BEST POLITICAL CONVICTION IN THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS

Pat Tornillo

The former United Teachers of Dade boss was a throwback to the days of smoke-filled rooms that admitted only good ol' boys. In 40 years Tornillo built the UTD into a political machine that propelled to power numerous school-board members, state legislators, even governors. With that kind of clout (and total control of the union), it wasn't so surprising to discover that the man's sense of entitlement led him to consider the UTD treasury his personal piggy bank. Audits revealed that Tornillo had embezzled at least $2.5 million to finance a lavish lifestyle that included luxury gifts for his wife, ritzy hotel rooms (some right here in Miami), and an extravagant three-week vacation that burned up $50,000 -- roughly the cost of hiring a new teacher with a master's degree and fifteen years' experience. On August 26, 2003, Tornillo pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion and mail fraud. Many were outraged at the lenient 27-month prison term he received, and incensed that he wasn't required to cooperate in further investigations. But he did get caught, and he was prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated. In Miami, that's a rare achievement.

BEST POLITICAL CONVICTION IN THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS

Pat Tornillo

The former United Teachers of Dade boss was a throwback to the days of smoke-filled rooms that admitted only good ol' boys. In 40 years Tornillo built the UTD into a political machine that propelled to power numerous school-board members, state legislators, even governors. With that kind of clout (and total control of the union), it wasn't so surprising to discover that the man's sense of entitlement led him to consider the UTD treasury his personal piggy bank. Audits revealed that Tornillo had embezzled at least $2.5 million to finance a lavish lifestyle that included luxury gifts for his wife, ritzy hotel rooms (some right here in Miami), and an extravagant three-week vacation that burned up $50,000 -- roughly the cost of hiring a new teacher with a master's degree and fifteen years' experience. On August 26, 2003, Tornillo pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion and mail fraud. Many were outraged at the lenient 27-month prison term he received, and incensed that he wasn't required to cooperate in further investigations. But he did get caught, and he was prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated. In Miami, that's a rare achievement.

Modern condo high-rises may tower over the five-block area just east of Biscayne Boulevard between 68th and 72nd streets, but history still lives there -- in the 208 houses of oolitic limestone, Dade County pine, and keystone that sit on the tree-lined streets of Bayside, designated an historic district by the City of Miami in 1991. Each street was platted individually between 1909 and 1925 by different folks, yielding four separate subdivisions and much later a patch of greenery dubbed Baywood Park. Along 68th Street, settlers from Elmira, New York, came down at the end of the Nineteenth Century and created the Elmira Colony, now one of Miami's oldest intact planned communities. Paving the road with seashells, the pioneers put up frame vernacular houses reminiscent of their northern abodes. One lovely home from 1903 remains. In the 1920s Coral Gables mastermind George Merrick and developer Wykoff & Estes got their hands on 70th Street, calling it Acadia and plunking down a batch of Mediterranean Revival houses. The Krames-Corlett Company's Baywood subdivision laid claim to 69th and 71st streets; and millionaire developer Samuel Prescott named 72nd Street "Washington Place." His stunning mansion at 72nd and Tenth Avenue, which once featured a golf course, has been there since 1923. One of the last bayfront estates in northeast Miami, the dilapidated house has been a sitting duck for years, repeatedly marked for demolition by developers, and even used as shelter by visiting anarchists during last year's FTAA meetings. Majestic Properties' Jeff Morr recently purchased the home, so who knows what its fate may be. Whatever the future holds for Bayside, it's certain the wise residents of this architecturally eclectic district will ensure it survives and thrives as one of the city's most pleasant neighborhoods.

