Once upon a time the name Alex Daoud was synonymous with political corruption, at least on Miami Beach. After all, the wildly popular mayor was eventually busted for the kind of paternalistic, ol’ boy corruption that, well, defines much of the history of a broader South Florida community built on land scams and get-rich-quick schemes.
Despite his colorful history, though, Daoud’s popularity with longtime Beach residents has waned surprisingly little. Since his liberation from prison, he’s penned a tell-all book, is working on the movie version, and is enjoying life on Miami Beach as a kind-of elder statesman now removed from political circles.
After all, in an era in which congressmen are openly bought off for their votes and in which corruption has become political infrastructure, the kind of shenanigans for which Daoud was busted seem charming. After all, anyone who has ever met Daoud can tell he has a real love and passion for Miami Beach.
Daoud is nothing if not a ubiquitous Miami Beach character.
Beach native Daoud is an author and the former mayor of Miami Beach, Florida who served from 1985 to 1991.
Daoud was elected to the Miami Beach City Commission in 1979. He was re-elected to a second term in 1981 and a third term in 1983. In 1985, he became the first Roman Catholic to be elected mayor of Miami Beach. In 1987, he won re-election by eighty-six percent of the popular vote. In 1989, he was re-elected to an unprecedented third term as mayor of Miami Beach.
Daoud was a beloved mayor but lived a scandalous life while in office. In his book Sins of South Beach The True Story of Corruption, Violence, Murder, and the Making of Miami Beach, he describes how, as an idealistic young lawyer, he was seduced by money, power and sex. The former mayor was indicted for 41 counts of bribery, served eighteen months in a federal prison and retired from politics.
Daoud still is active in the community. In his book he recounts going on vigilante patrols with the Miami Beach Police Department while both city councilman and mayor routinely kidnapping and beating criminal suspects.
Sins of South Beach, Daoud’s autobiographical expose, is a portrait of the city he led for three terms as mayor during the anything-goes ’80s — when “cocaine cowboys” slaughtered each other in bloody drug wars and refugees from the Mariel Boatlift, many released by Fidel Castro from his worst jails and insane asylums, terrorized the predominantly elderly Jewish population of Miami Beach. It’s the story of a city’s renaissance and the crime and corruption that fueled it. The book has received many excellent reviews and is to become a major motion picture. Cinepro Pictures/ Phillipe Martinez Productions has acquired the exclusive rights to produce the film. Martinez is the internationally renowned producer of over 30 films. The majority of the filming is expected to take place in Miami Beach.
Just last week, a pre-production crew for the film version of Sins was in town, coincidentally at the same time that the Fifth Street Gym re-opening was being celebrated. Daoud, a boxing enthusiast, worked out at the famous Fifth Street Gym during its heyday. The former mayor trained under Angelo Dundee and did roadwork with the likes of Muhammad Ali and other world champion. Daoud was, of course, invited to the event as a special celebrity guest.
SunPost decided the occasion called for a chat with Daoud on his thoughts on his colorful life, current projects and the state of Miami Beach today – the good, the bad and the unchanged after these many years.
MS: How was the event at the Fifth Street Gym last week, your old stomping grounds?
AD: You know, I ended up not going. I started to go, but I decided that I just didn’t want to see Ali in the condition he is in. I understand he has really deteriorated and I feel bad for him.
MS: What do you think about the re-opening of the Fifth Street Gym?
AD: Oh, the new gym is nothing like the old gym. The new gym is more like a museum. It doesn’t have the feel or the ambiance of the old Fifth Street Gym. The Fifth Street Gym was one of a kind.
MS: I understand that the folks producing the movie from your book, Sins of South Beach, were in town at the same time last week? Where is the movie project at now?
AD: We’re in pre-production and they are in the process of getting a script together. I also understand that they are in the process of raising the budget for the movie. I think they are looking to get a higher budget than the initial $15 million, which was already a really big number. They are also apparently talking to some major stars about being in the movie.
MS: What is your involvement in the movie production?
AD: They have had me on as a consultant and I think it’s a great opportunity. Among other things, a lot of the movie will be shot here and I can help make sure that goes well and that the filming here ends up being financially good for the residents too.
One of the things that has been interesting is how many people have come up to me and wanted parts in the movie. I told the producers that I would like to be responsible for casting the female extras. He told me he was afraid I would sell the parts. I told him, no, but that I would try them out first.
