Maybe it was no big deal when voters last year, by a 3-1 margin, whacked Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas's plan to substitute a sales tax for tolls on county roads. Politically he survived. And it was really only a Penelian peccadillo when the county elections department fined the political action committee that backed the campaign $1100 for filing late campaign forms. But now, even though the transit idea is dead, the mercury keeps rising. Consider these two things next time you ponder a vote for the mayor or anything he supports: 1) After calls from New Times, the county recently demanded a better explanation from the Transit Not Tolls PAC for $21,000 listed as having been paid to "various individuals." That comes after a report that almost $1 million of the $1,879,962.54 spent on the campaign went to lobbyists and mayoral buddies. So much wasted money. So much mystery. 2) An even longer-term concern, not just about the mayor but about the political system, is made clear by state Rep. Annie Betancourt. Much of the money to pay those lobbyists and other costs -- $449,000 -- came from foundations associated with Florida International University and Miami-Dade Community College. Donors provided that lucre tax-free. This is a bad idea. Such apolitical organizations shouldn't fund political campaigns. Betancourt has introduced a bill in the legislature to outlaw the practice. 'Tis interesting to note, incidentally, that both MDCC and FIU foundations have close ties to the Miami Herald, which editorialized in favor of the campaign. The paper's new counsel, Robert Beatty, is chairman of the MDCC foundation, and former Knight Ridder chairman Alvah Chapman is a member of the FIU group's board.
Working conditions stink at Aljoma Lumber in Medley. Many employees receive minimum wage. At least two Haitian-American workers, each of whom has toiled there for more than fifteen years, are paid seven dollars per hour. And though more than 100 workers voted to form a union back in 1997, owners have resisted. So on March 2, laborers walked off the job for a day. As interesting as the walkout was the press coverage. Primarily Spanish-language stations covered the action. Neither the Herald nor El Nuevo Herald even mentioned it, despite faxed information. And English television stations mostly disregarded it. Why was it ignored? "It is mostly immigrants working there, and I think there is a bias," says Angel Dominguez, secretary of finance for Local 1554 of United Brotherhood of Carpenters. "Besides, I don't think the English-speaking media care much about workers' issues." Calls to lumberyard owners and news decision-makers at Channel 4 (WFOR-TV) and Channel 7 (WSVN-TV) seeking comment were not returned.
New Times has some national awards to calls its own this week. Jacob Bernstein and Steve Satterwhite took first place in Lincoln University's (Missouri) Unity Awards for their story "The Bitterness of Sugar Hill" (July 22, 1999), about a public housing boondoggle. And editor Jim Mullin placed first for a column, "Saviors of Virginia Key," (April 1, 1999).
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