Not since Richard Nixon declared "I am not a crook" has a politician shoved his foot so far down his throat as Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas did earlier this year during the Elian Gonzalez crisis. Even Ted Koppel felt the need to fly into town and bitch-slap our sexy little mayor on national television for his abrasive and incendiary comments toward Attorney General Janet Reno. Once a golden boy of the Democratic Party, even rumored to be on Al Gore's list of possible running mates, Penelas is now a national joke. The only cabinet post in his future is the one he can buy at Home Depot.
This isn't your typical South Florida outdoor arts-and-crafts shindig. In fact as far as we can tell, there's nothing like it south of Atlanta. Over three days in May (sorry, just missed it) wine aficionados and food lovers gather at the grand old Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables for a feast of the senses. This year's extravaganza, the fifth annual, featured wines from more than 60 wineries spanning the globe. (With wine master Chip Cassidy of Crown Liquors an event director, you can be assured every vintner is top quality.) Food preparation was in the able hands of 25 fine South Florida restaurants, including Norman's, Armadillo Café, Baleen, Nemo, and the Strand. In addition a coterie of Michelin-starred chefs was imported from France to create a sumptuous dinner in the Biltmore's courtyard. Auctions, tastings, and more tastings. This marathon of sublime indulgence in luscious foods and rare wines comes with a price tag, of course. (The event is actually a fundraiser benefiting Baptist and South Miami Hospital foundations and the United Way of Miami-Dade.) So you might want to begin saving your pennies now for the 2001 blowout. Individual events start as low as $50 per person, while deluxe packages can run up to $475 per person. Festival organizers can be reached at 305-913-3164.
The Missionaries of Charity, Mother Theresa's order of nuns, are the motors that run this convent, also a home for battered women and the best soup kitchen in town. On any given day except Thursday (cook's day off), 250 homeless people eat a hearty breakfast or a full-course meal in the cafeteria at the home, one of many throughout the world. Doors are open to the down-and-out denizens of Miami from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Three long tables and 180 chairs await the tired, strung out, and hungry. Maria, a 38-year-old woman who's been homeless for two years, says she normally eats at Camillus House, but "I come here just for the spaghetti. It's first-class." At 4:00 p.m. domestic-violence victims can have dinner from the good mother's kitchen.
"I'll be with you until two this morning. If you have something you want to weigh in on, maybe the over/under for the Marlins, give me a call. Maybe the upcoming NFL draft. I was just going -- " Anyone with even a splash of radio experience knows how hard it is to fill dead time between callers. As the host of the late-shift sports talk show on WQAM-AM (560), Ed Kaplan is more adept at this than just about anybody. Almost every weeknight he can be heard delivering long soliloquies on Pat Riley, horseracing, or maybe something he read in the paper. If the board isn't lit up with callers, he'll just keep talking -- and talking and talking. "Don't get me wrong about Bobby Knight," he might muse. "The man can coach, no doubt about it. I'm just saying he's a jerk." At age 39 Kaplan walked away from a successful law practice to pursue a career in sports broadcasting. Sixteen years later he's still on the air, working weeknights from 10:00 until the last game is played on the West Coast. He specializes in gambling, his discourses often veering into point spreads and handicapping. This pari-mutuel focus comes in handy on a slow sports night, when he may spend ten minutes reading from a list of upcoming races scheduled for the Flagler Dog Track. Kaplan is so skilled at talking nowadays that listeners might not even notice the padding. "QAM sports time is 1:35," he'll say. The Spalding Gray of local sports talk radio finally takes a break.

Think of it as Kiwanis with attitude, or the 'hood's chamber of commerce. One thing's for sure, businesses in NANA, as it's known, don't go down easily. NANA members (about 150 merchants are in the organization) believe there are far too few black-owned businesses to begin with, so they'll fight tooth and nail to save the ones that are up and running. For instance in April a landlord tried to evict Betty's Market from a building on NW 60th Street and Twelfth Avenue for nonpayment of rent, among other things. NANA members, led by founder Leroy Jones, sprang into action with street protests outside and subtler negotiations with the landlord inside. By the end of the affair, Betty's Market was back in business. Members even helped raise funds to restock the shelves.

From the day she began writing for the Miami Herald in 1982, first as a freelancer then as a staffer, Meg Laughlin has wrapped her prose around the lives of some of South Florida's strangest characters and most disturbing stories. We love her for that. At Tropic magazine she chronicled the bizarre machinations of Hank Blair, a U.S. Customs agent who couldn't stop himself from sadistically harassing Susan Billig, the mother of a young girl who mysteriously disappeared decades ago. She looked into the cops' killing of bus hijacker "Nick" Sang and found that the Joe's Stone Crab waiter wasn't what he seemed to be. Laughlin showed us the depth of suffering Magda Montiel Davis experienced after kissing Fidel Castro. And then there's Elian. Laughlin enlivened the Herald's occasionally lackluster coverage of the case with sparkling writing and ample enterprise. She was the one who toted up the eleven times Marisleysis Gonzalez was hospitalized. And it was she who figured out how Demetrio Perez and company were programming the six-year-old at Perez's Lincoln-Martí school. She had no problem cadging Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin into admitting the weird reason she took a side in the custody battle for Elian. All part of a day's work. Says Laughlin: "I'm gonna miss the kid."