MS: A lot of people might have kept a very low profile or even left town after what you have been through. Instead, you’ve been very public and very frank about your experiences, good and bad. Why did you take this particular approach?
AD: Well, I think there are lessons to be learned from the mistakes I made with my life. It’s not how hard you get hit; it’s how hard you come back after you’ve been hit. A lot of people abandoned me. You know I went to trial and so many people like Abel Holtz just plead guilty. People have forgotten what other people did.
The lesson is…that the public had the opportunity to learn how the process of politics works. It’s a dirty process. There is nothing friendly about it inside. It’s sad that so few people know how politics really works. I love Miami Beach and I felt like no one could run me out of it. People needed to know how things really worked in politics here.
Now, I stay away from politics and I have a whole new area of life. I am able to meet people and be candid and honest with them.
MS: When you said you made mistakes – what do you see as the biggest mistake that you made?
AD: Avarice. Very much so. I got to the point where I had millionaires and billionaires asking me for favors and here I am making $10,000 a year. I figured, why should I make $10,000 a year when they couldn’t get elected mayor of Miami Beach. So, it was like, hey I can be your lawyer…
MS: Why is it so hard for politicians to ever admit they made a mistake?
AD: It’s about ego. You love the adulation of the public. Everyone likes feeling like a rock star. Hey I enjoyed it very much. I loved the interaction with the public. My phone number was always listed. My home number was on my business card. I even put my email address and phone number in the back of my book.
MS: Do you ever run into the people from the old political crowd?
AD: Well, I don’t hang out with lobbyists, but yeah, you run into people. It’s interesting that no one sued me from the book. No one even tried to kill me! I was told when the book came out that I would be sued because I named names of people doing illegal things. It never happened. Not once. That’s because everything in Sins of South Beach is true. Well, some women from the book said that I embellished the love scenes. But, I said, hey, as you get older, that’s how you enjoy life.
MS: How has Sins of South Beach done?
AD: Well, particularly considering I self-published it and there was very little publicity. The Miami Herald never even wrote a word about the book. What a surprise that the Herald didn’t want to cover political corruption – ha!
But the book also helped rehabilitate me. By getting the truth out, I got the venom out. I wanted to tell the truth and to tell it in an enjoyable fashion. It’s funny; people asked me who wrote the book – like, who was the ghostwriter. But, no, I wrote it myself.
MS: You mentioned you were working on a second book. What is it about?
AD: It’s a science fiction book about immortality really.
My uncle was an M.D. and was in a MASH unit in WW II. After I got out of prison, I was going through stuff and found an old [family bible]. There was an old crumpled up piece of paper in it that fell out. It was a poem that my uncle wrote while going to my father’s funeral, for their mother. It was so beautiful. The story came out of that – it was just crystal clear.
MS: What do you think of the state of Miami Beach today?
AD: I think that there is good and bad. You used to have families on Miami Beach; a huge elderly population; and one of the largest populations of Holocaust survivors in the country. Unfortunately when Castro’s criminals came over here and Carter was duped, the place was horrible. We had two police officers killed and people didn’t remember that. We’ve lost something, but we have gained something in return. Many families are gone and beautiful old synagogues are closing or have dwindled. We have changed from a family-oriented city to a party city.
I also think a lot of politicians really haven’t cared very much. The current mayor is not as responsive as previous mayors. I was always available.
MS: Do you think politics is any different now, any less corrupt?
AD: No, I don’t think that’s changed at all. In many ways it’s gotten worse. When people spend half a million dollars to get a job that pays $10,000 a year, it’s just egregious.
Besides many of the same people who were involved when I was mayor are still involved – the same bagmen.
It isn’t just Miami Beach. Across the bay, the mayor gave his staff big bonuses while so many people are struggling…it’s absurd.
MS: Is the idea that you could get involved again in politics ever appealing to you?
AD: To tell the truth and to be able to name names is how I get involved. I don’t know of any other book that names names when it comes to committing crimes.
MS: What do you think is the largest contribution you made to the development of Miami Beach?
AD: Probably that we made the city safe at a time when it was totally unsafe. A lot of lived were lost. Everyone joined together to help make [Miami Beach] a better place. One of the things I love about Miami Beach is that people of all backgrounds have been able to work together and that everyone is treated like a human being. That really stands out.
For information on Sins of South Beach: here