And the Band Played On

And the Band Played On

Filed under: News

On a recent Thursday, a tricked-out maroon car with chrome rims revved by a clutch of gatherers outside the boxy beige North Miami building that houses U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek's office.

"That's not Rucy," said Diane Lawrence, the group's leader, laughing. Soon, Rucy Jason pulled up in a 2005 silver Prius plastered with a dozen-odd stickers, including three calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The South Florida Impeachment Coalition on this recent day included Lawrence, a 67-year-old grandmother; a retired grove operator and her 29-year-old son; a philanthropist; a pair of retired bookkeepers; and 52-year-old Navy vet Eric Oriol, a Meek constituent whose head was covered with a blue bandanna.

The hodgepodge crew glided through the doors and crammed into the elevator. Oriol had visited the third-floor office in August to try to get the Meek camp to declare the pol's impeachment stance. He did not hear back from the congressman, so the coalition was planning a sit-in to push for an answer. The tactic was fitting, considering Meek's legendary 25-hour sit-in to protest Gov. Jeb Bush's end to affirmative action in public contracting and university admissions in 2000. (That protest ended after Bush agreed to a meeting.)

"If he could do it in Jeb Bush's office, we can do it in his," said 80-year-old Eneida Michelson. "I don't plan to be arrested. I didn't bring anything for getting arrested."

But Meek didn't show. Alex Lewy, a nervous aide, said he couldn't talk to the group in front of Riptide. He disappeared behind doors. "He's bawk, bawk, bawk," said one of the activists, imitating a chicken. Eight minutes later, Lewy popped back to announce he'd talk to them away from Riptide.

Shaking their heads in disgust, the group members instead decided to read the U.S. Constitution in loud, clear voices. Then, after deciding that was too long, they began reciting the proposed impeachment articles against Cheney that blame him for thousands of lives lost and billions of dollars squandered in Iraq.

Around 5 p.m., the group ended its one-and-half-hour sit-in, and Oriol sheepishly rushed off to catch a spinning class. The pariahs of the dominant parties headed out to 183rd Street with signs calling to impeach Cheney and Bush. Like the Titanic musicians of lore, even if no one was listening, perhaps they felt better raising a clamor. — Janine Zeitlin

Charlie Crist's Missed Appointment

Filed under: News

We're guessing Gov. Charlie Crist doesn't put much stock in the Herald these days. On October 21, investigative reporter Jason Grotto detailed how Miami lawyer Larry R. Handfield voted on a deal, when he was chairman of Miami's Public Health Trust, in which he had a possible conflict of interest. The people's governor recently appointed the 51-year-old criminal defense lawyer to the state ethics commission anyway.

According to the Herald, Handfield and county Commissioner Dorrin Rolle voted in favor of a lease with Boston builder Dennis Stackhouse to open a clinic in the latter's now-defunct county-funded $250-million biopharmaceutical park in Liberty City in 2004. As the vice chairman of the James E. Scott Community Association, Handfield solicited donations to JESCA from Stackhouse after voting on the PHT lease deal.

In the end, Stackhouse never built anything. The PHT never opened the clinic. And Stackhouse was arrested this past September on felony charges for illegally reimbursing employees for contributions to Rolle's re-election campaign in 2006. He is also under investigation for siphoning hundreds of thousands of tax dollars from the park through double billings and fake invoices.

The kicker: Handfield is representing Stackhouse in both cases. He adamantly denied having a conflict of interest, saying he never spoke in favor of the lease deal, never advocated on Stackhouse's behalf, and did not make the motion to accept the lease. "Like the other board members, I based my vote on staff recommendation," Handfield added. "If there was a conflict, I would have disclosed it."

As for his gubernatorial appointment, he said, "The governor based his decision on my 20 years of public service. When you look at my history, it speaks for itself." — Francisco Alvarado

Firm Fallout

Filed under: News

The City of Miami is poised to fork over $200,000 in a wrongful termination suit. Mary Conway, the city's director of capital improvement projects since 2003, was instrumental in a city investigation that led to the arrests of 14 workers in her department earlier this year. The employees, who dubbed themselves "The Firm," did outside consulting and planning work on city time.

Despite initiating the investigation, Conway was fired in July, not long after the arrests of her workers. According to a memo from City Attorney Jorge Fernandez's office, Conway said "she was terminated in violation of Florida's Whistleblower Act." Publicity surrounding her termination made it difficult for her to find another job, she added.

Fernandez (who's in a bit of trouble himself for renovating his office to the tune of $300,000) is recommending that city commissioners vote Thursday to pay Conway $200,000 as part of the settlement. The losers? Taxpayers, of course. — Tamara Lush

Art or Not Art

And now, the answers to last week's "Riptide Presents." Did you spot the fakes? They were #3 (Toilet Paper Roll), #4 (Nasty Shoes), and #8 (Egg Lamp). Thanks to all who played!

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.
Tamara Lush
Janine Zeitlin