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The Debate You Didn't See

The Debate You Didn't See Filed under: News Mr. Griff, a middle-age man with loose cornrows and baggy brown pants, sits in a green plastic chair and orders students not to cut through the parking lot at the University of Miami campus. He's been there since 8:00 a.m. It's now...
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The Debate You Didn't See

Filed under: News

Mr. Griff, a middle-age man with loose cornrows and baggy brown pants, sits in a green plastic chair and orders students not to cut through the parking lot at the University of Miami campus. He's been there since 8:00 a.m. It's now 6:30 p.m.

"You are going to ask them about Iraq? Or immigration?" he asks Riptide, referring to the candidates assembled for Sunday's Democratic forum, to be broadcast live on Univision. He heaves a hearty sigh and shakes his head. "I'd ask them what are they going to do about gas prices? You know how much a gallon of milk costs now? Five dollars."

In the media room, a group of about 100 journalists watches the debate via closed-circuit monitors. The screens go black at 6:56, prompting panic among the reporters.

"Mal, mal, mal," grumbles a balding middle-age man in a suit.

"This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever covered!" shouts a blond-bobbed Associated Press reporter.

The video returns. The audio doesn't. As a solution, at 7:07, a microphone is set near a bank of video feeds while the forum steams ahead, one room away from this media purgatory. Sound crackles with the quality of a ham radio relay from Bangkok. A broadcast journalist slips out of four-inch heels to squat close enough to hear.

A woman begins translating over Univision forum moderator Jorge Ramos, giving him a wavering, librarianlike voice. She calls Gov. Bill Richardson a senator a few times, addresses Sen. Hillary Clinton as Clinner, and says Finland instead of finally.

By 7:30 the sound is restored. As Mr. Griff predicted, moderators ask about Iraq and immigration. They ask about Cuba and Latin America. The press room snigger of the night goes to Sen. John Edwards for comparing border security to a video rental store: "We can figure out when somebody's walking into a Blockbuster. It seems to me we can figure out when somebody's coming into the United States of America."

After the debate, in "Spin Alley" — a postforum press trough set aside for reporters to speak with candidates and their backers — Senators Edwards, Clinton, and Barack Obama are no-shows. Rep. Dennis Kucinich agrees to talk about the price of milk. He says his health care plan requires that people set aside 2.5 percent of the money they make for coverage: "And suddenly you have more money for clothes. You have more money for the kids. You have more money to pay for gas. Thank you for asking that question. You're the only one in this place who has."

Don't thank us, congressman. Thank Mr. Griff. — Janine Zeitlin

The Young One

Filed under: Culture

It's fall, and you know what that means: another new courtroom reality show to follow in the footsteps of the timeless classic The People's Court. This week Miami's very own Judge David Young began presiding from the bench on daytime television, with a national audience. (His show, Judge David Young, will be aired locally Mondays at 1:00 p.m. on CBS affiliate WFOR.)

When he was a local judge, Young heard several high-profile cases, including the one in which he sentenced two America West pilots on charges of drunk flying. Young also once sentenced an 81-year-old woman to prison for 31 years — the same length of time she had been on the lam from a murder charge.

Watching Young's show should be entertaining. "Viewers will learn something about life from watching my show," he tells Riptide via e-mail, "through humor, through singing show tunes, and whatever mechanism I use to teach." Young is no stuffy robed dude: He collects penguins (more than 1000), is a member of Weight Watchers (he attends weekly meetings), and loves Batman (hence the penguins). He's also one of the few openly gay men on the bench: He and his partner, Miami Judge Scott Bernstein, have been together for 12 years.

Young says he has no intention of relocating for the show. "I am a native Miamian," he says. "I have no plans to move elsewhere. Miami's for me." — Tamara Lush

Duo's Dalliance Draws Disapproval

Benigna Marko's passionate correspondence with Abel Lera has gotten the pair into more trouble ("Dade Disclosure," August 23). To recap: Marko is an assistant director for Miami-Dade's planning and zoning department, earning an annual $141,704. In 2004 Marko was on a three-person panel that hired Lera as the department's $80,000-per-year graphics and drafting manager. Earlier this year the hiring was the subject of an ethics investigation. Lera and Marko were alleged to be having an extramartial affair; both are married to other people.

According to the ethics commission's August 30 report, Lera said he has been good friends with Marko for five years, but he did not confirm if they had a romantic relationship. He admitted that Marko notified him about the manager position, that she helped him prepare his resumé, and that he knew beforehand she would be on the interview panel.

Marko was advised by her attorney, Ray Taseff, not to answer questions because she is the target of a separate ongoing criminal investigation. "Marko did everything within her power to orchestrate the hiring of her paramour, Lera," says the report, calling her actions "highly inappropriate." Taseff declined to comment.

But the ethics commission will not be sanctioning Marko or Lera: The statute of limitations apparently has expired. The report recommends that Mayor Carlos Alvarez or County Manager George Burgess, who have the authority to suspend or fire either employee, discipline them.

Lera's attorney, Terri Guttman-Valdes, disagrees with the report's conclusion. "He was informed, in writing, that he was only a witness," she says.

Mayoral spokeswoman Vicki Mallette says, "The administration is planning on taking appropriate action." — Francisco Alvarado

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