Best Of :: People & Places
Good luck looking for last year's winner in this category. There wasn't one. Past Kendall Drive heading south, you might as well have left your cultural sensibilities behind. But, finally, it's boon time in the boonies. The South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center opened earlier this year and raised one giant middle finger to its highfalutin northern neighbors. The $39 million, Arquitectonica-designed, 966-seat performing arts center is primed to become the epicenter of all things cultural south of the county's Mason-Dixon Line. It's barely been open a couple of months, and already the venue has hosted high-profile guests from both coasts. Credit should go to the county's Cultural Affairs Department and center general manager Eric Fliss for making sure to include the surrounding southern neighborhoods and communities in workshops with the traveling dance and theater companies visiting the center. There's also a concerted effort to use the venue for community gatherings such as farmers' markets and other events outside the strict definition of performing arts. We wouldn't be surprised if the venue could soon challenge the Adrienne Arsht Center for best cultural venue in the whole county, pound for pound. After all, Kimbo Slice, Dada 5000, and back-yard brawling were born in the southern stretches of Miami-Dade, so we like their chances in any fight.
The scene: A messy Harvard dorm room. A young, drunken student chugs beer at his computer.His handsome, dark-haired best friend wanders in.
"I need you," the first young man says.
"I'm here for you," his friend replies earnestly. "No, I need the algorithm you wrote to rank chess players."
"Are you OK?" the friend asks.
"We're ranking girls," the drunk at the computer answers.
And so Facebook was born — at least according to The Social Network, the Oscar-nominated film that took American theaters by storm last fall.
That drunk at the computer, of course, was Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's brash, oft-criticized founder. His handsome friend, played by heartthrob Andrew Garfield, was none other than Eduardo Saverin.
The lesser-known half of Facebook's founding duo has had a breakout year thanks to The Social Network, a film largely based on Saverin's version of the website's founding — and his acrimonious split with Zuckerberg — as told to author Ben Mezrich.
Long before Saverin was fighting Zuckerberg for Facebook's billions, he was growing up in the Magic City, the son of Brazilian immigrants from São Paulo. Before heading to Harvard, Saverin cut his teeth at Miami's Gulliver Prep.
Now everyone knows the rest of his story: founding the business end of Facebook, getting screwed out of his shares by the devious Zuckerberg, and eventually getting the last laugh by winning an estimated billion-dollar court verdict against Facebook and literally writing the book on the website's incredible inside history.
Not a bad year for a local kid.
Call it "Obamarail" all you want, you freaky-looking doppelganger to the creepy preacher from Poltergeist. The plan to build a high-speed rail system through Florida was championed by Gov. Charlie Crist, your Republican predecessor in office. And your rejection of $2.4 billion in federal funds to build the system — which would have created thousands of jobs — will bite you in your luminescent, bony ass. If there's one principle constant among state politicians of both red and blue ilk, it's this: Money from Washington is glorious. It is to be accepted with no argument. It is an oatmeal cookie from Mom. You would never tell her: "What's the calorie count in this cookie?" You would not inquire as to whether the cookie was gluten-free. You would take the fucking cookie and then figure out what to do with it. Florida has seen a lot of different kinds of morons in office, Rick Scott. But none dumb enough to turn down a giant cookie when the state is suffering from some seriously low blood sugar. That's why you were sued by Florida senators from both sides of the aisle. That's why your approval rating is doing its best impression of Emilio Bonifacio's batting average. And that, dear sir, is why you need to climb back into the fiery hole in Hades from which you emerged.
Only in Miami could a billionaire with an empire of auto dealerships be the underdog. But that's exactly what happened when 78-year-old Norman Braman took aim at Carlos Alvarez. The Miami-Dade mayor never saw it coming. How could he? Considering that — unlike most of his predecessors — he didn't break any obvious laws, Alvarez was probably already designing the statue of himself to go up in Little Havana. But when the South Florida economy tanked, each Alvarez mistake became a stone in Braman's ever-growing arsenal. With all of that ammo, Braman couldn't miss. He announced a recall campaign against the mayor and pumped more than a million bucks of his own money into the effort. When the results came in, it was a victory of biblical proportions for the billionaire: Almost 90 percent of voters decided to oust Alvarez's ass. But like any other Banana Republic coup, it left everyday citizens wondering which despot is next.
