Sometimes a city needs a man of wealth and power to stop the wealthy and powerful from ramming through a massive boondoggle at the public's expense. In Miami's case, this is Norman Braman. The multimillionaire philanthropist and luxury auto dealer has demonstrated he is unafraid to use his personal financial resources to defeat proposals that will cost taxpayers and benefit special interests. In 1982, he led a successful campaign against a city sales tax that would have paid to renovate the Orange Bowl for then-Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie. In 1999, he helped defeat a one-cent sales tax that would have generated $1 billion for a doubtful mass transit plan. And now Braman is doing everything in his power to whack a $3-billion interlocal agreement between the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County for the megaplan. In addition to suing the city and the county, Braman is publicly speaking out against it. And he commissioned a poll that found Republican State House Speaker Marco Rubio would offer a formidable challenge to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez in the upcoming campaign. Oh, and did we mention Alvarez is one of the interlocal agreement's key supporters? Braman has also dedicated his philanthropic work to the memory of the six million Jews killed during World War II. As chairman emeritus of the Holocaust Memorial, Braman has contributed more than $1 million to the monument. And he was instrumental in adding the name of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist who was abducted and killed by terrorists in 2002, to the memorial's wall. Miamians should stand up and applaud Braman for his independent thinking.

Last November, a crying woman in her late twenties appeared at a media briefing outside Miami Police headquarters. She told reporters a man had assaulted her in Little Havana. He had cornrows, a "LOVE MOM" tattoo, and a dime-size mole. Women across the city were rattled, and police set off to search. Some 100 hours of investigative work later, Adriana Velasquez told police she had cut her clothes and self for "sympathy, because she was having marital problems." Then the artful actress pleaded emotional problems before fainting on-camera. But cops didn't swallow this part of her story. They booked her on a misdemeanor.

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre
Photo by Diego Pocovi

Ellis Tillman's work at Actors' Playhouse this year was subtle and awe-inspiring. The vaguely ill-fitting, vaguely daft duds on the members of the Altar Boyz seemed to reflect the awkwardness of their stock poses. Martha Mitchell's expensively lurid ensemble in Martha Mitchell Calling spoke of old-school classiness trying to get along in a world where everything comes cheaper by the day. And in Urinetown, the mere cut of Cherlyn Franco's potato-sack dress captured the feeling of dumb youth struggling with the implications of adult wisdom. Glen Ballard's uniform as the psychotic Officer Comstock suggested Patrick Bateman with a badge, Tally Sessions's Bobby Strong character looked like a dystopian Rob Roy, and Rachel Jones's matronly rags conveyed poverty, dignity, and sternness. Doing a lot with a little is always better than doing a little with a lot, and in Urinetown's worst neighborhoods, Tillman outdid himself again and again.

Best Criminal Conviction of the Past Year

Victor Caraballo

It was the most horrific, senseless crime: In April 2002, 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel and her boyfriend, 18-year-old Nelson Portobanco, were kidnapped by five men as they strolled romantically through South Pointe Park in South Beach. Ana Maria was gang-raped, while Nelson was beaten, stabbed, and left to die on the side of I-95. Both were robbed. Ana Maria was shot to death as she begged for her life. Five men were eventually charged in the crime — Victor Caraballo, his brother Hector Caraballo, Cesar Mena, Joel Lebron, and Jesus Roman. In 2007, Victor went to trial first, and a Miami-Dade jury not only convicted him but also sentenced him to the death chamber. "If the death penalty was ever merited, this is the case," said State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle.

When someone in Miami says, "I'm a dancer," people respond, "At which club?" But there is a fragile, growing dance scene here, and the Miami Contemporary Dance Company is at the center of it. Twelve full-time hoofers do their physically and emotionally demanding work Monday through Friday at the company's small studio. Dancing is their day job. And that makes MCDC founder and artistic director Ray Sullivan immensely proud. Now in its eighth season, MCDC continues to create fulfilling, sustaining works — often with a social justice message — such as Sullivan's Tango Undressed, for world-class professional dancers. It has built a much-needed dance education program for children and adults in Miami Beach. Just surviving in this rough economic and philanthropic climate is admirable, but Sullivan has big plans. Instead of being presumed strippers, dancers here someday will be asked, "With which company?" MCDC is a movement.

Miccosukee Resort & Gaming

Sometimes you need a little weirdness to help you get your head together. This is the weirdest afternoon you could possibly want.