Invitations are for the spineless masses and the spiritually lazy. Who are these elite snobs to banish you from their South Beach soirees? What do Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio have that you don't? Money? Looks? Fame? Bah! Level the playing field with the one thing you do have over them: smarts. This takes just a little preparation. First scour the papers for news of a fab event. Then call those responsible and make your pitch. If it's a PR firm, remember the name of it as well as the name of the person with whom you spoke. Say you are "media." Make up the name of some fashion magazine -- Cut or Plastic or some such. If they say they've never heard of you, say it's a Condé Nast prototype due out in the fall. Make sure you dress appropriately. You also can show up at the door with attitude. Approach the person holding the list and give your name. When they can't find it, roll your eyes, look pissed and say, "Maurice with that PR firm, whateveritscalled, phoned me personally, and I told him I'd only do this if he made sure I didn't have to wait at the door." Once inside drink copiously, drop names, and try hard to have fun.
Let's see now, in just the past twelve months, there has been a series of hunger strikes to free immigrants held at the Krome Detention Center. "Nobody listened to me," Marta Berros, leader of the group Mothers for Freedom, told the Herald. "My son was being tortured, and nobody wanted to listen until I did the hunger strike." Members of exile organization Vigilia Mambisa protested the Los Van Van concert at the Miami Arena with a "daylight hunger strike," not eating for two days from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. A group known as Municipalities in Exile made their strike (in solidarity with fasting dissidents in Cuba) even more palatable by fasting from only 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Hunger-striking Haitian detainee Arnel Belizaire dropped nearly 100 pounds after he stopped eating solid food to protest his INS incarceration. This past January his lawyers admitted that Belizaire might not realize his hunger strike could be "a futile action." Only a few months earlier, Democracy Movement leader Ramon Saul Sanchez launched a twenty-day, liquids-only hunger strike to win release of his boat Human Rights, which the feds had impounded. His strike was not a futile action. After the boat was returned, Sanchez transported it to Jose Martí Park, where he and 100 others celebrated its return. Food and drink, appropriately, were not served.
John de Leon straddles the fence -- bravely and proudly. In the past year, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Greater Miami dared to write an editorial calling for Elian Gonzalez's dad to raise his own kid. At the same time he listened to complaints of excessive force filed by exile protesters who wanted Elian to stay in Miami. He filed a lawsuit against the City of Miami when its leaders tried to block the Cuban band Los Van Van from playing within city limits, and then he supported the exile hard-liners who protested outside the Miami Arena, where the concert eventually was held. He angrily denounced the ban of Cigar Aficionado's Cuba issue at Miami International Airport, yet quickly leaped to the defense of the six Cuban rafters hosed and pepper-sprayed by the Coast Guard when they tried to land in Surfside. De Leon is sensitive to the concerns of the exile community (his parents arrived from Cuba in 1959), yet he is painfully aware of its unfortunate propensity for trampling on the First Amendment. He may hold the most important job in Miami. "What we saw," he said after the Los Van Van show, "was a highly charged event on both sides. But the community was relatively unscathed by the whole thing, and I think it demonstrated to everybody that people can have strongly opposing viewpoints and be able to express them and live together in the same place." True. And in no small part because of de Leon's difficult work.
It's getting harder and harder to recommend anything on Ocean Drive, especially a hotel. For a night of partying, the crowds and the noise can still be seductive as part of the SoBe experience. But for postparty hours, when quality lounging quarters are required, that cacophonous street life should be a distant and silent memory. Which is why the Tides is an amazing oasis. For some nearly inexplicable reason, those few steps that lead up and off Ocean Drive toward this calm and cool hotel continue to transport you to another world. As the name suggests, the Tides lulls you into the lap of luxury. Unlike other fabulous hotels, such as the Delano and the Biltmore, crowds don't throng the lobby and pool area. In fact the pool is on the mezzanine, not something you often see around here. It's secluded and elegant, like everything else at the Tides. But let's get straight to the point: Whether you're a local or a visitor, if you're going to throw down some bucks (and here you most definitely will, as rates range from $300 to $2000), a room with a view is imperative. At the Tides every room has an ocean view, a simply fabulous view. The Art Deco hotel, built in 1936, is one of the tallest buildings in the area, so there's nothing to obstruct your sightlines. The whole place, from the lobby to the restaurants to the huge rooms (45 of them), is draped from head to toe in a egg-shell color. The sandy shade conveys the feeling, especially while you're in a fluffy beige robe sitting in your room staring out at the blue expanse of the Atlantic, of being safely ensconced under a huge soundproof cabana on the beach, 1000 miles from the cares and the crowds of the world.
Ungurait is the spokesman for one of the most overworked and politically perilous government offices anywhere. Yet he remains helpful and straightforward in the face of even the most taxing demands. No question is too small, no fact too obscure. Ungurait will research and promptly report back. The infrequent times he can't dig up all the details or answer you immediately, he'll apologize and get on with the job. That inspires confidence, which is almost an oxymoron when applied to the world of flacking.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®