Poor Miami: No Tears

Letters from the Issue of October 10, 2002

Don't just sit there -- do something substantial: Thanks very much to New Times for the special report on poverty in Miami ("We're Number One!" September 26 and October 3). We must all do better for our community and its people. Conviction and education are the essential ingredients for action.

In that spirit, ACCION USA is poised to launch a significant expansion of microlending in Miami. The organization brings with it more than 30 years' experience and some $1.7 million in private capital to help our legions of small entrepreneurs. Not only does ACCION USA provide new opportunities for $500 to $10,000 loans to small businesses, it also brings hands-on technical assistance that helps ensure that businesses can be successful and eventually move into the traditional banking system.

This effort has been spearheaded by the Coral Gables Congregational Church and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, along with support from a number of other sources in the community, including, potentially, the City of Miami.

We all could sit on our hands and shed tears about the poverty in our community. That is too easy. We need to join hands, develop new and creative approaches to making substantial change. I look forward to a day -- soon I hope -- when we can read a story in New Times about the progress we've made by working together to help each other.

Paul C. Hunt

South Miami

Poor Miami: Invisible Neighbors

Don't just sit there -- raise the floor: Kudos to New Times for the "We're Number One!" series on the plight of the poverty-stricken and the working poor in Miami. All too often our most vulnerable citizens, who toil away at minimum-wage jobs, are invisible from the public debate. New Times has done a real service to the community with this timely series.

In the meantime, concerned citizens, organizations, and workers can take part in "raising the floor" for low-wage workers in Miami and most of South Florida by joining the Community Coalition for a Living Wage. Call 305-576-5001, ext. 28.

John Ise, volunteer

Community Coalition for a Living Wage

Biscayne Park

Poor Miami: Mostly Black

Stand up, take charge, and assert your rights: While the New Times report is a good one, it fails to mention the overriding issues that confront poor cities: They have large black populations that are mostly isolated, like a prisoner in his cell. PoMi, as New Times calls it, is mostly BMi (black Miami). There are reasons for this, some self-inflicted and some not.

First and foremost, blacks have had to deal with institutionalized racism for decades, and that is not their fault. They have had to endure denigration and insult without much ability to respond because they haven't been in power to do anything about it. But a large part is also their own fault, as they elect leaders who are ill-equipped or downright corrupt. Former schools superintendent Johnny Jones comes to mind, as do others currently in the system. Black leadership needs to say enough is enough, or they will forever be in this mess.

American blacks need to stand up and take charge, to stop demanding rights and instead begin changing their lives by asserting them. Black Americans can do anything they set their minds to. They have never been poor at heart and I cannot believe they are poor in spirit. Most of the poor are black, but I have faith they can overcome this if we all work together as Miamians.

Why is this such a difficult thing to do? Perhaps a start would be to get rid of all the politicians, regardless of race or ethnicity, and start anew.

Carlos Navarro


Poor Miami: Hidden History

You want to place blame? Blame the feds: I read all the articles regarding Miami being the poorest city in America. They were very informative but I believe several historical components were missing. For example, back in the late Forties and Fifties, city leaders gave the airport, the seaport, Jackson Memorial Hospital, and the water and sewer department to the county. The articles did not mention the state decision to build I-95 and SR836, which destroyed Overtown and Park West. All this was done long before immigrants arrived.

Since the articles seem to lay the blame for the city's problems on its diversity, it is important to mention, for history's sake, that Miami was also a hostage of U.S. foreign policy. Nowhere did the articles mention that after President John F. Kennedy took the blame for the Bay of Pigs failure, he gave blanket approval for Cubans to obtain visas at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Nor did they note that President Lyndon B. Johnson created the Freedom Flights and brought 265,000 Cuban exiles to Miami. The articles did not mention that President Jimmy Carter, during the Mariel boatlift, said, "We welcome them with open arms." They also did not explain that Carter created the status of "entrants" for Cuban and Haitian boat people. The articles did not report that it was the Caribbean Basin Initiative of President Ronald Reagan that cost 13,000 jobs in local clothing factories because their owners moved them to the Caribbean and Central America. They also failed to mention that President Reagan said, "I am a contra too," and invited to the U.S. freedom-seeking Nicaraguans who were fleeing the Sandinistas. Nor did they recount that the U.S. Attorney General in 1994 said, "The 34,000 rafters at the U.S. base in Guantánamo will never enter the U.S." and that three months later they were all here.