Unless you support terrifying cyborgs sent from the future to eliminate state government with just their laser eyes (cough, cough, Rick Scott) or count yourself a member of the Marco Rubio Tea Party Pretty Boy Army, the past 12 months have been a dismal time to be a South Florida voter. A terrible year, that is, with one bright, sequined, outrageously colorful-hat-wearing exception: Frederica Wilson, Miami's newest rep in the U.S. Congress, is pretty much the bomb. Wilson made a name for herself by winning unlikely battles: first as a Miami principal who closed a fume-spewing plant near her school, then as a state representative and senator taking down everything from high school dirty dancing to HIV testing for prisoners. Now in Washington, she has brought some much-needed visibility to a Democratic freshman class overshadowed by the boisterous GOP, earning a cover photo on the Washington Post Magazine, and backing controversial legislation, such as a ban on cell phones while driving. Down with the cyborgs! Up with blinged-out cowboy hats!
When big shows roll into town, there is usually only one person who can grant media access to ink-stained wretches. His name is Woody Graber. Want to cover the Bob Marley Festival? Call Graber. Want to hit up the South Beach Comedy Festival? Call Graber. Bruce Springsteen is playing at the BankAtlantic Center, and Girl Talk is headlining at the Fillmore Miami Beach? You know who to call. Same Woody you call to, ahem, interview porn stars Dylan Ryder and Phoenix Marie at Exxxotica. A cantankerous old-school publicist who doesn't show any shame in cutting off access to reporters who annoy him, Graber is the dean of the concert promotion scene. You could be the second coming of Hunter S. Thompson and he would still freeze you out.
When your husband's profession depends on a steady influx of criminals needing legal representation, hosting a charity event to raise funds to help juvenile offenders stay on the right side of the law is no way to increase business. But criminal defense attorney Roy Black and his wife Lea understand that true socialites make time to look out for children at risk of being chewed up by an ambivalent, failing criminal justice system. For the past 17 years, the Blacks have hosted an annual star gala that raises millions of dollars for Consequences Charity and Foundation, which uses the donations to fund education programs for more than 7,500 at-risk youths. With 100 percent of the proceeds going to the charity, guests are more than willing to generously pony up $10,000 per plate. The fundraiser usually features a surprise performance by a famous entertainer, such as Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees or Pharrell Williams. During Lea's starring stint on The Real Housewives of Miami, television audiences across the nation got a glimpse of the Blacks' celebrity Rolodex when rapper Rick Ross casually dropped by their home for a visit. Roy and Lea began dating following William Kennedy Smith's acquittal of rape charges in the early '90s. Roy represented Smith, and Lea was a juror. They married in 1994.
Fearless is a word journalists love to toss around at each other: fearlessly taking on the establishment, fearlessly reporting on crime, fearlessly writing a negative column about LeBron. But let's be honest. It's time to call a fearless moratorium on anything less than the kind of work Jacqueline Charles has been churning out of Haiti ever since an earthquake devastated the island January 12, 2010. The Miami Herald correspondent has lived and worked amid death and destruction on an unimaginable scale, covering cholera outbreaks, election riots, lawlessness, and humanitarian miracles. She has attended friends' and relatives' funerals, including that of a beloved aunt who died of a heart attack during an aftershock. And through it all, she has produced extraordinary journalism week in and week out, often by putting a human face on Haiti's miseries. Who could forget her scoop that President René Préval after the disaster had been left with only a single white shirt, which he washed and rewashed daily while he tried to keep his broken nation afloat? Her dedication to Haiti's story made her a Pulitzer finalist and winner of the National Association of Black Journalists' Journalist of the Year Award. More important for all of us, she is already back in Port-au-Prince, writing about the tough transition to a new president and the sputtering rebuilding efforts. Fearless? You heard it here first.
