It goes without saying that in South Florida it's rare to find politicians who don't betray themselves and their constituents within 30 minutes of taking the oath of office. But the newest Miami City Commissioner, a quick study and a hard worker, has remained true to his beliefs: Always be honest and straightforward, keep citizens' interests first, no backroom funny business. Winton's rectitude was most evident in his handling of the site-selection process for the Florida Marlins' proposed stadium. Citizens and activists who feared the Marlins were going to steamroll the city into accepting its demand that the stadium be located in Bicentennial Park found a champion in Winton. While most of Miami's established power structure believed it was a foregone conclusion that the team would usurp the park, Winton countered that the city commission had formed a task force to explore ways to reinvigorate that neglected parcel of land and turn it into a jewel. He argued that it was wrong simply to brush aside those efforts so the Marlins could place a concrete behemoth on the water. His willingness to speak out in a forceful manner galvanized public opinion against the Marlins and forced the team to accept an alternate location.
The array of lights illuminating the 47-story Bank of America Tower quite literally provides a beacon in a city that too often seems to lose its way. Public officials are hauled off in disgrace at an alarming rate. Racial and ethnic tensions threaten to boil over at any moment. Cold-war passions still dominate civic life. But on any given night we can glance up at the Miami skyline and see the tower bathed in soothing bands of colors: red, white, and blue on the Fourth of July; red on Valentine's Day; orange and green to salute UM's football squad; icy blue with giant snowflakes at the winter holidays. We gaze upon it and instinctively our mood softens. Beyond that, the structure's history entails the kind of bumpy ride that is the Miami experience. Designed by famed architect I.M. Pei, it was inaugurated as the headquarters for David Paul's CenTrust Savings Bank in 1987. CenTrust collapsed, and Paul went to prison for gutting the institution. The Resolution Trust Corporation has sold it twice since then. Current owner is National Office Partners, which considers the building's illumination to be a serious matter. "We view this as a civic-pride thing, really," says property manager Jay Windsor. Two workers require nearly four hours to change the colored lenses on nearly 400 1000-watt lights. But one glance at the incandescent glow over a darkened Biscayne Bay and you can see it's clearly worth the effort, a reminder that no matter what else, we live in a beautiful place. Sometimes that's enough.
The symbolic heart of Little Havana once again is beating strong, thanks to an infusion of new blood from artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. The old landmarks are still there. The smells of café cubano and oven-roasted pork still emanate from El Pub. Domino Park remains the site of some of the fiercest domino games and political conversation anywhere. And the historic Tower Theater has reopened as a neighborhood cinema. But what's really put this strip back on the map is its growing arts scene, a collection of studios and galleries that has turned the area into Miami's cultural district. The best way to get acquainted with all that's new -- and old -- on Calle Ocho is to attend Viernes Culturales, Cultural Fridays, a neighborhood open house and street festival held the last Friday of every month.

Who will ever forget those images of well-dressed young men with neatly cropped hair pounding on the doors of the Miami-Dade County Elections Department during the height of the presidential recount? And when a few of them erroneously thought county Democratic Party chairman Joe Geller was trying to steal ballots, they pounced on him like he was the last piece of Brie at a wine-and-cheese social. Initially television viewers must have thought the hooligans were local citizens, but anyone living in Miami knew right away this wasn't a hometown horde. For one thing there wasn't a single guayabera in the crowd. Sure enough it turned out this rabble was imported from out of state, many of them the aides to Republican congressmen from around the nation. Eventually the roving band of Republican thugs was forced to disperse, but not before they caused Miami-Dade County to cancel its recount and ensure a victory for George W. Bush.
Led by Mayor Julio Robaina, the City of South Miami passed an ordinance last year requiring gun owners to place safety locks on all weapons. The measure is intended to reduce the number of accidental shootings, especially those involving children. "We're trying to protect the safety of the children of this community," Robaina declared. "And this is just the beginning." Despite heavy pressure from the National Rifle Association and a lawsuit attempting to derail the law, Robaina and the South Miami City Commission have remained steadfast in their support, mounting an aggressive gun-safety education campaign in addition to handing out free gun locks to any individual who asks for one. During the kick-off celebration of the campaign last August, city officials distributed more than 300 locks. Individuals who do not comply with the law will be subject to a $250 fine for their first infraction, $500 for their second. Already the South Miami ordinance is being copied by cities and counties around the nation.

