Early last year political novices Vanessa Bravo, Cindy Miel, and Adriana Narvaez announced that they intended to oust three incumbent Hialeah city councilmen. The incumbents were toadies of Mayor for Life Raul Martinez, and so political pundits warned that the ladies would be obliterated by the well-oiled Martinez machine. But after campaigning in every nook and cranny of the county's second-largest city, the newcomers shocked nearly everyone: They trounced the Martinez acolytes at the polls by overwhelming margins. Absentee ballots, however, were another matter. The incumbents somehow managed to attract far more of those than the Hialeah Three. Bravo and Miel ended up winning anyway, but Narvaez lost as a result of the absentee count. (In a lawsuit she is claiming vote fraud; law-enforcement agencies are now investigating.) The ladies' success must have humiliated Martinez, judging from his subsequent behavior. Not a city council meeting now adjourns without him having publicly insulted Bravo and Miel.

It was a slow year for trades involving South Florida's major sports teams, but one that was executed with little fanfare turned out to be instrumental in a championship run. That was the trade for Jeff Conine by the Florida Marlins. One of the franchise's original players, Conine returned to his old club this past July, smack in the middle of a playoff chase. After years of consistently trading away good players, the Marlins finally revived trust and support among fans by acquiring a batter who was both productive and, more crucial, productive in the clutch. They had to give up nothing more than a couple of minor-league prospects. When there was a need for a timely hit at the end of close games, Conine was often the man. He played a major (league) role in the Marlins winning the World Series.

Could the architectural wasteland at Biscayne Boulevard and 79th Street have seemed like progress when it was built in 1954? These days Biscayne Plaza is about as feo as a strip mall can be. Developer Ed Easton and a partner bought it for three million dollars in 1983 with hopes of attracting shoppers from all around town. Today the yellowish two-story structure sprawls over a dreary asphalt landscape where Pier One, Starbucks, even Walgreens dare not tread because robbers frequently do. But this intersection could be a sleek northern gateway to the Magic City, or so savvy urban designers tell us. Instead it says: "Welcome to Miami: Home of Payless Shoes, Dollar Stores, and Ugly Strip Malls." A big part of the problem, by today's standards, is that whoever designed the plaza had his head on backward. "They were applying suburban design principles to an urban condition, which is what Miami's zoning code still does," sighs Maria Nardi, former chief of urban design for the City of Miami. Instead of the current layout -- a 73,000-square-foot parking lot between the street and the storefronts -- the cool thing would have been to place the storefronts adjacent to the street and the parking behind the structures or in a beautifully concealed garage. Shops abutting the sidewalks, trees providing some shade. Above, as many floors of offices (or lofts) as developers desire. See the area bustle with happy pedestrians. Watch residential property values rise in Shorecrest to the east and Little Haiti to the west. So what's the holdup? Maybe the holdups. But also this: Today the rent even from lower-class tenants is all gravy. Easton has little incentive to sell. "It's a cash cow," says one knowledgeable developer. "They're making a killing."

Could the architectural wasteland at Biscayne Boulevard and 79th Street have seemed like progress when it was built in 1954? These days Biscayne Plaza is about as feo as a strip mall can be. Developer Ed Easton and a partner bought it for three million dollars in 1983 with hopes of attracting shoppers from all around town. Today the yellowish two-story structure sprawls over a dreary asphalt landscape where Pier One, Starbucks, even Walgreens dare not tread because robbers frequently do. But this intersection could be a sleek northern gateway to the Magic City, or so savvy urban designers tell us. Instead it says: "Welcome to Miami: Home of Payless Shoes, Dollar Stores, and Ugly Strip Malls." A big part of the problem, by today's standards, is that whoever designed the plaza had his head on backward. "They were applying suburban design principles to an urban condition, which is what Miami's zoning code still does," sighs Maria Nardi, former chief of urban design for the City of Miami. Instead of the current layout -- a 73,000-square-foot parking lot between the street and the storefronts -- the cool thing would have been to place the storefronts adjacent to the street and the parking behind the structures or in a beautifully concealed garage. Shops abutting the sidewalks, trees providing some shade. Above, as many floors of offices (or lofts) as developers desire. See the area bustle with happy pedestrians. Watch residential property values rise in Shorecrest to the east and Little Haiti to the west. So what's the holdup? Maybe the holdups. But also this: Today the rent even from lower-class tenants is all gravy. Easton has little incentive to sell. "It's a cash cow," says one knowledgeable developer. "They're making a killing."

