Well, okay, the Lord never said, "Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor with electoral fraud." But Tony! Neither did He say, "Go forth and bear false witness to petition signatures because homosexuals belongeth to an axis of evil." In the absence of an explicit prohibition, our local Christian Coalition leader apparently figured there'd be no problem. The issue was repeal of the Miami-Dade law forbidding discrimination against our neighbors because they are gay, lesbian, bi, straight, or asexual. Last August state law-enforcement officers arrested Verdugo and charged him with one felony count of false swearing during the Take Back Miami-Dade petition drive that forced this repeal question onto the September 10, 2002 ballot. (Agents also arrested three others in the Take Back family.) A few hours later Verdugo was out on bond, unrepentant, and preaching on AM radio about how he had been framed by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, the supervisor of elections, various prosecutors, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and other members of the homosexualist Mafia. Verdugo hit bottom, however, when he took little Elian's name in vain. He told listeners that his own arrest reminded him of that early morning in April 2000 when federal agents swooped in and snatched the miracle child. Verdugo now knows the power of mercy, if he didn't before. Because he was a first-time offender, prosecutors gave him the option of performing community service instead of standing trial. And so the charge was dropped.

No doubt about it, the hands-down winner this year was the touring production of the long-running, groundbreaking Broadway musical hit, featuring director Julie Taymor's stunning visual imagination. Using a blend of lithe, live actors; huge carnival-like puppets; and an array of exotic theatrical traditions, Taymor took the popular Disney animated movie and did it one better, reinventing it as spectacular, unforgettable theater. The Lion King blended traditional American musical elements with classic literature (the story of a dispossessed lion cub is a reworking of Hamlet) together with a joyful celebration of African culture. The show was also a happy merger of art and commerce as the Broward Center for the Performing Arts was packed throughout the show's sold-out run.

Take some advice from Art History 101. Sit on one of the benches in the center of the main gallery and fix your eyes on a far corner of the room. Then take a visual sweep along the walls, making smaller and smaller circles, until you see an intriguing piece of ... art. Sidle into the side gallery behind your whimsically dressed, scruffily coifed subject. Pretend you are engaged in a "happening." If he shares your conceptual bent, invite him to the garden where courtship will commence to the atonal strains of some IDM DJ. If you're really lucky, you can then lead him into some sort of throbbing, dimly lit, vaguely perverted installation in the former crack house next door.

The 37-year-old Garcia was known in Havana as the host of the television program De la Gran Escena (From the Big Scene). "I talked about literature, film, and theater," he says. Anything but politics. His eschewing of that, he says, cost him his job in 1999, after fourteen years on the Cuban national boob tube. "I want to live in a society where debating and thinking is possible, not in a trench in which ideas are used to exclude someone from professional life or from the civil society of a country." Here, on his WQBA-AM (1140) nighttime talk show La Noche Se Mueve (The Night Moves), he is constantly declaiming the importance of pluralism, freedom of expression, the U.S. Constitution, and respect for ideas. "Those things don't fly in a totalitarian society," he notes wryly. Sometimes they don't fly in Miami. For example, when other locutors of the AM waves recently took up the subject of Havana-based pro-democracy dissident Oswaldo Payá, they and callers ragged on Payá for being a dupe of the Castro regime. Garcia, in contrast, had a show featuring Payá himself via telephone so callers could rag on him directly. (Others praised Payá, while some actually attempted to inform themselves by asking him questions.) Because Miami is Miami, Garcia's pluralistic tendencies draw accusations that he is a Red. One night the seemingly harmless topic was "integration" -- as in Cubans in the "diaspora" reuniting with their estranged compatriots on the island. An angry caller boasted that he had left Cuba in 1968 and would never go back until the Communists are gone. He was also sure that most people who travel to and from Cuba and talk about democracy are secretly Communists. The caller even suspected there was a "Fidelito" (little Fidel) hiding inside Edmundo. The host wholeheartedly disagreed, but instead of yelling, he threw the First Amendment at the caller. "You think there's a Fidelito in me," Garcia summarized, "and that's your opinion."

Since its first performance in 1997, Maximum Dance has offered Miami balletophiles a refreshing alternative to the tediously typical tutued-lady-lead-dancer-lifted-by-boy-prop programs. Though co-directors/choreographers David Palmer and Yanis Pikieris have put in time as principal dancers with respected older groups like the Joffrey and Miami City Ballet, their own electrically energetic ensemble does muscular, modern-way-beyond-Balanchine ballet that is deliciously unpredictable. Their works have been set to an astonishing variety of music -- classical composers like Handel and Lizst, modern masters like Philip Glass, stoner faves like Pink Floyd, even some original scores. The dances themselves are just as varied, ranging from this past season's world premiere of The Four Seasons, a romantic neoclassical piece set to Vivaldi's familiar score; to the hysterically humorous Grand Pas d'Action, a dance-off pitting a snooty classical ballet couple against a slinky modern-dance duo. The company also performs educational programs, including a charming children's Peter and the Wolf. Performances this past season included one in Belgium with the Royal Ballet of Flanders, but downtown's Gusman Center continues to be Maximum's performing home. Let's hope we can keep 'em here.

