Carlos "El Fuerte" Alvarez

Smilin' guy

The most interesting moment during yesterday's vote for strong mayor occurred at the West Dade Regional Library shortly before 1 p.m. In the parking lot, Jose "Pepe" Riesco, chairman of a pro-strong-mayor PAC called Citizens for Reform, chatted with an elderly voter. She had cast her ballot for the measure. An opponent of the proposal carrying a yellow and blue "NO!" placard strolled up. "Ma'am please don't let him brainwash you," she bellowed. "We left Cuba so we wouldn't have to put up with a dictator."

The voter snapped back: "Take your crap somewhere else. Every major city has a strong mayor, so don't come to me with your stupid comments."

The anti-strong mayor stumper didn't respond and refused to reveal her name to New Times. She said: "How do I know you're really a reporter and not working for Alvarez?"

Today Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez woke up with the power to hire and fire the county manager and 66 department directors. Fifty-six percent of the 150,399 registered voters who cast ballots punched yes on the strong mayor question.

For Alvarez, it wasn't easy. During the past two years, he and Citizens for Reform, waged a fierce battle with the county commission in the courts, the commission chambers, and ultimately the streets of Miami-Dade.

For all their fear mongering and misleading propaganda in the final week before the special election, county commissioners couldn't muster a successful counter campaign against Alvarez and his "yellow shirt" supporters. "This has been a very long hard process, but we have made history," Alvarez shouted to the crowd at his victory party last night at the St. Timothy's Catholic Church recreation center.

For the most part, get out the vote day didn't see much of the political skullduggery that dominates Miami-Dade elections. There were no reports of campaign workers engaging in fisticuffs or Republican operatives storming the elections office.

In the evening, St. Timothy's recreation center was packed with a broad spectrum of Miami-Dade's citizenry -- from police union boss John Rivera to environmentalists Alan Farago and Barbara Lange to members of the Natacha Seijas recall committee, who sat at a table and drank draft beer. "We didn't get the witch, but at least we got a strong mayor" opined Luis Sanchez, referring to the failed recall campaign against county commissioner Natacha Seijas.

Lange spotted former Miami mayor Maurice Ferre and former state legislator Darryl Reaves across the room. "The sharks are already circling the mayor," Lange snickered.

Shortly before 10 p.m., a beaming Alvarez took the podium surrounded by his family and his closest allies, including Riesco and state Sen. Alex Villalobos. After the mayor's speech, the raspy-voiced PAC chairman said: "I'm so tired, but so happy with the outcome. This was so important for the future of our county."

Francisco Alvarado

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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse