It's 11:30 a.m. on Election Day, and Alex Daoud pulls up to his precinct at Miami Beach's 21st Street Recreation Center in a gray Chevy SUV. The only available parking space is a bus stop. "Oh jeez, this is horrible," he frets. "If I were still mayor, I'd get a police officer out here right away."
Daoud — who is 64 years old, six feet four inches tall, and looks like a cross between actor John Goodman and Muppet Fozzie Bear — lumbers across the street and past campaign workers, who barely acknowledge his greeting. They don't know that in the Nineties he was the city's most charismatic politician. Nor are they aware he routinely left commission meetings for kinky sex with two women, accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash bribes, and served 18 months in a federal lockup.
Inside it's a different story. The election workers know all about Daoud's shady past, but are delighted to see him. "Buenos días, Mayor," says a sixtyish woman sitting at the registration table.
"Mi amorrrrrr," Daoud purrs.
Daoud, whose voting rights were restored a mere three years ago, quickly casts his ballot for mayoral candidate Simon Cruz and others endorsed by the police union. Then he kisses four elderly ladies goodbye on his way out. One of them places an "I Voted" sticker on his chest. "Does this mean we're going steady?" Daoud says flirtatiously.
Cruz, the international-banker-cum-mayoral-candidate, ended up finishing only 289 votes behind grandmotherly community activist Matti Herrera Bower. The two will compete in a runoff next Tuesday. At stake is the rezoning of the Miami Heart Institute, property tax hikes, and continued overdevelopment of every inch of the Western Hemisphere's playground.
But no matter which one is elected, the Beach is unlikely to be transformed as it was during Daoud's terms as commissioner and mayor, from 1979 to 1991. Last month Daoud published a book detailing his time as the city's czar. It's called Sins of South Beach. And it's a juicy, if sometimes self-serving and myopic, 493-page romp through Daoud's 22-year political career. The handsome Lebanese-Catholic, half-Jewish, Spanish-speaking lawyer with a caudillo's charm was elected to the Miami Beach City Commission in 1979.
Back then the Beach was a haven for the elderly and a cesspool of crime. Some of the book's most interesting chapters catalogue Daoud's ride-alongs with the cops on the midnight shift; he often carried a gun and, he contends, beat rapists and robbers to a pulp at officers' behest.
In his first run as mayor in 1985, Daoud beat incumbent Malcolm Fromberg. Daoud's multiethnic and linguistic stew was at first a tasty change in a fractious town. During that campaign for mayor, he raised $100,000 — which equates to about $193,000 today, or almost four times the total raised by Bower.
The Eighties were a lawless era on the Beach, and Daoud was elected for three two-year terms. His oversize personality attracted celebrities like Princess Caroline of Monaco and Donald Trump. He even had two cameos on Miami Vice (in one episode he played a corrupt judge; "No typecasting there," he says, chuckling), and in 1988 pondered a run for Congress.
Then, on October 29, 1991, just days before his final term as mayor ended, the feds indicted him on 41 counts of bribery, obstruction of justice, and tax evasion. He was accused of accepting a $10,000 bribe from a drug dealer and boxing promoter, of directing his secretaries to lie on the witness stand, and of accepting $20,000 to vote on a boat dock for a millionaire. Instead of preparing for his next campaign, he spent the next year organizing his defense.
Daoud's trial, which Hurricane Andrew interrupted, was a circus. His former lover, Bonnie Levin, took the stand against him and said she had dated Daoud — and that he had talked about taking payments from businessmen in exchange for favors. His second wife, Terri, was in the audience and heard it all. When Levin finished testifying, Terri stood up in court and yelled, "I'm leaving you!"
In 1993 a jury found him guilty on only one count of bribery; he later pleaded guilty to four additional counts of obstruction of justice and tax evasion. Though Daoud could have faced life in prison, Judge James Lawrence King cut the sentence to 18 months. The reason: Daoud helped the government go after two former friends: David Paul, the ex-chairman of CenTrust Bank, and Abel Holz, the former chairman of Capital Bank.
While locked down in solitary confinement for most of that time (Daoud says there was a death threat), he documented his flaws in a memoir. "It started as a catharsis," he says. "I just wanted to write the real story. The real story of politics never gets out."