Best Political Comeback 1999 | Merrett Stierheim | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Miami-Dade County Manager Merrett Stierheim is living proof that eventually everything comes back in style. During his original tenure as county manager in the early Eighties, Stierheim was seen as something of an anachronism: one of the last of the old Anglo bosses who ruled this county for decades. When Stierheim was originally county manager, commissioners took little more than a passing interest in the day-to-day operations of county government. Since then county government has been remade. Starting in the late Eighties with Joe Gersten, commissioners began taking a more active role in bureaucratic affairs, and with the advent of single-member districts in 1993, the commission itself became more ethnically and racially diverse. Whether the corruption that followed is the result of those changes is debatable, but the impact of the scandals is not. They have had a devastating impact on the image of Miami-Dade County throughout the world. So when Armando Vidal was fired as manager, the mayor and commission tapped Stierheim to bring order to a chaotic situation. He picked up easily where he had left off more than a decade earlier, seizing the reins of power and paying little heed to the desires of intrusive commissioners. As a result morale throughout county offices has soared. How long this trip down memory lane will last is anyone's guess. As each week and month goes by, Stierheim's autocratic style rankles someone new. But for as long as it lasts, we should enjoy and appreciate it.
It's the graveyard used as a setting for spooky nightmares. Large, creaky iron gates guard the two entrances. Old, crumbling tombstones dispersed among headstones tall enough for someone to hide behind. Fully grown oak and mahogany trees blocking the light to form imposing shadows. From the rich, white, and powerful in the Burdine crypt to the graves of the poor, black laborers buried in the rear, the cemetery's subterranean residents foreshadowed the city's diversity today. To learn more, a lot more, take a guided tour with local historian Paul George (305-375-1492), who'll point out the many war veterans, five mayors, and the city's original instigator, Julia Tuttle, all of whom are buried there.
Lovers of legerdemain, practitioners of prestidigitation, converts to conjuring, savants of sleight of hand. In short these folks dabble in the arts arcane. Since 1994 the International Brotherhood of Magicians, Ring 45 (a sufficiently hocus-pocus moniker), has presented its annual convention each fall at the Hotel Formerly Known as the Radisson Aventura Beach Resort. Attendance at the two-day event is limited to the 200 or so semipro or amateur magicians -- mostly guys who bag groceries by day and palm coins by night. If you're serious about learning the tricks, and not putting on a dorky mask and exposing the tricks on Fox while the bald dude from The X-Files makes bad jokes, you're welcome to pay the $65 registration fee and partake of the booths, lectures, and seminars, and find out all about false bottoms, mirrors, wires, and twins. The general public is welcome to attend the Saturday-night gala event (twenty bucks, please), which takes place in the delightfully faded red-velvet splendor of the hotel's Persian Room theater. The big show features as many as six performers from as far away as Israel, Spain, Canada, and Kendall. This year it takes place October 15, 16, and 17, and if you really want to creep yourself out, watch the movie Magic, starring Anthony Hopkins and a dummy, the night before.

