BEST POLITICAL COUP Carlos Alvarez In late July 2003, when the director of Miami-Dade's police department entered the race to become the county's second executive mayor, no one gave him a chance against the other political war dogs in the contest. Many saw Alvarez as a fifth-place finisher behind José Cancela, Maurice Ferré, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, and Jimmy Morales. Yet Alvarez's grassroots campaign, supported by the state's largest police union and enabled by public campaign funds, inflicted serious damage on the well-oiled electoral machines operating in 2004. He obliterated Cancela, Ferré, and Diaz de la Portilla in the August primary. November 4 he clobbered Morales with a margin of nine points. His success could encourage other outsiders to take aim at one of the most entrenched political institutions the world has ever seen -- the Miami-Dade County Commission.

BEST POLITICAL MISCALCULATION José Cancela Despite a rave endorsement from the Miami Herald touting his candidacy for Miami-Dade County mayor, Cancela tanked in the August 31 first round of voting. But on the way down he pumped a lot of good money into the local political economy. The former head of Radio Unica (a Spanish-language radio network that also tanked) and darling of the chamber-of-commerce crowd came in fifth place, about 9000 votes behind fourth-place finisher Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and just 45,000 votes behind the victor, Carlos Alvarez. Cancela, however, ended up at the top of the heap in fundraising and campaign spending -- nearly two million dollars. The political pork helped sustain a host of needy pollsters, strategists, composers of radio jingles, creators of political advertisements, media outlets, and many more. Cancela also showed heart and loyalty by sending a big chunk of his campaign change to the Herald -- even before the endorsement -- for a barrage of very well-placed ads. In the proud tradition of also-rans, he also infused the campaign discourse with radical, even noble, ideas other candidates dared not raise, such as his solemn pledge to synchronize traffic lights. Conspiracy theorists imagined that Cancela's ill-conceived bid served a hidden agenda: siphoning enough votes from contenders Diaz de la Portilla and Maurice Ferré to keep them out of the runoff. If so, it was one very expensive agenda.

BEST POWER FAMILY Los Valdes-Fauli When Raul Ernesto Valdes-Fauli died in 2003 at age 84, evidence of success in this life wasn't measured by the prominence and prosperity he had achieved as a former lawyer who represented banking and sugar interests in pre-Castro Cuba. (He was very prominent and prosperous.) No, it was the prominence and prosperity his children had gone on to achieve. The siblings didn't just sit on their trust funds; they clambered to the top of a variety of fields, mainly leaning toward endeavors connected to money and power. Son Raul J. is the former mayor of Coral Gables and now an attorney at Steel Hector & Davis. Another son, José, is Colonial Bank's South Florida regional president. A third son, Gonzalo, is a director at Knight Ridder who formerly headed Latin American operations for the Barclays banking organization. Daughter Teresa Weintraub is president of Fiduciary Trust International of the South.

BEST PROMOTER OF CULTURAL DIVERSITY Mary Luft Tigertail Productions

842 NW Ninth Court

Miami

305-324-4337

www.tigertail.org Mary Luft is Tigertail Productions, and this year Tigertail is celebrating 25 years of continuous operation. In this town, that's epochal. As if mere survival weren't enough, Luft has led the way in presenting the contemporary arts to a town that even today barely appreciates them. But for her success has never been a function of mass appeal. Her own mission statement says it best: "Founded in Miami in 1979, Tigertail Productions is Florida's pioneer of innovative art. Tigertail is a catalyst and connector, putting in motion dynamic people and provocative projects in the performing, literary, and visual arts. Tigertail projects reflect the socio-economic range, diversity, and profile of Miami-Dade. Our focus is on the new -- art of our time that reflects current directions and thinking." From the ten-year-old FLA/BRA festival (which brings to Miami the best of Brazil's performance artists) to dance companies from all over the globe to unique musical collaborations (like the recent Nervous City Orchestra led by sound artist Livio Tragtenberg) to anthologies of Miami poets to programs that introduce inner-city kids to artistic expression and others that subsidize the work of Miami artists -- Mary Luft has achieved icon status for her unflagging efforts to bring us aesthetic endeavors of the highest caliber.