True, animal-rights activists are up in arms about it, but it's difficult to resist the experience of actually getting into a tank and splashing around with the Seaquarium's dolphins. Shooting through the warm water like a, well, dolphin, watching them leap above and around you is a kick for kids and adults alike. But it's titillation with a price. You'll pay $125 per swimmer. And if you're allowing your kid to do it but want to watch, that's an extra $32. And children are required to have a guardian present, so consider that fee mandatory. Fortunately the money buys you some safety and reassurance as well: Four trainers are in the tanks along with three to five dolphins per session. Just one warning: Raw sardines may be a treat for the dolphins, but it's doubtful you'll find them as tasty.

The dreamer dreams that we are watching his dreams. On the back of the Buick Building in the Design District is a magical diptych by husband-and-wife artist team Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt. The 35-by-50-foot digital print of an original oil painting depicts a man sleeping peacefully in a bed. In the panel next to him is an Angel and Devil box. "In fact he is dreaming, perhaps of who he will be that very day," says Behar with a mischievous laugh. "Am I going to be the good Roberto or the bad Roberto?" The piece was designed to be seen from the westbound lanes of the Julia Tuttle Causeway, a reminder to drivers of the intimate space they've just left behind as they guide their cars to work. Real estate developer Craig Robins commissioned and financed the piece, which went up February 2000. Behar and Marquardt don't really consider the work a mural; they think of it as a two-dimensional sculpture because details from the diptych -- two surreal portraits hanging in the sleeping man's room -- also adorn the front of the building. The artists say that creates a sense of "seeing through the building."
The only invitation you need to this soiree is a big, fat full moon climbing into the night sky. Each month, on the official calendar night of the full moon, an often motley but gentle crew assembles on the sand -- with no central planning and no velvet rope. The crowd can grow as large as 500; 1000 is not unheard of. Over the course of the nighttime hours, the Beach is transformed from a tourist mecca where the self-satisfied lounge to a vibrant, feral gathering. You make your own fun here. There's no bar and no sound system. But inevitably drum circles form, people chant, and dancing erupts spontaneously. Sit in the sand and stare at the ocean. Strike up a conversation with that aging hippie or that sleek young club kid or the bewildered sales rep who stumbled up from the Loews hotel. When was the last time you returned home from a night on South Beach with sand in your shoes, a smile on your face, and money still in your wallet?
Sometimes an activist craves a little action. In these post-Elian days, politicos of the Cuban-exile community are full of words like tolerance, understanding, and mutual respect. That's all fine and dandy, but it's also, well, a little boring. For any ideologues pining for the bomb-throwing glory days of el exilio, try an issue of ¡Grita!, where the prevailing sentiment is "The Cold War's not over until we say it's over!" Vintage right-wing rants brand Bill Clinton an "extreme leftist" (Lord only knows where they place Jesse Jackson on the political spectrum) while decrying the closet Marxists ensconced within Brickell Avenue's tony high-rises, all just itching for a little commie subversion. (Somebody warn Johnny Winton!) All that plus goofily over-the-top cartoons that single out Alex Penelas for as much abuse as good old Fidel. ¡Viva las pragmatistas!
Every successful liberation movement has its printed matter. American patriots rallied support for the U.S. Constitution with the Federalist Papers; students railed against the Vietnam War with rags like the Berkeley Barb; the Sandinistas published Barricada while wearing down the Somoza dictatorship. Here in Miami we have Urban Environment League's Urban Forum. The diminutive gazette (six by eight inches) is cute, but it packs a rhetorical wallop. "Make no mistake about it," wrote attorney and UEL member John de Leon in a 1999 issue, "public property belongs to all of us -- rich, poor, black, white, landowners, and the dispossessed -- and not to some politicians who are trying to sell these properties as a quick fix for the financial mess they may have created." That was an early salvo in a skirmish that grew into the war over the future of Bicentennial Park. When hostilities were in full rage, UEL president Gregory Bush penned this epic prose for the October/November 2000 issue: "If you seek explanations for the progress made in revitalizing the waterfronts of Sydney, Baltimore, Portland, New York, Charleston, Providence, and Seattle ... there appears to be a common thread related to time, courage, and vision. It takes time to forge a consensus behind a coherent plan of action. It takes time to listen to the voices from nearby neighborhoods and to assess the different constituencies throughout the region.... Without a thoughtful and powerful vision, poorly thought-out decisions will predominate." The Forum chronicles other land-use and planning struggles as well, though the civic equivalent of guerrilla warfare sometimes leads to irregular publishing dates. Back issues are available on the group's Website (www.uel.org).

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®