I believe the historical question should have been: "What did the federal government do to help Miami?" I am sure many people would agree that the answer is: Nothing.

Tomas Regalado, chairman

City of Miami Commission

Poor Miami: Poor Journalism

Badly written, poorly edited, cynical free weekly also racist? Let me start by saying that "We're Number One!" carried a whiff of racism that was surprising for a liberal rag like New Times. I am a computer science professor, but my journalist colleagues agree that the editing and writing were below par.

Chickens do not flock. They brood, clutch, or peep. The Miami city map was geographically incorrect. Little Haiti does not cross SW Eighth Street. The articles failed to mention that much of Miami's wealth, as is the case in most cities, lies in the suburbs and surrounding areas such as Kendall, Key Biscayne, and Aventura.

The cynical nature of "We're Number One!" left me, a lifelong Miami resident, not with a bad feeling about Miami but rather a bad feeling about New Times. Frankly, if it weren't free, I wouldn't bother to read it.

Rick Jimenez


Poor Miami: No Surprise

Speak English or go home: The reason Miami is so poor is that no one speaks English or has the desire to. Kreyol or Spanish are the chosen languages. If you live in America you should speak English, but these Haitians and Spanish have their own agendas. It's all about them.

Auto insurance is the highest here because of theft, accidents, and the rudest drivers in the U.S. bar none. If you asked half the people in Miami what was the last book they read, they would say a matchbook. What company would want to move here and do business in this cartoon city? So are you surprised Miami is the poorest city?

Ralph Tatum


Poor Miami: Lost Paychecks

One park vs. many jobs: I was shocked to read Miami Commissioner Arthur Teele's comments in the second part of "We're Number One!" ("What Did You Do in the War on Poverty?" October 3). Teele stated: "I've focused on three things: jobs, jobs, and more jobs." On September 30, 2002, Teele attended a public meeting of the Little Haiti Park Internal Working Group. In fact he was the main speaker and the biggest backer of this proposed "park" that will cost anywhere from $60 million to $80 million.

Teele wants Miami taxpayers to spend this money to evict up to 118 property owners, 60 to 70 businesses, 350 residents, and 650 jobs. When Teele was asked repeatedly why he wanted to eliminate 650 jobs from one of the poorest communities in Miami, the poorest city in America, he was factually silent. When Teele was asked repeatedly what plans he had to find new jobs for the 650 employees evicted by his "park" proposal, he had no answer. One employer who could lose his property to Teele's proposal has 67 employees, 38 of whom are single mothers.

It was too bad New Times did not have reporters at that meeting, but I doubt they were invited. God forbid they should have a chance to get a real live quote.

Peter Ehrlich


Poor Miami: Vigilant Police

Thanks to city cops, crime dropped while poverty rose: Being a City of Miami cop for close to eighteen years I believe qualifies me to make the following observations: With a city as poor, destitute, and previously mismanaged (via corruption) as Miami has been, it is amazing that crime has not exploded. In fact, following the Mariel period and the crime spike, which peaked out in 1993 or 1994, crime has gone down.

New ways to combat crime emerged around 1995 and have been quite successful. But much if not all the credit belongs to the rank and file of the Miami Police Department. Oh sure, there have been situations that have embarrassed and pissed me off, as well as the entire citizenry of Miami, but if we are going to harp on the bad (and we should), then we also need to harp on the good. The Miami Police Department has been at the forefront of plugging the proverbial dike in such a poverty-ridden city.

