It's a poorly kept secret in the newspaper business: We journalists need experts, especially those who can eloquently agree with us.
"Wouldn't you say, professor, that corruption is common here?" a reporter might ask.
"Indeed, double-dealing is rampant," the pundit could reply. "Subtropical sleaze is slathered over us all. It is part and parcel of the primordial, pathological past of this salacious netherworld."
"Thanks, prof. You said it better than I could have myself."
Next thing you know, you're reading this blather with your morning cup of joe.
South Florida's king of the quote is a husky, bespectacled Florida International University professor named Dario Moreno who earns $54,500 per year. As election season heats up, odds are better than even that his every coherent -- and sometimes incoherent -- thought will be printed in black ink or broadcast on radio and television. Need a succinct, colorful phrase on a tight deadline? Moreno will provide.
In recent years Moreno's edgy banter has found its way into the New York Times, Caribbean Today, and foreign wire services, including Agence France Presse. His most fertile ground has been in South Florida's two major daily newspapers, the Miami Herald and the Sun-Sentinel, where he has been quoted a total of 189 times.
The first Herald writer to use him as a pundit was Miami city hall reporter Chuck Strouse, who quoted skeptical words from Moreno in October 1993 about the biography of then-mayoral candidate Miriam Alonso. (Strouse is now managing editor of New Times.) Since then Herald political writer Karen Branch has been the foremost Morenista, citing the professor on everything from increasing the Miami mayor's power to abolishing the city. Branch, who has wracked up 24 Moreno references over the years, did not return two phone calls seeking comment.
In recent years he's spoken to newspaper reporters about local, state, and national politics, as well as immigration policy and the Cuban enclaves in Miami. His best-known words though, were broadcast nationwide. On February 15, 1998, he tagged Miami a "banana republic" on the television news show 60 Minutes. In the twelve days following the program, his name appeared eleven times in the Herald. "I am one of the few people who can speak their mind without repercussions. I feel a sense of responsibility," Moreno says. "Professors are used to writing books no one reads and giving lectures no one listens to. It's fun seeing your name in print."
The Cuban-born professor's coziness with writers may stem from the fact that he received a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Southern California in 1980. Or it could be the result of his prestigious academic credentials: He was a Pew fellow at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1992.
Moreno was hired as a 29-year-old associate professor at FIU in 1987. Although he specialized in U.S.-Latin American relations, he authored a chapter in a 1988 book about the growing influence of Latinos in U.S. elections. (He wrote the Florida section.) Four years later he testified as an expert before a panel of three federal judges about redrawing the boundaries of the Sunshine State's congressional districts to increase minority representation.
In a 1996 Wall Street Journal article, he predicted Miami's Cubans would not support Republican Party presidential candidate Bob Dole. His prophecy was accurate. "That's when Joe Tanfani [of the Miami Herald] started calling on a regular basis," Moreno notes. Tanfani did not return a call from New Times.
Then Miami began its long slide into turpitude. City Commissioner Miller Dawkins and Manager Cesar Odio were indicted in the FBI's Operation Greenpalm. Charges against County Commissioner James Burke followed. Moreno had words for each of them. It was during this period the professor spoke on 60 Minutes. "I made my 'banana republic' statement to shock people," Moreno says. "When I started talking is when I saw scandal after scandal with no call for reforms."
If you want to see the quotemeister in the flesh, tune into his public-access Cuban-politics class 2:00 to 3:15 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. Moreno admits his life as a commentator takes a toll on his full-time gig. He spends more time talking to journalists than discussing lectures with students after class over a beer.
Yet as long as the writers call, Moreno will keep returning their messages. "I've always had a policy to talk to anyone," he says. New Times, by the way, has cited Moreno six times over the years.
"Moreno by the Numbers," September 16
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