Longform

That Old Familiar Face

Page 6 of 6

As Ferré listens to the woman, an elderly, lanky man asks him to autograph a church program. "This is part of it," wife Mercedes says. "Everyone always wants to touch him."

Several handshakes and hugs later, the couple is back in the car, racing to Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church. They arrive just as Rev. James Kinchen wraps up a fiery sermon. Across the aisle Vernon Clark waves.

Ferré's eyes and ears in Miami's black neighborhoods, 65-year-old Clark plugs the candidate at labor-union meetings and other gatherings. He relates stories of a long-ago mayor who did good by jitney drivers and old men playing checkers along 62nd Street. Clark, an Amtrak attendant and Ferré campaign bee for nearly two decades, is convinced that his man will sweep the black vote.

Tapping his toe to the gospel music, Ferré holds Mercedes's hand for a moment. Later he'll joke that he's tone deaf and rhythmless. "I'm not so hot on the dance floor," he offers. When the organ dies down and the flock shuffles out of the church, he and Mercedes stand like flight attendants bidding farewell to passengers. Ferré repeatedly introduces himself and compliments women on their Sunday dresses. When the last of them has left, Ferré's pageant-queen smile fades and he heads inside the church to talk with Clark.

Willie Nyman, a 61-year-old Opa-locka nurse, still sits on a pew fanning herself and talking about how hot the day is bound to get. A few yards from Ferré and Clark, she asks, "Now, who is that again?"

One of her three friends answers, "Some politician."

Nyman has lived in Miami 41 years but barely remembers Ferré. Neither can the women next to her. "It's been so long ago," she says, straining to remember. "I think he did some good."

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Ashley Fantz
Contact: Ashley Fantz