The Brawl at City Hall

From deep in the bowels of Miami's city hall comes a sound unlike any other that has been heard in South Florida since Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world. -- faint cry at first, it has been gaining intensity with each passing day, as city commissioners and promoters and aficionados of the sweet science see a chance to restore Miami's image as a boxing town. "Ladies and gentlemen," the cry begins, "let's get ready to rumble!"

The focus of the incipient hoopla: the highly publicized feud between Miami City Manager Cesar Odio and tenacious gadfly Manuel Gonzalez-Goenaga, a long-shot candidate for city commissioner whose pursuit of Odio allegedly has achieved the status of stalking. While the mannerly city manager so far has remained steadfast in his determination to resolve the matter via the legal system, under the circumstances it would seem far more appropriate for the two antagonists to settle their differences the way real men do A i.e., by donning brightly hued satin shorts three sizes too big and pummeling away at one another like badgers.

Indeed, for some time now the threat of violence has lurked not far beneath the surface of the conflict. On May 31, Gonzalez-Goenaga was arrested at city hall for purportedly uttering the words, "Tell the Emperor Odio that if they continue to arrest me, I am going to blow his head off." And just last month, the Miami Herald reported that Gonzalez-Goenaga allegedly was badgering Odio's 81-year-old mother with late-night phone calls and quoted the city manager as saying, "As a man, I should go out and beat him up."

At the slightest hint of fisticuffs, Broward-based boxing impresario Tommy Torino perks up. "From a promotion point of view, I'd love to do it," says Torino, who stages monthly bouts at the Jim Davidson Theater in Pembroke Pines.

Miami City Commissioner Victor De Yurre is ecstatic at the prospect of simultaneously settling a grudge and easing the city's grim fiscal situation, which has steadily worsened during Odio's eight-year reign. "Think of it this way: Seeing as Cesar is a city employee [and thus ineligible to receive a share of the gate receipts], I would promote the fight as a way of balancing our budget. We could sell enough tickets to fill the Arena," says De Yurre, unable to mask his enthusiasm. "Let's get something out of it! Let's get something out of this thing!"

Jeff Pomeroy, coordinator for public relations and promotions at the Showtime cable network, would love to broadcast another fight as profitable as last month's Las Vegas showdown between Mike Tyson and Peter McNeeley, though Pomeroy expresses a little concern about hyping the fight nationwide. "Other than locally, they'd have a very hard time getting it on pay-per-view," he muses while crunching hypothetical numbers. "They'd have to beat out Ernest Goes to Camp."

Though he sees enough potential in the political pugilism to envision the victor squaring off against Mickey "Marielito" Rourke, Michael Marley, spokesman for Don King Productions in Fort Lauderdale, says his boss would be unable to capitalize on a bout. "We're in Broward County," Marley says sadly. "We can't get involved in Dade County politics."

As pre-fight hype began to build last week, Odio closed his camp to the press, refusing to provide his measurements for a tale-of-the-tape. City Commissioner Willy Gort estimates that the 59-year-old city manager is 6'1" and a trim 180 pounds. "He's a gentleman who exercises every morning, so that gives him a lot of strength," says Gort, referring to Odio's regular sessions at the Miami Rowing Club.

Gonzalez-Goenaga played his own pre-fight psychological tricks. In an obvious attempt to inflate Odio's confidence, the challenger emphasized only his weaknesses, especially his feeble eyesight. "He's in top shape because he is a member of that rowing club. I can fight him with my mind and my ideas, but how can I fight [physically] if I have glasses? I don't see how I can win if I have glasses."

Gonzalez-Goenaga didn't bother to mention the grueling daily workouts he first started fifteen years ago. Soon after reading a copy of Jim Fixx's The Complete Book of Jogging, he began logging four to five miles a day of roadwork. Unfortunately he ran on concrete in old tennis shoes instead of proper running shoes and now his knees are so inflamed that he can't stand up without grabbing a table or a chair. "I'm really not in good shape," he says coyly.

Noted fight observers disagree. Recently, the supposedly weak-kneed Gonzalez-Goenaga has been seen repeatedly hoisting heavy boxes of city records. And at 5'10" and 190 pounds, he packs more power per punch than Odio. What's more, he is actually two years younger than his rival, though he says his constant legal hassles have aged him considerably.

Odio showed substance in a previous fight with Bill Clinton, when the long-time Democrat city manager disavowed his political party in a protest over Clinton's Cuba policies. But Odio has yet to defeat his nemesis, Fidel Castro, the man who is still standing as Cuban dictator despite Odio's repeated jabs. Gonzalez-Goenaga, holder of the coveted title of New Times Best Gadfly, is 0-10 after several sometimes bloody clashes with City of Miami police officers. But he is also a dogged combatant who will not give up until he is knocked out cold.

While Commissioner Miller Dawkins and Mayor Steve Clark refuse to divulge their favorite, the other commissioners are falling solidly behind the city manager. "Who would win? I would assume it would have to be Cesar because he's younger and he rows so he is in better shape," says Commissioner J.L. Plummer. "But then, Manny, I guess he could out-talk anybody, which could help him in the ring."

De Yurre thinks that Odio is unstoppable in a straight fight. "If I was a betting man, I would first look at the odds, then I'd put my money on Cesar," De Yurre says. "You have to think of it as a wrestling match instead of a boxing match, which is what it would actually turn out to be. For Manny to win he would have to have brass knuckles and hit Cesar in the balls and pull nylon ropes out of his shorts and that sort of thing."

Odio does have a weakness, though. His temper is famously quick to flare. Some on the commission worry that Odio's short fuse could cost him the match. "He might lose his coolness," says Gort. "That might be the thing that Gonzalez-Goenaga can take advantage of."

With luck, Gonzalez-Goenaga might still acquire one more extreme advantage: Jail time. On May 21, he was arrested at city hall after allegedly uttering the aforementioned threat. While the incident has earned him the intimidating boxing moniker of "Boom Boom," it also is a felony charge that could land him in the pokey.

The trial is in the discovery phase right now. Should the Puerto Rican lose in court and be thrown in the slammer, he could emerge from prison a veritable Mike Tyson: more "mature," more "focused," and with a tattoo of Arthur Ashe on his bicep. The pent-up tension from Gonzalez-Goenaga's absence will create hype for a fight that, in terms of sheer public interest, should rival the moon walk. Miami's reputation as a fight mecca will be restored.

As world-renowned boxing analyst and Miami resident Ferdie "the Fight Doctor" Pacheco told New Times last week, "Boxing is crazy enough, but politics is really the sleaziest endeavor in human existence.