Blues for the Fire Department

On Nov. 28 the Progressive Firefighters Association, which looks out for black firemen in Miami-Dade County, showed up in Liberty City at Fire Station #2, in solidarity with Willie Latimore, a seventeen-year veteran of the department, who's been having the same kinds of problems with some of his co-workers that William "D.C." Clark, James Moore, and Terry Williams did in Opa-locka recently. In Latimore's case there was no national honor component or flag frenzy to justify what appears to be institutional prejudice within the Miami-Dade FD. Latimore, who until recently had never been disciplined before and who has been at #2 for twelve years, was moved to other stations nine times (contractually illegal) by commanding officers because of incidents and "attitude." His antagonists have chiefly been Lts. Carlos Gimenez and Angel Machado, his immediate superiors as driver/operator of a fire truck.

Gimenez and Latimore had a confrontation over Latimore's alleged slowness in getting ready for a call, for Willie showing up with "toast and coffee," and for misunderstanding directions to an emergency site. (Latimore says he wasn't slow, was eating when he got the call, and that Gimenez gave him the "wrong address.") Machado and Latimore got into it after Machado allegedly began shouting at and trying to force a patient entering a diabetic coma to follow orders. Latimore, a licensed nurse, says he tried to convince the lieutenant to wait for medics and police to arrive with the means to treat and move the patient but that Machado seemed to think his authority was being challenged.

Recently Gimenez has filed complaints with division chief M.T. Dunne, charging that he and his men believe Latimore's "insubordinate" attitudes and "hostile" responses to orders disqualify him as a "team member whom I can depend on while my crew and I are inside a burning structure." He asked for Latimore's removal "before one of our personnel is injured or killed."

William Clark described Latimore as "a company man" until recently, "when owing to our notoriety over in Opa-locka, pressure increased from a small group of bigots and macho types" against "any black in the department who tries to be a man." When the PFA showed up at #2 station to support Latimore and "relieve anyone at the station who refuses to work with him" (he'd been confronted by several firemen who informed him that they were "afraid" to go out on a job with him), they got no takers. Clark, whose own troubles with the FD are still unresolved, said the only thing his friend -- "one of the best firemen I've ever seen" -- had done "wrong" was to "refuse to participate in the childish pranks [like hazing rookies by setting their pants on fire or tampering with their gear] some of these fools play as their idea of camaraderie.... Why doesn't the department look into some of their behavior? Why aren't they being disciplined?"

We knew about cows in Miami Lakes, but Germans? Models? Okay, okay, so there's this German guy, Carlo Krockel, a colorist to the stars -- well, at least to the Miami modeling and club fashionistas -- who runs this fabulous salon called Oh La La Spa on NW 77th Court, and the goings-on there are always such a hoot, with fab models and rock stars and opera singers coming in to entertain the customers while they're being beautified and amused by colorist-type gossip (the best items are #!*@&#!) . . . One day Carlo, who wears black leather pants and has really cool hair, is channel-surfing and is so bored by prime time and cable fare, he tells Howard Chambers, his publicist, that the everyday show at Oh La La should be videotaped, high-concepted, and metamorphosed into a TV series called Oh La La, Dimelo Todo ("Oh Wow, Tell Me Everything," Americanized to Oh La La, Let's Talk). So he calls a few pals, Ray Guin, Volker Haiges, and they shoot a pilot at Editech Studios in Miami, and now they're shopping it -- to MSNBC, among others. One segment will feature Image Police, glamorous models who snatch potentially hot people who look like Audrey Hepburn in the first reel of Funny Face off the street, and forcibly make them over. "I always wanted to bring a talk show into my world and be like the Larry King of Miami Lakes," Krockel, who is cultural chairman of the ML Chamber of Commerce, confesses. Verstanden?

Heart of the matter: What is going on with party politics in Little Havana? First, the Cuban-American voters put a closet Democrat into the Miami mayor's office. Then, two semanas later, U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd -- from Connecticut (!) -- a long-time advocate of ending the 42-year-old embargo against Cuba, breaks bread with 25 like-minded Cuban Americans and non-Cubans, in that still beating and ideologically hardened right ventricle of exile thought, Versailles Restaurant. And he is testifying, saying heretical things like the greatest threat to Fidel Castro's authoritarian regime is not the embargo but the lack thereof. Chris! He also says the best way to create change and give the island's 11 million citizens a chance to breathe free is to give them more access to us! Hello? Were Miami's Republicans losing their steam or rebuilding their team? Were they home sleeping?

One topic of conversation at breakfast was the demonization of Democrats by Miami's legions of GOP vigilantes. "You know, how if you're a Democrat, you're a Communist or you're a Janet Reno lover -- that kind of bullshit," said Alvaro Fernandez, one of the attendees among Peruvians, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and the Cuban American National Foundation (which has lately been reminding us it is not Republican but bipartisan).

"Why the Versailles, the right-wing symbol?" Riptide wanted to know.

"We picked Versailles after we picked the community we wanted to reach out to," explained Bandele McQueen, the Florida Democratic Party's 30-year-old political director. "We're not intimidated." McQueen said he expected a tough fight for Florida votes in next year's state and national elections. He said he thought most of the inroads would be made in Central Florida's I-4 corridor, but that Miami's rigidly Republican turf was softening up, too. Notably absent was Gus Garcia, former Dem. county party chief, who said last year that Cuban Americans are generally libs except for the Castro issue. But now even the Cuban American National Foundation is supporting private sales of agricultural products to Cuba, as long as U.S. Guv is not involved.

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New Times staff