Best Activist 2023 | Enid Pinkney | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
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Earlier this year, when the City of Hialeah floated the idea of annexing an unincorporated chunk of Brownsville, the latter community's leaders banded together to preserve the legacy of their historically Black neighborhood, which was a key destination for civil-rights leaders and entertainers during the segregation era. One of the most prominent speakers during the annexation debates was Enid Pinkney, a longtime Dade County educator and preservationist who told residents, "We have a rich history. We need to learn it so we can defend it." The heartfelt, pointed opposition paid off when Hialeah backed off. An author, activist, and a retired public-school administrator, Pinkney has been a stalwart advocate for safeguarding landmarks in Brownsville and the Miami area, leading efforts to preserve the Historic Hampton House and the Miami Circle.

Florida House of Representatives photo

"Best Politician" is a tricky category. It's the one most likely to figuratively bite a humble writer in the keister ten years down the line, when a best-politician laureate is arrested for actually biting someone's keister during a coke binge at a moldy motel. That said, this year's selection, Florida District 34 Sen. Shevrin D. "Shev" Jones, seems a safe bet. Humor aside, Jones has become the de facto foil for Gov. Ron DeSantis' "culture war" agenda. Jones, whom pundits often distill to "the first openly gay state senator in Florida," refused to shy away or back down when DeSantis and his allies in the legislature pushed through a deluge of legislation targeting LGBTQ issues. When DeSantis signed bills in 2023 restricting the use of state funds for transgender healthcare and expanding the state's so-called Don't Say Gay bill, Jones spoke out wihthout mincing words, at one point deeming the governor "wildly out of step with where Floridians actually are on these issues." Born in and still based in Miami Gardens, Jones ensured that LGBTQ people in Florida knew that someone was sticking up for them in the statehouse at a time when many felt marginalized, stigmatized, and dehumanized for political gain.

Wife-and-wife team Avra Jain and Dalia Lagoa don't mind playing in the Miami developer sandbox, even if it's overrun by cis white males. The successful married duo lead the Vagabond Group, a real estate company that's leading the repurposing and reviving of historic and industrial properties in Miami's MiMo District, Little Haiti, and Little River. They oversee an all-female staff, providing opportunities to young women eager to break the glass ceiling in the world of commercial development. One of their first endeavors, the renovation of the Vagabond, transformed a gone-to-seed motel into one of the hippest hotels in Miami's Upper Eastside neighborhood. Having applied that blueprint to other '50s-era properties on Biscayne Boulevard — including the South Pacific and the Selina Miami Gold Dust. Now the two are keen on making Hialeah their next vibrant frontier, where they recently developed Factory Town, a dance-music venue that harks back to the halcyon days of all-night raves.

Inside a modest three-story schoolhouse that's listed on the National Register of Historic Places, students at iTech @ Miami's Mega Technology Magnet High School are being primed to become the next Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. In 2015, the former Thomas Edison Middle School shuttered to make way for iTech and its new curriculum, steeped in coding, programming, software use, financial services, geospatial information systems, STEM research, and more. Students adhere to a strict dress code to prepare them for corporate America: crisp white Oxford shirts, Dickies-style khaki or black pants, solid black or white shoes, and optional red tie and black blazer.

Photo by Will Heath/NBC

Whether in the halls of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School or the studios of Saturday Night Live, standup comedian Marcello Hernandez has been making Miami laugh for years. He cut his teeth opening for giants like Gilbert Gottfried and Dave Chappelle, but locally he's known as a creative force behind the ludicrous social-media company Only In Dade, where he interviewed celebs like Floyd Mayweather and Nicky Jam. More recently, he expanded his audience outside the 305 to late-night TV as a featured player for SNL's 48th season.

Photo by Carina Mask

Fabián Basabe peaked sometime in the early aughts, back when he was grinding with then-president's daughter Laura Bush, appearing on reality TV (remember Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive? Of course you don't), and fashioning himself as "the male Paris Hilton." Rather than fade into adulthood, he attempted to run for a seat on the Miami Beach City Commission but was disqualified for flunking the residency requirement. Undeterred, he ran for a Florida House seat as a moderate Republican, pledging to support gay rights and a woman's right to choose — two stances that ran counter to Gov. Ron DeSantis' legislative slate. When bills on those matters came up for a vote, Basabe...didn't show up. Perhaps not surprisingly, his flip-flopping has led to calls for his resignation and public heckling. Oh, and Basabe is under investigation for allegedly slapping an aide across the face at a reception in Tallahassee and he's being sued by a cousin over a deal to import and resell vintage Land Rovers.

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Coco Gauff was born in Atlanta, but from age 7 onward, she trained a short I-95 hop north of our chaotic metropolis in charming Delray Beach. Now that she's ranked as the world's sixth-best tennis player in women's singles, we're officially claiming her as one of our own. It was right here in South Florida, after all, that Gauff became the youngest Orange Bowl International girls' 18-and-under singles champion —at the tender age of 14, no less. She seems proud to rep South Florida, too: At the '23 Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium in April, Gauff and her partner Jessica Pegula held up their doubles trophy in front of a hometown crowd and dedicated their win to the Florida Atlantic University and University of Miami basketball teams that had been eliminated from the Final Four the previous night: "This was for you, Miami and FAU." And in May, after a first-round women's singles victory at the French Open, she declared, "Heat in 7 — and maybe Coco in 7!" A local gal after our own heart.

Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez, known in some circles as "Tricky Vicky," hasn't been a good egg in a while. But this year we've been informed about what might be her biggest scandal to date. This past spring, WLRN investigative reporters Daniel Rivero and Joshua Ceballos (a New Times alum) published a series of stories revealing that Méndez's family members have purchased homes at a marginal cost from the county's guardianship program — which uses the proceeds to pay for the care of the incapacitated property owners — and then flipped them for a profit just months, or sometimes days, later. Méndez herself now lives in a home on a property that was purchased from the guardianship program, according to WLRN's reporting. Méndez denies any impropriety. But the guardianship program has frozen property sales at the direction of Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava while county investigators look into the program's real estate dealings.

Best Public Art (Unintentional Division)

FTX Arena

Photo by B137

When naming rights for the Miami Heat's arena were sold to the cryptocurrency exchange FTX in 2021 for $135 million, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez tweeted that he was "overjoyed" at a 19-year deal that "advances our efforts to be the most crypto friendly city on the planet." The mayor's brand of blind optimism didn't last long: A year later, FTX shed billions of dollars in value in a matter of days and was forced to file for bankruptcy in November 2022 amid allegations that customer assets had been mishandled. Founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried resigned in disgrace and was later arrested on federal charges in what prosecutors called "one of the biggest frauds in American history." Those in charge of the arena, of course, looked to sever ties — a change of course that required a rebrand of everything from the building's roof to employees' embroidered shirts. In all likelihood, those corporate polos are in-demand memorabilia now. We'll all look back fondly on FTX Arena for what it truly was: a monument to Miami's favorite pastime: grift.

Miami Film Festival photo

The Miami Film Festival may have lost its years-long home at Tower Theater (see "Best Art-House Cinema"), but that hasn't interfered with festival's mission of providing a world-class platform for local, international, and Ibero-American independent cinema. After the City of Miami abruptly terminated its contract with Miami Dade College last fall, the festival had to quickly pivot and secure screenings for its 40th edition in March at Silverspot Cinema's downtown Miami location and at Coral Gables Art Cinema. Gems, the fall mini-film festival, is scheduled to return in November with a selection of films from around the globe, many of which will be contenders come awards season. The lights may be out at Tower Theater, but the Miami Film Festival must go on.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®