At Miccosukee Resort & Gaming, you can pop into the bingo room to observe the odd goings-on of a bunch of neglected elderly people. About 1,200 of them. They've been there all night. You'll also find thousands of video gambling games and about five dozen poker tables.

Once you're either broke or rich, hop back into your car and jet to the Trail Glades Gun Range and vent your rage or celebrate with a bang. If you've got your guns with you, fire away; if not, they'll rent you some. Who knows? You might even meet someone friendly enough to let you shoot one of theirs.

After that, stop by the Pit Bar-B-Q. It's called "the Pit" because it used to be connected to a go-cart track — the only business in that part of town. It's not the best barbecue in the world, but they usually keep a pony outside. Plus they fry biscuits.

If you've had enough, then get your ass back to Miami. But if you like what you've seen so far, venture west along the Tamiami Trail to Loop Road. It's the weirdest and most beautiful place in the county. Peer into the culverts at all the creatures that survived the dinosaur holocaust. Talk to the locals. They're better than anyone you've ever met anywhere.

Titanic Brewery & Restaurant

Titanic makes its own delicious beer and simple, hearty food. It's almost like an interdimensional portal into the Midwest — a window, if you will, out of Mojitotown. Some of us just need beer and meat loaf at least once a week — it's kind of an anti-gym membership. If you're jonesing for that kind of thing, Titanic gives you an easy out. For $85 a year, they'll engrave a large mug with whatever handle you choose and keep it around on a hook. They'll give you a shirt, feed you every Wednesday, and let you drink all night at happy-hour prices. It's kinda like renting a cool uncle for a year.

Miami Theater Center

Marco Ramirez's Mr. Beast was a rushed piece of writing with big problems and frequent flashes of brilliance, and Mad Cat's constant director, Paul Tei, capitalized on the latter while squeezing the former almost out of existence. The script was packed with continuity errors, gaps in character development, and enough cheese to make Wisconsin blush, but it mattered not a whit — probably because Mr. Beast was about a werewolf, and werewolf literature is seldom held to the same standards as the rest of the Western canon. We value it for its ambiance, its cheap thrills, the way it can make the tacky creepy and vice versa. Paul Tei understands this viscerally. He gets the atmosphere right; he gets the right kind of hushed, creeped-out performances from his actors; and most of all, he nails the language. A more conservative director wouldn't have known what to do with lines such as "There are some things the dark keeps for itself," but Tei recognized it for the precious thing it was: an opportunity to go totally, gleefully over-the-top. Tei went, we followed, and it was fucking awesome.

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
Justin Namon

Have you noticed the stunning complex that sits on Biscayne Boulevard, between gleaming towers of empty luxury condos and the historic streets of Overtown? We present to you the Carnival Center for ... uh, wait, we mean the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County. Wow. Try saying that five times fast. As if the Carnival Center wasn't a cool enough name, the folks who run the year-old center came up with another one thanks to arts patron and Total Bank founder Adrienne Arsht. God bless her! No, wait. Manny Diaz and Carlos Alvarez, bless her. Arsht, you might recall, wrote a big, fat check worth $33 million that helped this money pit get out of debt. And now let's get on with becoming a real city like San Francisco or Boston, where the arts count!

East Greynolds Park

Max can't wait. He wants his tennis ball and he wants it now. He lets out a thunderous woof! "Oh, you want this?" teases his mama, Viviana Bojourno. "Well, here you go!" She hurls the ball. The four-year-old black English Labrador gives chase, snatches the fuzzy sphere, and turns it into a slobbering mess. His gal pal Tabitha, a two-year-old bull terrier, comes over and playfully paws Max's face. He gets up and runs after her. A black Lab puppy named J.J. careens into the two pooches. Even Shakes, a female golden retriever/chow mix with a sprained right paw, is having a grand old time at the latest pooch playpen to open in Miami-Dade County. Conveniently located on the east side of Biscayne Boulevard, four blocks north of 163rd Street, the Northeast Regional Dog Park sits on 1.67 acres divided into two sections for small and large hounds. As their canine companions frolic on the grass, mark territory around the fire hydrants, and run in circles, owners can sit and relax on wooden park benches and picnic tables dotted throughout the doggy area. Bojourno, an Aventura resident, loves Max's new playground. "The park is wonderful," she says. "It is so nice and safe." Just remember it opens at dawn and closes at dusk. And if you take your barking best friend to East Greynolds on the weekend, expect to pay a $5 entrance fee.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®