It began, as all good things in Miami do, with a pissed-off, naked porn star jumping atop a white Porsche after a domestic spat. Law student and wannabe energy drink mogul Mario Melton couldn't have known it, but that angry, nude model was about to tip off police to one of South Florida's largest molly rings. Melton, the son of lobbyist and former Miami Herald reporter Eston "Dusty" Melton, had been using his family's shipping business to help import at least 40 kilos of the synthetic drug from China. Arrested along with a dozen others, he was the only one to reject plea offers, opting to take his chances at trial. It almost worked — jurors in Melton's first trial were deadlocked, causing a mistrial. But Melton was convicted of conspiring to import the drug at a second federal trial this past March, during which lawyers from both sides squabbled over the meaning of a crucially timed poop emoji sent to Melton from a codefendant, which prosecutors said meant the two knew the jig was up. Thought to be a flight risk, Melton will be held in custody until his May sentencing, where he faces more than ten years in federal prison.

Miami Bridge Youth and Families Services
Photo by Jacqueline Carini / Courtesy of Miami Bridge

Thousands of children and teenagers across Miami-Dade find themselves in abusive or dysfunctional family situations, living on the streets, or caught up in drugs and alcohol. Few things are more tragic than being forced to carry such a heavy burden at such a pivotal point in one's life. Thankfully, the people at Miami Bridge Youth and Families Services have dedicated themselves to providing a safe haven for dangerously at-risk youth. The charity operates the county's only 24-hour emergency shelter dedicated to youth and provides a number of other services, including mental health services, education and life skills training, family crisis intervention, and programs aimed at young victims of human trafficking. The charity is well worth a donation, but it also offers plenty of ways for volunteers to get involved.

In 2014, Daniella Levine Cava pulled off the near-impossible. Her defeat of Commissioner Lynda Bell, a Tea Party sympathizer who single-handedly tried to defeat an expansion of Miami-Dade's Human Rights Ordinance, was just one of a handful of victories of insurgent candidates against incumbents in the past few decades. Levine Cava, the former head of social services organization Catalyst Miami, has now become a much-needed outspoken progressive on the county commission and has used her position to fight for the little people. She has battled for paid sick time, an increase in the minimum wage, and additional public transit options. She has also become the leading voice from inside the local halls of power for campaign finance reform and more transparency in local elections, an issue on which voters of all political stripes seem to agree.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine seems incapable of doing anything without a certain amount of chutzpah. The man seems physically incapability of acting with meekness or modesty. Sometimes it's hard to watch — like the time the multimillionaire mayor proudly uploaded a video of himself berating a FedEx driver for stopping in a street to deliver a package, an antic that was widely panned on social media. Other times, though, his audaciousness is exactly what the community needs. His administration pulled the long-delayed dream of Baylink, a rail system that would connect Miami Beach with the mainland, out of the graveyard of lost good ideas back into political thought and the realm of possibility. Often, it's hard to tell what the political ramifications of Levine's headstrong approach will be. This past March, he became the first sitting mayor of a Miami-Dade County city to visit Cuba in 57 years. Though the local political establishment of Miami was dead-set against it, Levine told the world he would welcome a Cuban embassy within his city's limits. His approach is fascinating to watch and has led him to be prominently featured in a number of national articles about the effects of climate change in Miami Beach. Vanity Fair even dubbed him "Bloomberg South." It's widely rumored that the former media magnate has his eye on running for governor of Florida in 2018, so it's not as if he minds the positive press. Levine's chutzpah can absolutely be an admirable advantage, though it's fair for voters to ask who is the ultimate benefactor, the City of Miami Beach or Levine himself?

Give developer Sandor Scher this: He had a bold vision, and he put his money behind it. Unfortunately for Scher, that epic dream — to knock down a block of historic North Beach hotels to build a 22-story luxury condo and hotel — was not shared by the voters who had to approve it. By the time the dust cleared on the November ballot, Scher and his allies had blown more than $700,000 trying to persuade voters to let him demolish buildings along Ocean Terrace to erect a 250-foot tower as a start; Mayor Philip Levine had thrown his full support behind the plan; and Scher had invested $70 million in all the properties he hoped to renovate. But as returns rolled in, it became blindingly obvious that voters had enough of runaway development on the Beach. They had specifically passed height restrictions to prevent outsize project's like Scher's. By the end of the day, Scher, Levine, and the project's other backers had lost big at the polls, 55 to 45. That's one expensive misreading of the public's mood.

