Despite her efforts to understand, Miami makes no sense: Rebecca Wakefield's story about public housing in Opa-locka ("Land Grab," August 21) was very interesting, well written, and frightening -- considering that major public funds are involved. And considering lobbyist Peter Bernal's documented history of involvement with shady characters and what seems to me to be a propensity for not being credible, why is he allowed to continue as a member of Miami-Dade County's Affordable Housing Advisory Board, which recommends public funds for low-income housing? That's like allowing the fox to guard the henhouse.
It makes no sense to me. But then again, there's no place like Miami, either. I hope New Times continues with this story and publishes followups.
Freeport, New York
Hey Babe, What's with This Old Issue of New Times?
Um, those articles, you know, are like sooooo long: I don't know what it is about the guy on the cover of the August 14 edition, the one featuring Steven Dudley's story "Sandwich and a Hooker." Maybe it's the tackily cocked trucker hat combined with the dirty white T-shirt and the bottle of Corona and the Cuban sandwich he's holding -- but for some odd reason he totally turns me on!
My boyfriend is probably starting to wonder why I've had that copy of New Times perched conveniently on my nightstand for the last few nights! So, you wanna tell me in what cafetería I can find him?
Name Withheld by Request
After Teaching for 35 Years, I Have One Final Question
Why are the most powerful people also the most greedy? After reading "Pat Tornillo and His Generous Friend" (August 14), Rebecca Wakefield's terrific piece about the former president of the United Teachers of Dade (UTD), I must ask: Why is it that so many people in power -- with respected positions and the high salaries that go with their responsibilities -- are so greedy they want and/or think they deserve more and get it in an underhanded and illegal manner? Greed and avarice do not respect race, religion, or ethnicity, as we have seen so many times in Miami-Dade County.
So, let's see now. Pat Tornillo's union -- my union -- negotiates a contract some years ago for legal services for teachers at a reduced rate. Elizabeth du Fresne, then the UTD attorney, provides her services to get this done. Then it seems du Fresne serves as a consultant to the firm providing this service, for which she is paid some significant money each month. In turn she begins to worry about Pat Tornillo's financial future so she begins paying $500 per month into an annuity for him. Does anything smell of kickback here?
The legal-service plan provided is pretty nice when included as a school board paid benefit. But I never thought it was worth purchasing. How many wills do I need? How many houses would I buy? There are also too many exclusions to make this service worth purchasing. And should I do something really naughty, as perhaps Mr. Tornillo has done, I didn't think Roy Black, Jeff Weiner, Neal Sonnett, or Joel Hirshhorn would be part of the plan.
For 35 years I paid my dues to UTD. During the last two I tried to get UTD to help with my quest to be rehired after retiring as part of the DROP program (Deferred Retirement Option Plan) at the salary of a beginning teacher plus my retirement. I was ignored by UTD, Tornillo, and every politician I approached.
This could be a winning situation for everyone. The school district could keep those of us who enjoy the job enough to want to return at half our previous salaries plus our retirements. Parents and kids keep some of the most experienced teachers. Taxpayers save money.
I spoke to and e-mailed Tornillo. Nothing. I spoke at a forum he called, nothing. Now I understand. He was too busy with his private spending to be concerned with mine.
Now get this: For whatever the reason, our governor signed legislation allowing school districts to extend DROP. Some did, some did not. Miami-Dade did not. Superintendent Merrett Stierheim did not feel there was enough money to do so. I agree. The high salaries and cost of benefits are prohibitive. But I do believe Merrett sees the merit in keeping some of us on at beginners' salaries plus our retirement.
Last week I approached school-board negotiator Reynaldo Velazquez, who was speaking with his UTD counterpart, Gary Pagels. I stated that I had just been to a Broward school district hiring fair. The Broward and Palm Beach school districts, and others, would not hesitate to hire teachers like myself as I have outlined. Pagels's response to me was: "Go there." I cannot believe the UTD, which sucked money out of my paycheck for 35 years, now stands between me and a job in this right-to-work state.