How can you tell when your relentlessly pesky attacks on your small town's leadership are hitting their mark? Here's one surefire sign: When the mayor personally sends building inspectors to try to shut you up. That's exactly what happened to Stephanie Kienzle, a furiously grouchy online critic of North Miami Beach Mayor Myron Rosner. From her feisty blog, votersopinion.com, Kienzle has waged an escalating war against Rosner — and gotten results with hundreds of posts blasting city hall. When she knocked Rosner for plastering his face on "Happy Holidays" signs around town months before campaign laws allowed electioneering, the Miami Herald picked up the case. When she trashed him for allegedly accepting free ad space from a city vendor, the Florida Election Commission opened an investigation. And when she whacked Rosner for spending hundreds of dollars on hotel stays in nearby Hollywood and downtown Miami, the mayor himself finally had enough. In February, Rosner retaliated, asking his building inspectors to check out "several violations" at Kienzle's house. If his goal was to silence the legal secretary and 20-year North Miami Beach resident, Rosner struck out big time. The very next day, Miami's best gadfly was back on her computer, blogging about Rosner's crackdown and demanding his head. What a pain in the ass! (That's a compliment, Stephanie.)
You know how kids say the darnedest things? Well, it turns out closeted Christian junk scientists — snicker — say even darneder things when questioned by reporters at an airport about why they're traveling with a male prostitute. We'll back up and tell you the whole story just in case you spent spring 2010 holed up in a French bed-and-breakfast, boinking the homosexuality right out of a rent-boy and didn't catch the news the first time. George Alan Rekers was on the founding board of NARTH (Naked and Ready to Hump? Naughty and Randy Twinks and Hunks? Neighborly Ass Reaming Is Totally Hot? OK, sorry — it's the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which somehow sounds gayer than all of those other options). It's one of those creepy Christian organizations determined to "cure" homosexuality through Angry Jesus, ice baths, and repeated viewings of Baywatch VHS tapes. Rekers was once paid $120,000 by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum for expert testimony in defense of the state's gay adoption ban. Then Rekers, returning through Miami International Airport from a Paris vacation with a male prostitute nicknamed Lucien who advertised his "perfectly built 8-inch cock (uncut)" on Rentboy.com, was confronted by two enterprising New Times reporters. The rest — including Lucien's later statement to this rag that Rekers enjoyed the "long stroke," which does sound like it would feel kind of nice — is beautiful, karmic history. Rekers resigned from NARTH. And Stephen Colbert said of the self-hating homophobe's amazing "luggage"-lifting excuse: "Technically, I believe he was looking for someone to hoist his sack."
There's a simple equation to explain which criminal cases touch our emotional nerve: The more heinous the crime, the sweeter the justice. By that measure, the conviction handed to Grady Nelson last December stands as one of the most gratifying in Magic City history — if only because his crime, and the years of warning signs leading up to it, were so horrific. Back in 1991, Nelson was convicted of brutally raping a 7-year-old girl who lived in his neighborhood, yet he earned only ten years of probation. Soon thereafter, he was hit with an eight-year term for cocaine possession — but served only two years. Then in 2000, despite all of that gruesome history, Miami-Dade's Human Services Department hired him as a social worker's aide. In the next four years, everyone from the police to the State Attorney's Office to the Department of Children and Families received reports that Nelson was sexually assaulting the children of his wife, Angelina Marcel Martinez. On January 6, 2005 — hours after Martinez obtained a protective order against her husband — Nelson entered her home, again sexually assaulted both of her children, and then fatally stabbed her more than 60 times, leaving her with a slashed throat and a knife sticking out of her head. He also stabbed her 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, though both survived. Nelson's first court hearing in 2009 ended with a mistrial. Would he again escape punishment? Not this time. Last July, a jury convicted him of first-degree murder. In December, he was sentenced to life behind bars. Sweet justice? You bet.
According to the vintage superband Chicago, "everybody needs a little time away." Unfortunately, though, sometimes you just can't pick up and hit the road or even sail away, but you can still find serenity within the confines of South Florida. We're not talking another cheesy staycation at a beach hotel so you can rub elbows with tourists and share your expertise on all things local. Instead, take a breather from the average day thanks to the county's Eco-Adventures program. The Miami-Dade Parks & Recreation Department (fabled to be the inspiration for the NBC comedy) is the third-largest county park system in the United States, consisting of 263 parks and more than 12,848 acres of land that might or might not include highway medians and the cute little trees planted there. Eco-Adventures include Redland bike tours, snorkeling at Crandon Park, moonlight kayaking along Key Biscayne, camping expeditions in the Everglades, and swamp field trips to Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. Prices range from $25 to $165. You can go alone for some much-needed solitary refinement or plan a group expedition and prove "you're the inspiration."