She came from St. Louis to Miami, innocent and earnest, to get her degree in physical therapy from UM. She got it and began aiding old folks and kids with accident or disease-based problems. An admirable life of helping others. But then she caught a glimpse of the Miami Heat dancers and succumbed to her inner star complex. It's been downhill ever since. Before long Trista was in Los Angeles, a popular finalist on ABC's dreadful The Bachelor, in which a guy goes through 25 hapless ladies to see which one he'll marry. True love on reality TV? Many in here shuddered to think she represented, however tenuously, the best Miami had to offer. When she didn't make the final cut, her audience popularity (imagine that audience...) led boob tube honchos to give her a spinoff all her own: The Bachelorette. This time she got to go through 25 guys and dump 24 of them. Just in time for the final episode, and with commercial sponsors lining up for the kill, she picked a poetry-writing fireman. "We're still together and in love," she recently ventured, adding (to no one's surprise) that she was now looking for a more permanent TV or movie job.

Here's how it (and she) went down: In October 2002 Democratic state Representative Betancourt became the first elected Cuban American in Miami-Dade County to openly oppose the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. Her foe, state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, claimed the embargo was Betancourt's only issue. It didn't matter to Diaz-Balart, a Republican, that Betancourt actually did have other issues: prescription drug benefits for the elderly, a clean environment, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars her opponent was getting from greedy special-interest groups. For a while it seemed that Diaz-Balart's only issue was his claim that Betancourt had only one issue. But like Betancourt, he had others: prescription drug benefits for the elderly, a clean environment, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars he was getting from civic-minded special-interest groups. In the end Diaz-Balart crushed Betancourt 65 percent to 35 percent (74,424 votes to 40,438). Three months after Betancourt's loss, a Schroth opinion poll provided an explanation: A majority of Cubans in Broward and Miami-Dade still support the embargo 60 to 28 percent. But the survey also confirmed Betancourt's assertion that U.S.-Cuba policy is "incoherent." In her campaign she had noted that "some of the same people" who support the embargo also travel regularly to Cuba and each year send hundreds of millions of dollars to friends and relatives there. Indeed the poll found 47 percent in favor of lifting travel restrictions, while 46 were against and 7 undecided. But most important, Betancourt's stand broke the embargo on debating the embargo in a real live Miami-Dade political campaign.

Nicholas Cole is an odd, gentle fellow with the manner of a man not quite of this time and place. Silver of beard, typically clothed in flowing, monkish robes, Cole is a practitioner of the ancient art of storytelling. For years he's been a regular at Renaissance festivals, coffeehouses, restaurants, bookstores, and bars around South Florida. His specialty, you might have guessed, is the medieval tale, which he delivers in full costume, often with the aid of a drum. In another life Cole was a rehabilitation counselor and special-education teacher at local schools. He sometimes claims to be a 480-year-old relic of the Renaissance who is trying to find the Fountain of Youth. But his most fantastic tale isn't about knights and ladies, dragons and goblins. It's about his 2002 run for the District 2 school-board seat against wily incumbent Solomon Stinson. Now, who would believe that?

Miss Novak, dazzling in her trademark blond wig, ersatz pearls, and unshaven chest, was present at the New Times fifteenth anniversary party in December 2002. She had this to say: "Ohhhh, you work for New Times? I've got a bone to pick with you. Do you know I've never been chosen Best Drag Queen? This is stupid! You gave it to Elaine Lancaster twice, and I've been here at least as long as she has! One year you gave it to someone I never even heard of! Every queen in town can brag they've won this thing but me! I'm really good! I mean, who doesn't love me? I look like Shelley Winters! Nobody's doing what I'm doing! I'm funny! A lot of people aren't even funny! Did I say I've been here forever? How you guys can go on, year after year, and not select me, I don't know! I've been doing this ..." Or something like that. There was a fair amount of booze involved.

We're not jealous of you Jorge, we're proud! We've seen your handsome face adorning those humorous videos, and we know the rest of the world has been chuckling with them as well. We watched you win Best New Artist at the Latin Grammys, then go on to be nominated for Best Latin Pop Album at the non-Latin Grammys. You were one of the first signed up to Madonna's new label Maverick, and not just because of those looks -- we all know the other pretty boys on the charts don't write their own songs and play their own instruments like you did for Jorge Moreno. That disc that gave us the exhilarating homage to Desi Arnaz in "Babalú," and highlighted your own songwriting skills -- and mixture of styles from pop to tropical to son -- on "Mi Sufrimiento" and "Despertare." And you can still laugh at yourself. You Cuban-American honest-to-God high-quality-product-of-Miami, you go boy!

Readers Choice: Alex Rodriguez

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®