I also praise Mayor Manny Diaz. He has put poverty in the middle of his plate. He intends to address the issue and do something more than give it the usual lip service. At the commission meeting of Thursday, September 26, I heard Republican Art Teele even quote President Lyndon Johnson. Could the city be looking at a "Great Society" of sorts?

Trust me, I ain't no kiss ass. Far from it. Politics and police work go together about as successfully as Cain and Abel. But it is just inspiring, in a morale-boosting sense, to see someone tackle major issues and put the typical Miami bullshit aside.

David Magnusson


Poor Miami: Alien World

Illuminating free weekly in your face: As a University of Miami commuter student who makes a journey to campus every school day on Tri-Rail and Metrorail, I witness the incompetence of our elected officials as I pass by the neglected neighborhoods that make up a good portion of "PoMi," as New Times put it.

"We're Number One!" was right on the spot and badly needed, for no other local media outlet would focus its attention on the biggest obstacle that faces Miami today. I'm sure that many South Florida residents who live in their secluded suburban environments, and who only come near the city itself for employment purposes, could never imagine the severity of the problem before New Times shed light on it. Finally someone realized there is a problem and we need to know about it, not ignore it.

There's always some bonehead who has to disagree with New Times for no legitimate reason other than they think it is pro-Castro, anti-Cuban, or anti-whatever. But I wonder what anyone can say this time, because if someone does, I'd like for that person to present a real case, with the data to back them up.

Chris Martinez

North Miami-Dade

Poor Miami: Tricky Figures

Statistically challenged free weekly not to be trusted: It took only a couple of minutes scanning "We're Number One!" to see that it's more of what I expect New Times to deliver: misleading, useless, and even wrong statistics to make some sort of point about how crummy South Florida is.

The report isolates the City of Miami as being the poorest in the nation. That may be so, but the City of Miami represents only 15.83 percent of Miami-Dade County's population, an area commonly referred to as Greater Miami. New Times accurately points out that many types of people have abandoned the city, but what relevance does that have? There are going to be pockets of poverty in any major metro area; it just happens that the city in our metro area with the most famous name is the poorest. Would it make New Times feel any better if the poorest city was Hialeah or Sweetwater?

Look at the following quote from the "Compare & Contrast" chart (September 26): "Take Miami, for example. You know it's the biggest city in Florida, which is to say it has the largest population. But do you know where it ranks among all U.S. cities?" Well, how can I trust New Times to tell me where Miami ranks among U.S. cities when, in fact, Jacksonville (735,617) has a population more than twice that of Miami? Of course we could be like Jacksonville, where the entire county is incorporated into one giant city and shazam! We would actually be the biggest Florida city in terms of population, but I guarantee that "Miami" would no longer be the poorest city in the nation.

One of the more meaningless statistics I saw, also on the "Compare & Contrast" chart, was the following gem: "Percentage of families living in poverty with female householder, no husband present." Take a minute to figure that out. It's not the number or percentage of single moms living in poverty in comparison to the overall population, but rather the percentage of single family moms living in poverty. That number is high across the board, even in cities much "richer" than Miami. Maybe I'm ignorant but my guess is that regardless of the city, a "family with a female householder, no husband present" is going to have a much greater chance of living in poverty.

Statistics are tricky things. In 1966 there was a proposed merger of two grocery chains in California that was blocked because a study showed that the number of single-store operators had been significantly reduced over a period of several years. The Supreme Court justices assumed that meant consolidation among the giants. They failed to notice that in fact many of the mom-and-pops had added a second store. I think the last institution anybody should trust to interpret statistics is New Times.

Henry Gomez


Editor's note: Regarding Jacksonville, Mr. Gomez is correct. When the city consolidated with surrounding Duval County, the result was a municipality encompassing 759 square miles, one of the largest in the United States. Today it is Florida's most populous city.

Poor Miami: Old News

We know it's bad, so tell us what to do: Thanks for the reminder of Miami's status. Of course, New Times could have included stories about Opa-locka and Florida City, which are among the poorest small cities in the nation.

