Where's Joey?

From the condos of Aventura to the trailer parks of Homestead, there is a growing realization that Dade County just isn't the same without Joe Gersten. Life in the tropics is definitely less interesting without his cherubic smile, his bullyboy personality, his knack for making great headlines.

Miriam Alonso did an admirable job of satisfying Miami's appetite for the bizarre -- at least temporarily. But now that the elections are over, even she is yesterday's news. And without a regular weirdness fix, the people of South Florida risk the ugly effects of mass withdrawal, collective cold turkey. We need Joe Gersten today more than ever. The first steps have already been taken, but more must be done.

The hookers of Biscayne Boulevard say they're ready to kiss and make up with Joey. Miami Herald reporters Dexter Filkins and Charles Strouse, who spent months dogging Gersten, have offered to open their homes in case the former county commissioner needs a place to stay when he gets back to town. Even local parking attendants -- understandably paranoid after Gersten allegedly threatened to shoot one of them last year -- have pledged to stop diving for cover at the sight of Gersten's Mercedes.

Of course, the Dade State Attorney's Office has been a bit less compassionate. They still want to lock up Gersten for refusing to answer questions about the theft of his car in April 1992. This past August, when he left for a leisurely vacation, prosecutors took a dim view. Gersten wasn't simply traveling, they cynically asserted, he was fleeing. A fugitive from justice. In fact, they persuaded a judge to issue a warrant. If Gersten ever returns to Florida, he'll immediately be dragged into court, and from there to jail, if he continues to refuse to answer their questions.

Could this really be the end? Is it possible we'll be forced to contemplate a South Florida without Joe Gersten?

As a public service, New Times has undertaken an international campaign to reassure Joey that he is loved and needed -- billboards, milk cartons, advertisements in the world's leading newspapers. Planes towing banners are now flying over the capitals of half a dozen foreign countries.

Thousands of calls have flooded the special New Times hot line (1-800-HEY-JOEY). Sorting through the information has been a time-consuming task, and not all reported sightings can be verified. But this much seems clear: Gersten remains characteristically intrepid. Rather than sit still and cower in fear, he has boldly conquered the globe. We can only hope that soon he will hear our plea: Joey, come home!


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