As a member of the county commission since 1993, Natacha Seijas (the former Mrs. Natacha Millan) has perfected a foolproof method of alienating people. She's mean. She's arrogant. She can throw a scowl that cracks granite. And so as she prepared to run for re-election in 2000, most political observers predicted her time was up. Her archenemy, Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, had made her defeat one of his top priorities. Her opponent in the commission race was Roberto Casas, a popular and affable member of the state Senate. Seijas's chances for survival were considered so slim that even some of her natural allies, such as Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and his stable of cronies, hedged their bets by financially supporting both candidates. But in this case the pundits were wrong. Seijas worked harder than Casas, knocking on doors and acting throughout the campaign as if she were twenty points behind in the polls. Simply put, Seijas wanted it more than Casas. And she concentrated on the right issues: responding to constituent concerns, introducing an ordinance to provide higher wages for employees of companies that do business with the county, and looking out for elderly residents. If a victory by an incumbent can ever be considered an upset, then Seijas pulled off an upset last fall, winning another four-year term. She's still mean. She's still arrogant. And she's still insufferable. But you've got to hand it to her: She fought a hell of a good race.

As the mayor of Coral Gables for the past eight years, Raul Valdes-Fauli treated the electorate as if they were serfs and he their lord and master. He was more than haughty. He was brazenly contemptuous of the public. Drunk with power, he did his best to turn the City Beautiful into the City Hideous by disregarding its history and tradition, throwing open the doors to one bloated eyesore of a development after another. But Valdes-Fauli and two other members of the city commission, Dorothy Thomson and Jim Barker, finally went too far. Last year they approved a $16.5 million construction project that included a 60,000-square-foot annex to the historic city hall. The plan also called for closing a portion of Biltmore Way. Their actions solidified public sentiment against them, and in April all three were voted out of office and replaced with a reform-minded slate of candidates that immediately halted construction on the new annex and promised to sharply regulate all future development.

In 1998, after eking out a victory in one of North Miami's ugliest mayoral elections ever, attorney Frank Wolland faced widespread doubts about his ability to overcome the town's growing racial and social rifts. At least a quarter of North Miami's 60,000 residents are Haitian; blacks now make up 55 percent of the population in this once-lily-white stronghold. Wolland's 1998 opponent, Joe Celestin, was the first Haitian to run for North Miami mayor, and his passionate supporters took the loss hard. But Wolland began an effort to encourage Haitians' involvement in civic life. He even inquired about enrolling in Kreyol classes but couldn't attend regularly. The feared ethnic polarization didn't occur in North Miami, and some Celestin supporters even wound up on Wolland's side for re-election. Thus his decision to take a breather from politics prompted a flood of calls to Wolland's law office, begging him to reconsider. "A lot of people were very unhappy," he concedes. "They came to me, and we talked it out. I just think it's time to spend a little more time with my kids and my [law practice]. So I decided to sit this one out." In retrospect Wolland's departure ushered in, as gracefully as one could hope, a new era of majority black leadership in North Miami.

The Cagney and Lacey of the Clinton administration are now in South Florida. There was never much doubt that native Miamian Janet Reno would return home, even with the hard feelings among Cuban Americans over Elian. But landing Donna Shalala as the new president of the University of Miami was indeed a coup. For political junkies looking to add a little West Wing sizzle to their next humdrum cocktail party, inviting one or (dare we imagine) both of these Beltway vixens would be just the ticket. Imagine the stories they could swap while munching on croquetas and sipping mojitos. "Well, that's what I told the president. “No, sir, I don't know if club soda is really good at removing stains.'"

They are the children of the Cuban exiles who formed modern Miami, and they are among those who will shape the future of the United States. There also is the possibility they will play leading roles in a future Cuba. But regardless of how things shake out in their ancestral home, Garcia and Ugalde are a force to be reckoned with here and now. Garcia, as many in both Miami and Washington, D.C., are aware, is the new executive director and long-time spokesman for the Cuban American National Foundation. He has been active in politics for a good part of his 37 years, and no doubt his political star will continue to ascend. Ugalde, Garcia's wife of nine years, has been less publicly visible though no less accomplished. A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard with a law degree from the University of Miami, she served for six years as associate general counsel for UM. This past February she moved into the spotlight when she was named senior advisor to Donna Shalala, the new University of Miami president and former secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration.
The county's architectural, cultural, and environmental heritage is precious and should be preserved. At least what's left of it should be preserved. For the past 25 years, the Dade Heritage Trust has worked to save historic sites (the Cape Florida lighthouse, the Miami Circle), restore historic properties, improve historic neighborhoods, and instill a sense of place and community in Miami's diverse environment. One of the trust's best functions is its annual Dade Heritage Days, a two-month spring celebration of Miami's cultural heritage that gives residents a chance to experience a bit of where their neighbors are coming from. The celebration includes hikes through the county's wild places, evenings of contemplating Haitian art or Miami Beach architecture, Miami River boat rides, and tours of the Miami Circle, Stiltsville, and the Biltmore Hotel. The list goes on.

-- Miami mayoral spokesman Jay Rhodes, reassuring the public that everything was fine, even though his boss, Joe Carollo, had just spent the night in jail on domestic-violence charges.
Thanks to the work of Barbara Stein, this 54-year-old landmark is in the final phase of a seven-million-dollar renovation that will return the Miracle Theatre to its former glory. For Stein this has been a labor of love since 1995. Along with her husband, Stein founded the Actors' Playhouse theater company in Kendall thirteen years ago but eventually relocated to Coral Gables and the Miracle Theatre. In addition to her dedication, the key to this project has been Stein's ability to persuade local companies to donate their time and services to the restoration effort. While preserving the historic nature of the building, the theater is being divided into three parts. The main theater seats 600 people; on the second floor a special children's theater, called the Balcony, can hold as many as 300 tykes and their parents. There also are plans for a more intimate black-box stage setting, which will cater to audiences of between 75 and 100.
While serving as the nation's first female attorney general, Reno appointed special prosecutors six times to investigate top officials in the Clinton administration, more than any other attorney general before her. Yes, she botched the raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, where more than 80 people died. And snatching Elian from his relatives in Little Havana didn't win her friends back home among Miami's Cuban community. But it's the way Reno left office that said something about where her heart lies. The former U.S. Attorney General bought a used pickup truck to tour the country, returned to the house her mama built by hand in 1947, and made plans to kayak the 100-mile Wilderness Waterway from Everglades City to Flamingo in Everglades National Park. Welcome home. Relax. Enjoy.

There is something pleasantly dreamlike and unreal about Black Point Marina. It's an improbable mix of natural and human construction. On some sea charts the area is known as "the featherbeds." Dog walkers have been known to meet crocodiles on Black Point's walkways. To the south looms the region's only peak, Mount Trashmore. At the marina's dockside restaurant and bar, the Pirate's Den, the beer runs cold, the food is passable, and customers can down pitchers while watching herons fish. A 1.5-mile jetty path that juts into the bay is the perfect place for a stroll afterward. Couples spread blankets on the grass. Families picnic and fish. Manmade Miami is rarely this peaceful.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®