Modern condo high-rises may tower over the five-block area just east of Biscayne Boulevard between 68th and 72nd streets, but history still lives there -- in the 208 houses of oolitic limestone, Dade County pine, and keystone that sit on the tree-lined streets of Bayside, designated an historic district by the City of Miami in 1991. Each street was platted individually between 1909 and 1925 by different folks, yielding four separate subdivisions and much later a patch of greenery dubbed Baywood Park. Along 68th Street, settlers from Elmira, New York, came down at the end of the Nineteenth Century and created the Elmira Colony, now one of Miami's oldest intact planned communities. Paving the road with seashells, the pioneers put up frame vernacular houses reminiscent of their northern abodes. One lovely home from 1903 remains. In the 1920s Coral Gables mastermind George Merrick and developer Wykoff & Estes got their hands on 70th Street, calling it Acadia and plunking down a batch of Mediterranean Revival houses. The Krames-Corlett Company's Baywood subdivision laid claim to 69th and 71st streets; and millionaire developer Samuel Prescott named 72nd Street "Washington Place." His stunning mansion at 72nd and Tenth Avenue, which once featured a golf course, has been there since 1923. One of the last bayfront estates in northeast Miami, the dilapidated house has been a sitting duck for years, repeatedly marked for demolition by developers, and even used as shelter by visiting anarchists during last year's FTAA meetings. Majestic Properties' Jeff Morr recently purchased the home, so who knows what its fate may be. Whatever the future holds for Bayside, it's certain the wise residents of this architecturally eclectic district will ensure it survives and thrives as one of the city's most pleasant neighborhoods.

You know you like each other. Now all you need is the spark that will set your love aflame. The grand circular lobby at the Eden Roc provides the perfect backdrop for larger-than-life romance. Get in the mood with a dry martini at the lobby bar while Patrick tickles the ivories and sings "The Way You Look Tonight." Hollywood-style romance. Then make like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity on the spa's white sand beach. If all goes well, you may find yourself playing Raquel Welch to Frank Sinatra's Tony Rome: "Room service? Please send up a bottle of champagne. And two glasses."

Not just a building, it's a work of art. Maybe. Perhaps someday before we all die. In the meantime, the signs along the perimeter of this taxpayer-funded mess might read: "It's not just an ill-conceived albatross rife with multimillion-dollar cost overruns and design blunders, it's also a mangled mass of girders and construction guts spilling out onto Biscayne Boulevard, Fourteenth Street, and NE Second Avenue, mucking up the skyline and tying up traffic for years."

Not just a building, it's a work of art. Maybe. Perhaps someday before we all die. In the meantime, the signs along the perimeter of this taxpayer-funded mess might read: "It's not just an ill-conceived albatross rife with multimillion-dollar cost overruns and design blunders, it's also a mangled mass of girders and construction guts spilling out onto Biscayne Boulevard, Fourteenth Street, and NE Second Avenue, mucking up the skyline and tying up traffic for years."

While most stateside bands balk at making the drive all the way down to our southern tip of the Florida peninsula, the Rhythm Foundation for more than ten years has been bringing in top international acts from every part of the globe. Last year the foundation's TransAtlantic Festival introduced locals to some of the best and hottest World Music acts on the planet. From the Gotan Project (Argentina via Paris) to UK/Colombia's Sidestepper, Brazil's DJ Dolores, and Brooklyn's Yerba Buena, the bands just kept rolling through all summer long. For those of us fortunate to stick around for the heat and humidity, TransAtlantic was a cool relief.

More than 1200 people showed up on a blustery winter day (January 17) to form a giant replica of Picasso's painting Amnistia on the sand of Miami Beach. The event was organized by the environmental group Greenpeace to protest the federal prosecution of activists who boarded a freighter ship off the coast of South Florida containing an illegal shipment of mahogany from Brazil. Participants assembled to form the image of a dove being freed from tyranny and the words "Endangered Freedoms" as DJ Le Spam and the Spam Allstars mixed African funk beats with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and other civil rights heroes. The protest showed that Miamians are actually concerned about the Bush administration's infringement on civil liberties with the Patriot Act -- at least concerned enough to spend a day at the beach.

"Life is a carnival," Celia Cruz sang famously in her 1998 hit "La Vida es un Carnaval." Turns out that for the Salsa Queen, death was a carnival too. On July 19, 2003, three days after the 78-year-old singer's death, more than 70,000 bereft fans showed up to pay their last respects during her nine-hour public wake at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami. Local officials and music-industry honchos put the wake together in an astonishing display of civic unity. Mourners from around the world held signs proclaiming their love in a line that stretched from Biscayne Boulevard and Sixth Street to Miami Avenue and Thirteenth Street. Inside her casket, the Queen looked resplendent in a blond wig, white evening gown, and shimmering jewels. As the mourners filed by her coffin, her hits echoed from a sound system beneath the Freedom Tower's vaulted ceilings. When "Rie y Llora" played, the last hit the star recorded, her voice seemed to come from heaven. She comforted her faithful with the chorus: "Laugh. Cry. Everyone's hour arrives."

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®