Stop the Press!

Ross Hancock hopes to turn the Homestead Sun into a daily newspaper within a year
Steve Satterwhite

Steve Shiver grew up in a family where he was made to feel he could do no wrong. He was his mother's pride and joy, and the one chosen not only to carry his father's name but also to follow in his political footsteps.

Roy Stephen Shiver -- known to everyone as R.S. -- has been a city commissioner in Florida City for 41 years.

Roy Stephen Shiver, Jr. -- commonly referred to as Steve -- was elected to the Homestead City Council in 1993 and ran unopposed for mayor in 1997.

In size and pedigree it may have seemed like a trailer-park version of Camelot, but that never stopped the younger Shiver from adopting an arrogant sense of entitlement that members of dynasties often assume. Nowhere is that arrogance more prominent than in his dealings with the media.

Shiver's abrupt firing of county communications director Mayco Villafaña is only the latest episode in a long history of attempts to control the press. Villafaña believes he was axed because Shiver was afraid he was leaking to the news media embarrassing information about his administration. The manager also has been developing plans to curtail the day-to-day flow of information to the press from various county departments.

Shiver's antics hardly come as a surprise to Yolanda Ulrich. As the editor for the past nine years of the South Dade News Leader, a thrice-weekly community newspaper in Homestead, she knows just how neurotic and controlling Shiver can be. "He's always been very thin-skinned," she says.

For years Ulrich has written a column in which she occasionally teases local politicians, giving them what she refers to as "little zingers" from time to time. In one column, for instance, she kidded Shiver about losing his car keys and showing up late for a meeting. In others she would make note of his age and how young he seemed. "Of course the older I get," Ulrich laughs, "the younger everyone else gets."

Shiver, however, didn't like being teased. "He used to call all the time to complain," she recalls. "He would call constantly. He had a very thin skin."

At first Shiver would play the role of a wounded innocent, whining to Ulrich: "What do you have against me?" and "Why don't you like me?"

Ulrich tried to tell him that it wasn't personal, but he wouldn't believe her. "We treated everyone the same," Ulrich says, "but Steve was the only one who felt we were picking on him."

When Shiver ran for mayor in 1997, Ulrich wrote that it was a shame Shiver was unopposed. "I thought people should have to knock on doors, campaign, ask for people's votes, and not just win a race because no one else wants to run," says Ulrich. "But Shiver perceived that as being an attack against him."

She tried to placate him, offering him space in the paper to write his own opinion pieces. Even though he would turn in long, rambling columns, Ulrich says she never edited them for fear Shiver would go ballistic. But even granting Shiver these opportunities to vent in print didn't satisfy him.

Over time, Ulrich remembers, Shiver's complaints became increasingly strident. "They were laced with threats," she reports. "He would always tell me: “I'm going to be here a lot longer than you are.'" And he attempted to make good on those words, Ulrich says, by repeatedly trying to have her fired.

Shiver regularly complained to Ulrich's boss, publisher Glenn Martin. "He would tell me that as long as she was here, he would not be treated fairly," Martin says. "And he wanted her gone."

When the publisher refused to fire Ulrich, the newspaper's owners in Pennsylvania began receiving complaints that Martin believes originated with Shiver. The owners also refused to fire Ulrich.

I asked Martin if there was one particular incident that caused Shiver to behave this way. He replied, "He's so thin-skinned and vindictive, and he holds grudges for so long that I don't know what festers in his mind."

A year and a half ago Shiver began making a new round of threats. He told Ulrich and Martin he was launching his own newspaper to compete with the News Leader. "We're going to start this paper to put your paper out of business," Shiver vowed, according to Martin.

Shiver even attempted to hire one of the News Leader's reporters, José Lopez. "It came up during a casual conversation," Lopez recalls. "He wanted to know if he opened a paper, would I come to work for him? I told him he probably couldn't afford me." Nothing ever came of the discussion, but a few months later, in early 2000, the Homestead Sun hit the streets. A weekly newspaper, the Sun's office is located on Krome Avenue in the historic section of downtown Homestead. "It's widely perceived that the Homestead Sun is Steve Shiver's newspaper," says Ulrich.

Ross Hancock was dreading this day. As editor and publisher of the Homestead Sun, he knew for more than a year that eventually he'd be confronted with questions about Steve Shiver's involvement in his newspaper.

"When we started talking about the need for a quality newspaper in South Dade, Steve Shiver was very supportive and enthusiastic," says Hancock. "He promised to help raise funds for the paper. But we never reached an agreement as to how that would take place. He didn't raise any funds for us."

Hancock says Shiver wanted to act as a business broker on the deal and receive a broker's fee if he secured $200,000 in start-up money. Hancock explains that he could never come to an agreement with Shiver over compensation. "His terms were unacceptable," Hancock says without elaborating. "It didn't make business sense for us."

The 46-year-old Hancock understands why some people might think his paper is controlled by Shiver. In 1999 Hancock was hired by Shiver's mayoral re-election campaign to oversee the advertising. And Shiver may have encouraged early investors in the Sun, including his own mother, who owns 2.5 percent of the paper.

Hancock has survived with the help of ten investors, each of whom invested approximately $2500. They each own just 2.5 percent of the enterprise. The remaining 75 percent is controlled by Hancock, who gave up his advertising agency to become a newspaperman.

He's heard the talk that he's being bankrolled by Shiver, by the Latin Builders Association, by the Homestead Air Force Base development group known as HABDI. All of which is untrue, he says. "We're trying to make this work. We're trying very hard to produce a good newspaper that the community can be proud of. All the people who work here are doing everything they can to make it succeed."

His reporters not only write stories but deliver the paper as well. Their offices are located in a vacant storefront decorated with raggedy old furniture one of the writers, Miguel Perez, brought in from his house. "We aim to stay here, and we're going to be here for a very long time, even if it kills me," says Perez, who worked for the News Leader from 1993 until 1998.

The Sun's computers are more than ten years old, and though the paper touts an Internet address on its front page, the site has been offline ever since the server crashed. The paper hasn't had the money to fix it. As we talk, Hancock bounces on his knee the five-month-old baby of one of his reporters. While she's out on a story, he and Perez are baby-sitting.

Although the Sun is only circulated on Saturdays, Hancock hopes to take the paper daily within a year. "If you live in Homestead, this will be your morning paper," he promises. "This is the best market in the country because it is being underserved by the Herald."

Hancock guesses he has lost as many advertisers as he has gained as a result of people assuming Shiver owns the Sun, though he doesn't think that belief is widespread. Shiver, on the other hand, almost certainly enjoys having people in town believe he controls the paper.

Another things seems certain: Hancock doesn't much care for Shiver. His statements distancing himself from the former mayor go beyond merely declaring his own independence. "I'm not going to make a judgment about [Shiver] as a politician," says Hancock, "but if he's telling people he owns this paper, I'm glad to see him as far away as possible, because it's a lie if he's saying it."

Ironically the paper perceived by some to be a Shiver organ is experiencing the same problems the News Leader has endured with him. "He treats us the same as every other newspaper," says Hancock. "He complains about what we write about him. He's thin-skinned and very sensitive to how he's portrayed in the press -- more than the average person would be."

Hancock says he bases that analysis not only on his year as publisher/editor of the Sun but also on his experience handling Shiver's re-election-campaign advertising account. "This is a guy who would love to own a newspaper," remarks Hancock. "Maybe it's a fantasy for him."

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