Here in Miami we love our immigrants. Each wave of newcomers brings exciting cultural detours, nuances, inventions. Just try getting pupusas and mondongo in Omaha. And what we love most in our new arrivals is colorfulness. No blending into the Zeitgeist, no assimilating by imitating. Stand up and stand out! Make some noise! The definitive example of perfection in invaders comes by way of the monk parakeet and its relatives. (Perhaps as many as 30 species of parrot have nested here, though only the gray-headed monk and the brightly hued canary-wing are established.) Parrots, led by the monk species, have flocked to our sunny climes, setting up shop throughout the urbanscape. No research has been conducted and estimates of numbers vary wildly, but we've all seen them light up the sky in flashes of green and yellow as flocks move from coconut tree to power pole to rooftop. Earnest breeders with no natural predators, the urban wingers are thriving, and so far, despite the putdowns of bigots posing as ecologists, are causing problems for no one except FPL, whose poles make for excellent parrot hangouts and nesting sites. Some people, offended by the birds' color or unusual way of speaking, claim the parrots pose a threat to citrus crops and to large birds scared away by squawking. These naysayers repeat the usual refrain: Go back to where you came from. Or worse. We say live and let screech.
How do you improve what is already one of the top stations in Miami? What can be better than having Dwight Lauderdale and Kristi Krueger as anchors, than Rad Berky on the Eye-Team and Michael Putney filing solid political reports? How about adding Kelley Mitchell to the Night Team? Nah, there's no way that would happen, what with her being permanently linked to Rick Sanchez, at least in the public's mind. Yet somehow it has come to pass. Even months after she joined the Night Team, it's still startling to see her filing reports from the WPLG newsroom. Her jarring presence alone makes Channel 10 truly the one to watch.
He's young, he's Cuban, he's got a new book. And he's well worth hearing as well as reading. At one evening reading Blanco showed slides from his childhood in early-Seventies Miami, and read poems that were at once funny, sentimental, and sad. He represents a new generation of Cubans in Miami, who feel Cuba through the memory of their parents rather than the raw exile emotion itself. Blanco writes poetry of an era when his parents' nostalgia for their native home was all-consuming and when Cuban-American life was in its infancy. "None of my brothers or cousins/were named Greg, Peter, or Marcia," Blanco writes in his 1998 debut book, City of a Hundred Fires. And those Brady Bunch neighbors in the new land, "they didn't have pork on Thanksgiving." Blanco remembers smuggling cremitas de leche into the movie theater on Calle Ocho, and the older men outside "clinging to one another's lies of lost wealth/ashamed and empty as hollow trees." The second half of the book consists of Blanco's poetic impressions of the cause of all this passion: Cuba. Lucky for us, Blanco will have more time to explore youth and adulthood in Miami. The Miami Beach resident just quit his job as an engineer to work on his poetry full-time.
A pleasant, almost ethereal cerebral dysrhythmia occurs when you proceed from the hot, mean, dirty streets of downtown Miami to the main library. The lights glow softly, the air feels cool and clean, the people seem sedate and serene. Deep in the northwest corner of the second floor lies the Florida Room, an inner sanctum, a placid place devoted to Miami, to Florida, to realities other than what waits for you outside. Here you'll find The Florida of the Inca, Florida in the Making, and Florida: Land of Change. By loading up some microfilm and spinning through old copies of the Miami Herald you'll be transported to 1937, 1954, 1968, or any time you want. The room holds county perspectives and state profiles. Florida's statutes, maps and plats, old phone directories (from back when they listed your place of employment along with your name, address, and number). References: animals, architecture, water, land, linguistics, treasures, wars, plantations, folksongs, folklore, real estate, foods, plants -- all of it Florida. And if you want to get out of town, step over to the genealogy section and peruse History of Cuyahoga County, Ohio (1879), Tyrrell Cemeteries, North Carolina 1732-1984, Early East Tennessee Tax Lists. Or to get the perfect perspective, grab Victor Rainbolt's The Town that Climate Built. The ancient Miami-PR tome is undated, but a computer-bar code search suggests it was likely published in 1925. An excerpt: "Here may be found the out-of-the-way things that excite the imagination."
This is one of the richest resources Miami can call on. In its 30 years of existence, Switchboard has grown from an advice center for hippies on bad acid trips to a versatile organization that almost anyone in a crisis can turn to. It's not just a crisis hotline, though that best-known feature of Switchboard will this year receive some 130,000 calls, and more than 50 around-the-clock volunteer counselors will refer callers to appropriate services, according to assistant executive director Gigi Laudisio. While a total of about 63 volunteers and student interns contribute hugely, primarily as (trained) crisis counselors, Switchboard's two-million-dollar annual budget also pays 32 full-time and 10 part-time staffers, some of whom work with numerous other helplines operated by the organization: one for people with disabilities; the nation's only hotline for deaf callers; two lines exclusively for teens; a WAGES hotline to help with work, housing, day care, transportation, and other problems facing people moving from welfare to work; a Miami River line even takes reports and questions about environmental concerns. Staffers also conduct free family counseling sessions and support groups in English and Spanish, as well as "life skills" education programs within the Miami-Dade public schools. As part of this community outreach, Switchboard is the only organization in the United States to receive funding for a pregnancy-prevention program targeting girls with mental and physical disabilities.
Photo courtesy of Miami Beach Botanical Garden
"It's the most exciting thing happening on South Beach," Commissioner Nancy Liebman says about the renovation of the once-decrepit Miami Beach Botanical Garden adjacent to the city's convention center. Well, that might be a bit of an overstatement, but this pocket-size garden is certainly going to be a fun thing to watch grow. Over the past year, more than 100 volunteers have weeded, hauled, pruned, potted, and planted an overgrown four-acre plot, which includes a Japanese garden, a glass conservatory, and ponds, turning it into a lush little attraction that even most locals don't know exists. Now that the garden is being spruced up, more events have been scheduled, including plant sales, classes in orchid and palm growing, concerts, and workshops sponsored by the Florida Master Gardeners. Another draw is the intergenerational vegetable garden, which joins kids with old folks to harvest peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs. A charming gift shop features homemade jellies, jams, flavored vinegars, and other edibles in addition to postcards and books. The best part is that while the renovations continue (at least until the new millennium), admission is free. The garden is open weekdays from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 4:00 p.m.

"Damn you all!" Channel 6 (WTVJ-TV) anchor Tony Segreto nearly shouted as much when he delivered the news on January 13: Jimmy Johnson was expected to resign as Miami Dolphins head coach. Word would come at a news conference the next day. The bombshell had dropped without any context (why in the world was the successful and popular Johnson quitting?) so Segreto and, to be sure, several other broadcasters, groped for their own. The fans, he speculated with a frowny face, were responsible. The fans who didn't show J.J. enough love. The talk-radio callers who had the temerity to criticize Johnson for losing by five touchdowns to Denver and for failing to win that Super Bowl championship he had promised. It was a strange attack. Criticism of Johnson was certainly no fiercer than any other coach receives elsewhere in the NFL. And since when do "Bob from Plantation" and "Chuck on a mobile" wield that much clout? When Johnson finally took the podium at Dolphins headquarters in Davie, he explained that he was merely a 55-year-old workaholic struggling to balance work and family. He was not quitting as a coach, he said, only ratcheting down his workload. As for the talk that fan criticism threatened to run him out of town? Groundless. That night Segreto delivered the news with a big smile.

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