The table comparing cities of similar size was helpful in understanding why Miami is so poor. A simple review shows us that two categories differ dramatically between Miami and the others: Percentage speaking English only at home, and percentage of population foreign-born.

Tristram Korten's article "Under the Table and Off the Books" (September 26), about Miami's parallel economy of dentists, doctors, and others who work without licenses, tends to point toward the impact of immigration. It seems that Mr. Korten is saying that Miami is poor because so many immigrants here don't have the proper licenses to practice their professions, or even to work legally. But he doesn't offer a solution. Should Florida allow these professionals to be licensed even though they can't speak English? We already print election ballots in three languages, so why not give all professional exams in those same three languages? Should all laws on immigration be relaxed to give permits to anyone who wants to work? (Isn't that already in place for many Central Americans?)

The article by Kirk Nielsen about the failure of the city's housing programs in Model City ("Where Did All the People Go?" September 26), points to another conclusion: Government solutions do not work!

We've heard all these things before. But New Times did not offer clear analysis or solutions. That would have been more helpful.

Randy Koper


Poor Miami: Good Ideas

You'd be surprised what bright, determined people can do: I'm still wondering why none of the local papers bothered to pick up on the fact that Miami is now the poorest city in the nation and do a series like this one. Thanks to New Times for putting a human face on the demographics and even more important, for asking local politicians to be accountable to their constituents.

I am an African-American woman who grew up in New York City during the Seventies. I remember the staggering crime, garbage strikes, and the blackout. I've also witnessed what happens when smart, committed people get together and say, "Hey, let's do something about this problem."

No, New York is no Utopia, but there are programs in place that work. Some of the folks quoted in "A Few Good Ideas" (October 3) have some great suggestions. Let's hope that someone with power can help bring those ideas to fruition. (Clearly it won't be Joe Carollo. He didn't even bother to answer a simple question about his role in helping to alleviate poverty in the city. No wonder nothing gets done around here.)

T. Simmons

Coral Gables

Poor Miami: Momentary Nostalgia

It almost made me want to return: I lived in Miami between 1986 and 1990, in the Belle Meade neighborhood. I was an inner-city high school teacher during that time at Carol City and Miami Northwestern. Luckily I have gotten out of teaching and into computers, and since 1996 I've lived in Minneapolis. When I lived in Miami, I read every issue of New Times. Now I go to the New Times Website.

I recently read "We're Number One!" and must say that once again New Times's professional journalism shines brightly, almost making me wish I were back there in the trenches, teaching science to students who didn't give a crap, who had bigger things to worry about, such as getting shot, so they slept in bathtubs; or doing science-fair projects about the bacteria on cockroaches that ate off people's eyebrows while they slept.

So much for nostalgia. Thanks for the memories.

Bob Naydol


Poor Miami: Fidel Fixation

Get rid of the embargo, then get ready for boom time: One must try to discover the reasons why Miami has been given such a remarkable award as America's Poorest City. Among many, I would suggest that one is our elected officials in Washington, who have been exchanging political favors in the House and Senate to maintain a useless embargo against Cuba instead of bringing badly needed federal funds to our area.

Obviously the era of Claude Pepper and Dante Fascell is gone. It is time these elected officials stop this game and work toward eliminating the Cuba embargo. When it is gone, I can safely forecast a boom in South Florida's economy.

Isidro Borja


Poor Miami: Third World

Who needs a corrupt, lawless, racist town? I worked in Miami for more than eight years and would have quit my job to get out if I had not received the transfer I asked for. I worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service at Miami International Airport. It was a good paying job with good benefits, yet people keep quitting and going elsewhere. The City of Miami is one reason.

We would stop illegal aliens and find they had the business cards of congressional representatives on them. Miami-Dade County has turned into a true representative of the Third World. It has all the corruption, failure of law, and racism you could want. That's why so many people are leaving.

James Carroll


Alberta, Canada

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