Who needs a seven-foot center? Not the Miami Heat. They've found competitiveness without some towering freak taller than most trees. A small, fast approach can work when a team rosters a number of versatile weapons, the best of whom is this 6-foot 4-inch rookie guard who can play the point, shoot the nets out, pass with precision, and launch himself above the big freaks to slam home a highlight-reel dunk. Wade's NBA arrival is like one of his ferocious slams, hinting at (dare we say) "Michael potential." The young man also happens to have helped the Heat reshape itself into a potential championship team. Off the court, Wade is a quiet, sleepy-looking, 22-year-old family man. But on the hardwood his cross-over move could break an opponent's ankle and his gravity-belying acrobatics can make a Heat fan out of a New Yorker. Can a kid turn around a team quickly and thoroughly? If his name's Dwyane Wade, bet it all he can.

"If It's Tourist Season,Why Can't We Go Ahead and Shoot 'Em?"

"If It's Tourist Season,Why Can't We Go Ahead and Shoot 'Em?"

If weathercasters were ever accurate, this award would probably go to the one who was most often on the money about rain showers and cold fronts. But because forecasts are all the same and as reliable as a Bush administration intelligence report, the winner here must have something beyond the latest bulletin from the weather bureau. No weathercaster is as easy on the eyes as WSVN-TV's Jackie Johnson (Channel 7). Attractive, shapely, a self-described "outdoor girl" from Michigan, Double J has made the weather segment a must-see, especially among young males who judge women by superficialities like attractiveness, figure, and affinity for the outdoors. Her station knows this way too well: Sex appeal is what makes Johnson and WSVN a perfect match. She even has a special feature, "Living It Up," wherein assignments range from learning to handle the throttle on a speedboat to playing beach volleyball to "surfing" on South Beach. Segments like the last thrust a scantily clad, dripping wet Johnson straight into your throbbing living room. And you thought meteorologists were boring.

A lovely hot winter's afternoon on this winding way through the Everglades adjacent to Tamiami Trail. Indians in new-model sedans waving as they blow by. Two French women pigmenting canvases with the bold black-and-white images of wood storks set against the verdancy of piny perches. A dozen alligators basking by the shallows. A rubber-booted phycologist holding a magnifying glass above a scummy rock. An assortment of unusual structures that nonconformists call home. An eyes-to-the-ground snake collector toting a pillowcase and walking stick. An anhinga spreading its wings after a postlunch swim. The blue and white of the endless sky giving way to the ochre-orange fade of the sun. Peace in the swamp. And then -- yikes! Pickup trucks with Confederate flags across the rear windows screech to a halt. Out spring cropped-top, fatigue-wearing, gun-toting, painted-face warriors of unknown affiliation. Seriously serious-looking soldiers without a war whom one dare not risk approaching. In fact hitting the gas and getting the hell out of there is the right idea. Talk about your freaks of nature.

BEST REASON TO STAY IN MIAMI FOR THE SUMMER

No tourists

Yes, the clouds that billow over the Everglades and march east to erupt violently are breathtaking. So is the warmth of the ocean at midnight. But the best reason to stick around here during the swelter season is more basic: Nearly everyone is gone. Well, at least the people you want to be gone -- the tourists, conventioneers, and migratory snowbirds who flee at the first sign of serious humidity. As a result, parking spaces appear. Lines at the movies shrink. Restaurant reservations no longer need to be made a month in advance. And the nights are calm and quiet and fragrant with jasmine.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®