Letters from the Issue of May 22-28, 2003

Civilized, Intelligent, Thoughtful

Three words not normally associated with Miami: Great story by Rebecca Wakefield regarding the debate over breaking up the school district ("Smaller Is Better," May 8). From reading it one would almost believe we're living in a civilized city where political leaders, journalists, and activist citizens engage in intelligent, thoughtful, balanced discussions of issues of public importance. Attorney Miguel De Grandy's role in this discourse is particularly important and useful.

From the standpoint of depth, balance, and understanding, "Smaller Is Better" is the best work that I've read from Ms. Wakefield. She allowed all sides of the issue to find expression, and she did a fabulous amount of research. Congratulations on a truly outstanding article.

Brian Peterson


Editor's note: Brian Peterson, a history professor at Florida International University, has written extensively about local education issues.

Just Call It the Lobbyist Enrichment Project

Not all good things come in small packages: Is smaller better? Of course it is, but not if we're talking about breaking up the Miami-Dade school district into a hodgepodge of ten, fifteen, thirty (one for each city?) new districts. Can you imagine the politics? Can you imagine the lobbyists jumping for joy as they open new bank accounts?

Does anyone remember when Chicago's public school district was broken up into smaller ones? Ethnic group after ethnic group yelled, "Blacks in charge!" Or "Hispanics in charge!" Everybody wanted a piece of the action and their "own people" running things. Parents who never bothered charting their kids' progress in school suddenly emerged, much like cicadas after their seventeen-year naps.

Our school board brought in Merrett Stierheim to fix its problems. He has a track record. But rather than let him work, our governor and state legislators appoint an oversight committee that now wants much more than simple oversight. Can you say complete control?

We have a school board and a superintendent committed to change. I believe they can do it if the state will let them.

Alan Rigerman

Palm Springs North

Don't Call Us Vigilantes!

But thanks for the publicity anyway: Although the term "vigilantes" carries a negative connotation and may have been an inappropriate headline, I congratulate Rebecca Wakefield on one of the better-written articles I have seen on the Coast Guard Auxiliary ("Maritime Vigilantes," May 8). I hope she'll write additional articles about this important group of volunteers who invest their time and money to assist the Coast Guard.

I understand that the auxiliary is one of the largest volunteer groups in the United States. Despite their numbers, though, they are in need of many more members to assist the Coast Guard with its many tasks. Ms. Wakefield's article could be an important asset in recruiting new auxiliary members.

Larry LaClair

Cooper City

Factual Error: I Do Not Control Absolutely Everything that Happens in Hialeah

And those free-thinking city council members are not my henchmen: Francisco Alvarado's article "The Hialeah 3" (May 1) lacked facts and surprisingly missed and skewed a few important details. I must admit I was somewhat shocked and dismayed considering that I have always been open, honest, and straightforward with him whenever he has called. Through this letter I hope to clarify some of the inaccuracies contained in his article.

Contrary to what was reported, the mayor of Hialeah cannot appoint a new member to the city council. According to the City of Hialeah charter, a vacancy can only be filled by an affirmative vote of at least four council members. Eduardo Gonzalez and G. "Willie" Zuñiga were voted in by the council, not appointed by me, and after completing their terms as acting council members they were successfully elected to the council. I take great exception to these elected officials being referred to as "Martinez henchmen." All Hialeah council members have minds of their own and vote the way they feel is in the best interest of the residents of the city.

In 1991, while I was out of office, Carmen Caldwell came to my house and asked for my support [in her campaign for city council]. I decided to endorse her, and my wife volunteered to tape her commercials, something she had never done for any candidate. In 1995 I once again endorsed her. But in 1997 she endorsed Herman Echevarria, a councilman who ran against me in that year's election. Ms. Caldwell won her election in 1991 and 1995 because of Raul L. Martinez and his followers. Conveniently, however, that fact was left out of the article. In 1999, when Ms. Caldwell as an incumbent ran for city council, I chose not to endorse her. She lost that election, leaving one to wonder where was all the widespread support she enjoyed? I congratulate anyone who decides to participate in the democratic system by running for office, and if other elected officials can endorse whichever candidate they choose, why can't I do the same?

Reading reports regarding my salary is always interesting. Why, one may ask? Simply because it is all public record and yet so often is it inaccurately reported in the media. My salary is $145,000 with an expense account of $65,000. If you were to compare my salary and expenses with that of managers of cities smaller than Hialeah you'd find they earn much more.

My doors are always open to members of the press, and any information I may be able to offer I am always willing to provide. All I ask is that the facts be reported accurately and without being editorialized.

Raul L. Martinez, mayor

City of Hialeah

I Am Not Raul Martinez's Henchman

But I gratefully acknowledge the support of that dynamic and positive leader: In Francisco Alvarado's "The Hialeah 3," there seems to be a great emphasis on being humorous at the expense of factual accuracy. Without commenting on the mocking tone of the article and its obvious disrespect of Hialeah elected officials, I take issue with the statement that the mayor appointed me to the city council. A parenthetical statement in the article was deliberately inserted to leave the impression that the appointment was the result of political favoritism.

The mayor did not appoint me to the city council. Moreover I am currently serving a four-year term based on the results of a successful election. In 1998 Hialeah voters approved a new city charter and with it a method for filling vacancies. By an affirmative vote of at least four members, the city council appoints a new member when there is a permanent vacancy. Under this procedure, I was appointed. At the next general election I was elected to a full term by 64 percent of the voters. I suggest the New Times editor review articles before publication to verify accuracy. In this case, this was not effectively done.

And in any event, I appreciate the support of Mayor Martinez, whose dynamic leadership has been the catalyst for positive change in Hialeah.

Eduardo Gonzalez, council vice president

City of Hialeah

Free Weekly Proudly Profits from Poverty

This past fall New Times published a two-part special project that examined poverty in Miami. "We're Number One!" (September 26 and October 3, 2002) included more than twenty articles and statistical charts that attempted to help readers understand the city's ignominious distinction, conferred by the U.S. Census Bureau, as America's poorest big city. Recently that project was recognized by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, which honored the project and its contributors with the national John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism.


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