As the seas inexorably rise and greenhouse gases cook our atmosphere like a microwave left on high, there's never been a more important time to protect and restore South Florida's natural environment. The region is at a crossroads: Either we get swallowed whole by the tides, or we take bold steps to make our shorelines healthier and more resilient. Yet many Miami lawmakers either live in denial (ahem, Marco Rubio) or consider any natural green space an invitation for a new condo tower. Enter Blanca Mesa, a Cuban-American writer, federally licensed health insurance navigator, and former realtor associate, who now doubles as one of Miami-Dade's loudest advocates for the wilderness. Mesa grew up enjoying a Miami where parks were actual parks, not concert venues or shopping centers. Over time, she watched those spaces deteriorate as lawmakers succumbed to the lure of urban high-rises and sprawl. In 2010, while the Virginia Key master plan was being developed, the former Miami Herald reporter decided the stakes were too high. She launched the popular blog View from Virginia Key to inform the public about the history and environmental significance of the area, as well as to encourage public participation in plans for the future. Most recently, Mesa, who works during the day at the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, fought to protect the public and natural resources in the face of the Miami Boat Show's relocation to Virginia Key. She plans to continue to encourage people to "speak up and show up," as well as push for the highest protections for the natural areas of South Florida. With Mesa at the helm, Miami could become an example for the world of climate resilience and innovation. Will lawmakers listen?

Sometimes Miami-Dade County needs a reality check. Learn to budget your money wisely — you can't put everything on credit and expect it to work out in the end. The county learned this painful lesson when the under-construction Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, like an entitled trust-fund kid living in New York, announced it had run out of cash. The museum ran back to the county saying it couldn't afford the monthly $5 million payment to the construction firm. Commissioner Xavier Suarez called it "a comedy of errors," but it was hard to find the humor. Perhaps that's why the museum's namesakes, philanthropists Patricia and Phillip Frost, swooped in to help finish the project. It wasn't the first headline-grabbing act of charity courtesy of this power couple, whose fortune comes from a pharmaceutical empire. The Frosts have given $33 million to the University of Miami's music school and funded scholarships at Oxford. But this may have been their most resounding move. In exchange for their project-saving cash, they canned nearly the entire board of directors. Then they insisted the bailout would be only a bridge loan until county bureaucracy could free up the funds. The county finally approved the $49 million bailout in April, though that money comes from cash that was supposed to help the museum operate once it's open. Let's hope the Frosts are willing to lay down the law to push the city's other elite to help if funding goes sour again.

Congratulations, spring breakers. This is the year you may have finally broken Ocean Drive. Critics like Sherbrooke Hotel owner Mitch Novick have been banging a drum for years, claiming the iconic beachfront stretch has been sullied by rip-off tourist-trap restaurants and rowdy booze slingers. Over the past year, though, the complaints have reached a fever pitch as embarrassing incidents — including a mentally ill, nude woman smearing herself with ketchup as drunk men filmed her, and countless drunken brawls caught on camera — forced the Miami Beach City Commission to form a task force and limit late-night alcohol sales. Then came spring break, when crowds got so crazy that police had to evacuate the street and a man was murdered amid the revelry. Few have been so blunt about the situation as Novick, but his to-the-point quote hit home for many critics.

Here's how Miami International Film Festival director Jaie Laplante described the most recent iteration: "This year's lineup is like a prism that invites Miami to see the world with an illumination that only the cinema and the artists that create the work can provide." You can say that again. From four locally directed gems (about everything from strippers to skunk apes) to the 40 other nations represented among the 129 films, the festival shone a blindingly bright spotlight on South Florida. And unlike many festivals, MIFF offers a chance for nearly every part of Dade to take part, with showings from downtown's Olympia Theater and Miami Dade College's Tower Theater to Miami Beach Cinematheque and Regal Cinemas on Lincoln Road, O Cinema's North Beach location, Coral Gables Art Cinema, and Cinépolis in Coconut Grove. In its 32 years, the festival has evolved into one of the city's most scintillating events. So mark your calendar now. The 2017 version has been scheduled for March 3 through 12.

Public relations may have a well-earned reputation as a dark art, but that doesn't mean its true masters are all Team Slytherin. Take JennyLee Molina, who has worked in the industry for nearly two decades and understands the media world from all angles. She's a true pro — never pitching more than one story at a time to an editor (bless her soul) and customizing messages to show she was paying attention that one time you ran into her at an event. And outside of her day job, Molina is all about Miami and giving back. She started the 305 Cafecito movement to celebrate Miami's most iconic caffeinated beverage, and now every year on March 5 at Ball & Chain in Little Havana, it's a cafecito party for the whole neighborhood. Most recently, she helped spearhead a cultural rejuvenation in Hialeah's new Leah Arts District.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®