The City of North Miami has yet to conclude its search for a new city attorney, but word on the street says Hans Ottinot, deputy city attorney for Sunny Isles Beach, has a lock on the job.

Developer Michael Swerdlow and lobbyist Ron Book are allegedly pressuring Mayor Joe Celestin, as well as councilmen Michael Blynn, Jacques Despinosse, and Jean Monestime to select Ottinot at a hearing on February 22 to appoint the city's new legal counsel, according to sources familiar with the search. Members of the Haitian Lawyers Association are also lobbying the council members to pick Ottinot. In addition to Ottinot, the council will also consider Hernando County Circuit Court Judge Peyton B. Hyslop and private attorneys James Saunders III, Catherine Rodriguez, and Norman Powell.

Swerdlow has a lot of stake in North Miami. He is building Biscayne Landing, a mixed-use project that will add 4800 condominium units, a hotel, a town center, and parks on the east side of Biscayne Boulevard near Florida International University's north campus. The 193-acre city-owned tract is the site of the former Munisport landfill. City leaders hope Biscayne Landing, with construction tagged at an estimated one billion dollars, will be a catalyst for North Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency indirectly pumping millions of dollars into the CRA's coffers.

Swerdlow did not return phone calls seeking comment. Book denied that he has been arm-twisting council members into selecting Ottinot. "Some councilmen who value my opinion have asked me about several of the candidates," Book admitted. "But to say I am lobbying would be incorrect."

Blynn, who is running for re-election this May, said he has not sought any opinions or been told who to choose. "I've had Gwen Margolis and a couple of attorneys call me to rave about Powell, but that was a few months back," he said. Monestime, who is running for mayor, flatly denied being coerced into voting for Ottinot. "I take exception to anyone who says I'm being influenced to vote for a particular candidate," said Monestime, who has raised more than $45,000 for his campaign, mostly from Swerdlow, his partners, and his affiliated companies. "People know me better than that. No one has control over my decision." Celestin and Despinosse could not be reached for comment.

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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.

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