The Miami Herald's talented capital bureau chief Steve Bousquet joined with several lobbyists, including former legislator Mike Abrams, to rank dozens of Miami-Dade legislators last week. And the results were pretty much what you'd expect. Veterans like Rep. Alex Villalobos and Sen. Ron Silver did well. Rookies mostly fared poorly. Less expected was Pulitzer Prize-winning St. Petersburg Times Tallahassee bureau chief Lucy Morgan's trashing of the Herald's process: "If you are asking a lobbyist to participate in something like this, I think there is an inherent problem. I don't think newspapers should be partnering up with them.... It's a little too cozy." Bousquet's presence on the panel also is problematic, she added, especially because several legislators are running for higher office: "It also doesn't serve the news staff of the paper well to be doing rankings like this. We shouldn't be in the process of giving tangible support to candidates like this on the news pages." For good measure Morgan quipped that recent Herald cutbacks in the state capital also don't serve the readership. "There's not enough staff for a paper of their size" she opined. "It's sad." Herald assistant managing editor Mark Seibel defended both staffing and Bousquet's participation on the panel, saying the paper provided excellent coverage and analysis during the recently concluded session. He's less sanguine when it comes to the presence of Abrams and other lobbyists in the judging process. "I'm not sure I like having lobbyists in the mix," he acknowledged. "That makes me uncomfortable."

First Manny Diaz, the politically connected South Miami-Dade grower, sold shrinking trees to taxpayers. Dozens of palms planted back in 1995 turned out to be shorter than Diaz promised, according to the Miami Herald. Then Diaz sold the county disappearing trees; thousands of 'em couldn't be found at Crandon Park and, at least partially as a result, former county parks director Bill Cutie was charged with official misconduct. Now it appears that even when Diaz's trees grow straight and tall he can't win. County workers recently began relocating about twenty that were planted in 1995 on Silver Palm Drive, says acting county public works director Aristides Rivera. Turns out they are interfering with power lines. It's no small matter. Rivera plans to ask the commission to pay about $200,000 for dealing with the misplaced growth. "That's a switch," jokes one county official. "If we had shrinking trees, it wouldn't be a problem."

The 1988 bombing of the Cuban Museum of Art and Culture (widely believed to be the work of exile terrorists) didn't stop art lover Ramon Cernuda. Nor did it faze him when, the following year, the federal government seized dozens of his paintings because they came from the commie-controlled island to the south. The guy is just an equal-opportunity aficionado. This summer Cernuda plans to open a 3300-square-foot Coral Gables art gallery specializing in works from Latin America. "We are going to exhibit art from both Cuban artists and members of the exile," Cernuda says. "We don't believe in censorship." The first show at the 3155 Ponce de Leon Blvd. space isn't likely to be controversial; it will include prerevolutionary Cuban art. Even when Cernuda arranges shows by artists from the island, he doesn't expect Eighties-style controversy. Several Cuban painters, including Manuel Mendive, recently have displayed their work here without incident.

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