That Old Familiar Face

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So candidates, Smith warns, had better come up with fresh approaches. "The day when they could waltz in with a fried-chicken dinner, put money in someone's pocket, and expect votes is over," Smith says. "They'd just be whistling Dixie, and we're tired of that song. Ferré has to show us not what he did then, but what he's going to do now."

Ferré's platform relies heavily on changes in education, crime, and economic development, the last of which includes relocating to Miami from Washington, D.C., the Inter-American Development Bank, the hemisphere's largest and oldest Latin-American fiduciary. Ferré says he's tossing the idea around with bank president and friend Enrique V. Iglesias. "If it moved here," he says, "Miami would then indeed become the capital of Latin America."

Adding another bank to Brickell Avenue would seem to be vintage Ferré. But the candidate says he's ready to roll up his sleeves and concentrate on improving neighborhoods, ready to become the proverbial pothole mayor. "Miami's population has grown proportionately poorer," Ferré notes. "It's not white flight; it's middle-class flight that's a problem. The city is an entry point for Third World people and exiles. They do well and they move out of the city to Kendall or somewhere because housing is cheaper. We have to sponsor equal growth in the inner city so that people want to stay."

High crime also drives people out of the city, he acknowledges. "Close to 50 percent of kids in schools within the city live in poverty," he says. "It's clear from all the stats I've examined that crime in the city is committed by young, uneducated men. Once I decrease crime, education follows, and employment increases."

Ferré would like to found an educational program in Miami similar to Pennsylvania's Glen Mills Schools, the nation's oldest high school for court-referred teenage boys. The year-round curriculum concentrates on vocational education and post-graduate employment. Grants, loans, and scholarships are offered to those who show the desire and ability to straighten out their lives.

Among other specifics Ferré considers part of his campaign platform: Turning the Miami River into a tourist attraction dotted with outdoor cafés similar to Lincoln Road, building a new science museum in the downtown area, and cashing in on what he says is ten billion dollars in federal funds to build a citywide trolley system that would decrease traffic congestion.

Ferré speaks with excitement and enthusiasm about such projects, but when it comes to the current civic agenda -- a new baseball stadium and the Latin Grammys debacle in particular -- he quickly grows exasperated. "Geez, that's such a simple matter," he groans. "The stadium has been mishandled just like the awards. My God, any intelligent person could have foretold what was going to happen. How can you not bring the exile community and the ACLU together with Grammy organizers in advance? And why was there no contract? If there were, [Grammys chief executive Michael] Greene wouldn't have been able to walk away without a major penalty. The stadium has similar haywire potential. [Marlins owner John] Henry should sign a contract agreeing not to sell the team until we make a lot of money. To me that's business."

The business of government itself also needs an overhaul, according to Ferré. "One of the first things I'm going to do," he vows, "is get the county and the city together for regular meetings. There's an attitude of us against them and vice versa. That's got to stop."

At Little Havana's Ogles Apostolic Presbyterian Church, the congregation bows in prayer. Oh, heavenly father.... Ferré reaches into his navy-blue suit's breast pocket. If we walk in the light as He is in the light.... Retrieving a Palm Pilot, he cradles it low. We have fellowship with one another.... He strains his eyes to see the day's schedule. Hispanic church, check. Black church before lunch, next. It's a slow Sunday. He usually visits at least three before noon and one in the early afternoon. "We're a little behind schedule," he whispers. "We're not going to make it to the black church on time."

But Ferré is going to be even later than planned. After the final hymn, he becomes the Tom Jones of Miami politics, an aging star who still inspires his aging groupies. An elderly Cuban parishioner with poinsettia-red lipstick and Cruella De Vil hair uses her cane to whack her way through the church. "Señor Ferré, Señor Ferré!" she shouts as other ladies encircle the former mayor. With tears welling, she says, "Tengo fe" ("I have faith in you").

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Ashley Fantz
Contact: Ashley Fantz