As a consequence the Miami Herald is a shell of a newspaper, and its staff, the ones who will admit it, are demoralized; many professional and capable employees tell the tale.
In the latest piece of news, members of the Dade delegation are attempting to wrest leadership control of the Florida legislature. It's unlikely to work -- this time -- but hold on to your hats: Miami will be the Detroit of the South a lot sooner than it becomes the Hong Kong of Latin America. As goes Detroit, so goes the rest of Michigan. And that's not good news for the Miami Herald or any of the rest of us in Florida.
Name Withheld by Request
One More Time: Micky Arison Is a Greedy Corporate Pig
As Jim DeFede has pointed out, the bayfront arena was always about money ("The Heat Is Off," October 24, and "Ten Questions for Micky," October 31). The existing arena just a few blocks away was a state-of-the-art building but is now inadequate, and its enlargement would cost too much. The Heat would leave if they didn't get a new building. Bicentennial Park was a slum anyway, so let's build on it. And while we're at it, let's add passenger dockage for Miami's seaport.
Let's consider some alternatives closer to the truth. While the Heat caters to less than one percent of the county's population, our inner cities, parks, and beaches lie in disrepair. That means every public dollar given the new arena is a dollar taken away from the 99 percent of Dade citizens who can't afford to buy tickets to Heat games.
Not 100 yards across Biscayne Boulevard there are many acres of vacant, unmaintained land that would have been perfect for the arena, providing parking access from all sides instead of only one. But that land would have had to be purchased. Again, it was all about money.
We also have Dade's seaport wanting to build docks in the park. The port was once there, an eyesore on the waterfront. The early pioneers of Miami created Dodge Island so those very messy, very unsightly commercial facilities could be moved from what they perceived could be a pristine urban shoreline. To put back the very unattractive buses, trucks, oil cans, and cranes on Miami's downtown waterfront is unconscionable.
Miami has been raped many times in many ways, but I consider this the ultimate rape. And it's all about money.
Charles Harrison Pawley
The Heat's Overtown Solution: Turkeys for Everyone
I was appalled to read that Jim DeFede felt the Miami Heat had not done anything for the Overtown community and that a new arena should not be built. Apparently DeFede has never come to Overtown and spoken with any of the residents who live here and have benefited from all the many great things that have happened.
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I thank the Miami Heat for the support of the Overtown community. On so many occasions this team has willingly and unselfishly given their time, resources, and talent to enrich the lives of our residents.
Not once that we have called on this team and its staff have they failed to respond to our plight. They have provided social, educational, and developmental activities for youth not only in Overtown but in all of Dade County. They have proven to be true role models and real team players in the effort to help the community.
Our elderly population has benefited from their generosity during the holiday season. In fact, the first Thanksgiving celebration was sponsored by the Miami Heat on November 19, 1995. Many residents benefited who otherwise would not have had a dinner that day. The Heat will provide Thanksgiving dinner again this year on November 17. I invite you to join us at this event, located at the Ninth Street pedestrian mall, so you may see first-hand the Heat's impact on the community. I feel it is very important that you contact the residents of Overtown when you want to know who has helped and what they have done for our community.
Norma Jean Walker