The UTD believes that teachers such as myself are worth more than we've been paid. Okay, we are worth more. So are all the others. But the money is not there. So to the UTD I say: Get the hell out of my way and bargain for a decent and realistic salary and benefits for the school-district employees you represent.
To Mr. Pagels, who told me to go someplace else to be hired, guess where I'd like you to go? As for Pat Tornillo and the six-figure elite who are still with this union, we will see.
Alan W. Rigerman
Palm Springs North
Strange Case of the Missing Black Artists
But not quite as strange as the article explaining it: When I read Onajide Shabaka's recent article titled "Black Art? Where?" (August 14), I agreed with it at first. Then I began to actually digest what was being said. Shabaka says that galleries in Miami are not interested in the work of established African-American artists. Then he immediately backtracks by saying that it is as much the "artists' lack of interest as the galleries' lack of attention." This seems preposterous to me and I would like to know which gallerists claimed to have no interest in this work. If it is the artists' lack of interest, then what is the point of the article?
Shabaka accuses many African-American artists of being unprofessional: "Many African-American artists don't realize the level of professionalism that is now part of a career in art: formal education, quality slides, résumé, presentable portfolio." I find this statement unfounded and absolutely insulting. Is he telling me Kerry James Marshall (who was shown at MAM) is somehow less prepared than other artists? I've taught at many art schools here in Miami and have not found a single instance of black students being less prepared or professional than other students. This attitude is totally patronizing.
I don't know where Shabaka has been lately, but Purvis Young is huge in Miami. The Rubell Collection owns a large number of his paintings. He's had solo shows at Fred Snitzer's gallery and the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art. What more does he need to be respected?
Then Shabaka gives us a history lesson that totally omits the Harlem Renaissance and anything that happened in South Florida. The point of this apparently was to bring us (somehow) to five pertinent questions: Why does this matter? What is "black" art anyhow? Can Euro-American artists create "black" work? Should just being "black" be a ticket to getting a show? Is it even important that the work is "black" in the first place?
Well, Shabaka only vaguely answers one of these questions by saying that having a "black" show "...means that black artists have become ghettoized." (Is that even a word?) So is his article doing the same?
After regaling us with another pedantic session about the free-market economy within the art world, Shabaka asserts that the reason there are no established black artists in Miami is a "lack of qualified African-American curators and art historians in our area." Is Shabaka saying that only they can promote ethnically diverse views? Am I wrong in saying that this is a derisive statement? I know many talented artists of African descent, some in Miami and some elsewhere. Regardless if they are American-born, Haitian-born, European, or Latin, artwork of African origins is clearly alive in Miami! That many are shown in the "Latin" galleries does not make them less entitled to their African heritage. To separate them regionally makes even less sense as Miami's community of African descent is diverse in its very nature.
At the beginning of the essay, Shabaka says he is talking about "established black artists," yet his article seems more directed to finding unknown black talent. Which is it? I'm surprised New Times would publish such an irresponsible and amateurish article.
Carlos de Villasante
Reports of My Internet Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated
In fact I'm back up and running: In a credit line at the end of my article "Black Art? Where?" in the August 14 issue, I was described as the "former editor" of the Website www.miamiartexchange.com. This is just a note to let you know that I am still the editor. The site has been relaunched under my leadership and management as of July 15, 2003.
You're both chasing ad dollars, so enough with the bickering: Let me start by saying Tristram Korten is a great writer. I respect him as a journalist and find him to be one of the few local journalistic gems. But I'm not sure I got the point of his column "Street Takes a Detour" (July 31). Is it to somehow imply that Street, the weekly paper put out by the Miami Herald Publishing Company, is invalid or illegitimate because it panders to advertising dollars?
Competition being what it is, I find it silly when New Times and Street take jabs at each other's credibility. In this context it seems even more pointless. After all, let none of you forget that it is advertisers who make the papers run -- those very advertisers that some could suggest New Times caters to by perhaps choosing not to run stories that could offend. Granted, New Times may have avoided the public embarrassment of reprinting an entire edition to hold onto those advertising dollars, but it runs by the same machinery that spins the wheels just a few blocks down Biscayne Boulevard.