BEST PUBLIC MELTDOWN Miami City Commissioner Jeffery Allen Public service is not rocket science. Once in office, you meet with constituents, declaim on their behalf, avoid prostitutes and smoking crack with undercover cops, and chances are you'll do okay. It's also not a bad idea to speak cordially with the press and to avoid brawls. So what does Commissioner Jeffery Allen do after about three months in office? He has a chest-butting match with his chief of staff right in front of city hall, in plain view of several observers. The aide, Milton Vickers, warned he would press charges if Allen touched him, and taking the high road, the commissioner threatened to do the same, according to witnesses. At a community meeting the next morning, Allen moved quickly to modify his hothead image. When a reporter asked about him the fracas, the commissioner spun around and called her "libelous" and "slanderous," loudly announced that his entire staff was now banned from speaking with her, and then stomped off.

BEST PUBLIC RESTROOM Village of Merrick Park 358 San Lorenzo Avenue

Coral Gables

305-529-0200 If you were to think about it, you'd expect the cleanest, least claustrophobic, most hantavirus-free public restroom to be at the Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables, along with Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and the Donald J. Pliner store. And it is.

BEST PUBLIC-WORKS PROJECT Bicentennial Park seawall This ten-million-dollar state-of-the-art bulwark is the first sign of real progress toward a future bayfront walkway for downtown Miami. The construction itself is notable for its quality. The seawall's steel casing is a high-grade, coated variety imported from Europe and known as sheet piling, which the contractor, Shoreline Foundation, Inc., is driving into the bay bottom for that sharp, squared-off, 90-degree-angle look. "It's the most impressive seawall you'll ever see. It's going to transform that whole area," says Robert Weinreb, the City of Miami's project director for Bicentennial Park. Portions of the existing barrier were 50 years old, which is about as long as it's been since a major public-works project in Miami was under budget and ahead of schedule like this one. (Funds are federal, state, and local.) The new seawall is the first in a series of improvements that are scheduled to include a sophisticated reworking of the long-neglected park and an expansive baywalk winding southward to the Miami River.

BEST REAL-ESTATE APPRECIATION Aventura With all the hype over the forest of condo developments sprouting in downtown Miami, the Design District, and Miami Beach, it's important not to lose sight of reality -- especially if you're one of the many hopefuls mortgaging your future in the name of quick profits. According to a Wall Street Journal study, 2004's greatest real-estate appreciation in the entire Southeast was (drum roll, please) zip code 33180 -- Aventura -- where the median home sale price was $445,500. That's a one-year increase of 23.6 percent and a five-year increase of 112.5 percent. Of course you'd never know this from our local media coverage, in which the decidedly unsexy Aventura finds itself overshadowed by the hype for buzz-laden new projects to its south. Let the buyer beware.

BEST REASON TO STAY IN MIAMI FOR THE SUMMER Languid days, sultry nights Not all of us can afford to zip up to the Hamptons for six weeks of madras-clad croquet amid the cool climes and waterfront estates. Nor can we all shell out for a ticket to Ibiza for round-the-clock partying. But being rich and idle isn't all it's cracked up to be. For one thing, winging it out of town at the first hint of summer means never experiencing the true essence of living in the subtropics. Those languid days when time slows and no one can be rushed. Those sultry nights when it makes perfect sense, after the slow groove of day, to come out and play. The casual ease in securing reservations at the best restaurants. The absence of attitude. And all of it made more pleasant by the fact that the obnoxious rich are nowhere in sight.

BEST RENOVATION Hotel Victor 1144 Ocean Drive

Miami Beach

305-428-1234

www.hotelvictorsouthbeach.com His name is Victor. He'd been big on the scene for a number of years but then fell on hard times. The last anybody saw of him, he was no more than a gutter punk, a bum surrounded by lowlifes and scum. For a while he was managing, just barely, to remain standing by loitering near the classy people. Not that they were any better, just rich and connected. Still everyone knew he was no more than a con man -- a big phony. Until a couple of years ago, when lady luck finally smiled on Victor. He got a job with the Hyatt hotel company and now oversees 91 opulent rooms and bungalows across the street from one of the world's most fabulous beaches. And not just any opulent hotel rooms, either. Developer Steve Patterson, CEO of ZOM, gave Victor the go-ahead to splurge on the last great piece of underutilized real estate on Ocean Drive. The Deco/Asian feel of L. Murray Dixon's 1937 design remains intact but is enhanced by a sophisticated modern look created by Parisian decorator Jacques Garcia. There's a new pool, European spa, Turkish bath, and entirely new wing, as well as top-quality food and entertainment. That lucky bum.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®