Politics: Denial Isn’t Just a River in Egypt

It’s Also Jorge Gonzalez’s Latest, Self-Serving Pastime

 Miami Beach’s newest – and most expensive – civil servant retiree, presently making out like a bandit with a sweetheart golden parachute severance package that will drain city taxpayers of hundreds of thousands this year, isn’t content to merely collect your pile of money to go away and be gone.

He wants to revise recent history, too, apparently.

 “Me not being city manager has nothing to do with corruption,” Jorge Gonzalez possessed the audacity to tell the Miami New Times. “I’m no longer city manager because of politics.”

Yeah, right. Just who in tarnation does he think he’s fooling?

You, sir, are no longer manager because of both corruption AND politics, with an emphasis on the former.

Just because he himself may not have had a corrupt bone in his body doesn’t mean the abrupt termination of his 12-year managership last summer had nothing to do with corruption.

Of course it did. You and I know it did and so does everybody else who followed what went on in city government last year. And I’d reckon Jorge knows it, too. Only it appears he’s in denial about the whole sorry episode.

The corruption that toppled King Jorge the Lyin’-Hearted didn’t start when Jose Alberto first promised a SoBe nightclub owner he’d look the other way on a litter fine in return for a couple of Ben Franklins. Or when Alberto led a merry band of code compliance cohorts, Robin Hood-style, to put the kibosh on their own civil service careers and become convicted felons by joining in on the club shakedown that Alberto hatched.

Nor did it start when city fire inspector Henry Bryant told an undercover FBI agent posing as the club’s manager that he could secure the services of local cops – including Beach cops – to escort kilo packages of cocaine through city streets to drop-off locations in Aventura parking lots.

Nor did it start with the building department shenanigans of 2006-08 when three employees – Mohammed Partovi, Thomas Ratner, and Andres Villareal – were busted for accepting bribes from developer Michael Stern.

But like the drip-drip-drip from a bathtub faucet, these and other lesser incidents of corruption, the volume of which when added together can inevitably lead to an overflow, were enough to tip the balance against Gonzalez and seal his doom.

It is understandable, if eye-rollingly incredulous, that Gonzalez might be trying to peddle this ridiculously unbelievable spin on the scandal and events that led up to his resignation, all in order to better position himself for a speculated return to Silly Hall via election to a seat on the dais, either as a commissioner or – come again? – mayor.

But again I ask: just who with any sane gray matter inside his or her skull does this delusional think he’s fooling?

Is he hoping against hope that any prospective voters will forget his association with the sorry, sordid stuff that unfolded last year within “the organization,” as he often called the city government he managed?

Is he betting on them buying the spin he’s peddling, the one that establishes the premise that he got the bum’s rush from Silly Hall all due to the “politics” of commissioners like Ed Tobin and Jonah Wolfson, of civic activists like Frank Del Vecchio and Mike Burke, of media outlets like this paper and others?

Is he counting on making a return guest appearance – next time, as a commission or mayoral candidate – to the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club, site of his ignominious dressing-down by angry citizens last May, to try to lure them into a hypnotic trance and convince them that what they thought they knew then ain’t necessarily so?

Is he going to tell them that their confrontation of him over the feds’ corruption arrests of criminal city employees under his control was just a figment of their imaginations and that they completely misunderstood him?

Let’s be fair: Gonzalez fired the city’s procurement chief, saying he had lost confidence in the sleazy Gus Lopez, who, months later, was revealed as – and indicted and jailed for – running a secret business on the side, undermining the bidding process and finagling kickbacks from contractors involved with city projects. And he referred the Lopez matter to Kathy Rundle’s office.

Good for him.

He also pink-slipped the crooked code and fire inspectors. Again, as he’ll eagerly boast, he referred their and others’ misdeeds to the state attorney’s attention.

Brownie points for him.

He drafted a five-point strategy for combatting future corruption by city employees, including proposals to bring in the county’s inspector general, assign a city police officer to the FBI’s corruption task force, and enhance ethics training for city workers, most of which the Commission failed to enact, no fault of his.

A Scout badge for him.

But Gonzalez’s efforts were too little, too late. And now, he wants us to ignore and forget that as the superior of all these crooked public servants throughout his dozen years, the buck stopped at his desk.

Then what of accountability? As manager, he bore responsibility for setting a tone of honesty within his ranks, as well as for quickly exposing and sacking those who ran amok.

Gonzalez’s own longevity as city manager – he was the city’s top administrator for nearly as long as FDR was president and for nearly as long as the U.S. has been engaged in Afghanistan thus far – is what helped topple him.

My own theory is that as his tenure went on, rogue employees grew emboldened, confident that the Big Guy’s focus was on bigger concerns than piddling ones like who’s-hand-has-been-in-the-cookie-jar? And so, with the attention of their higher-ups averted to big matters such as a new convention center and negotiating new city union contracts, the mice were able to play while the cat was away; their corruption becoming more rampant and more audacious, fostered by the benign neglect of a city manager with lofty goals and little time for supervising the goings-on of those on the ladder rungs below him.

Gonzalez was not responsible for the crimes of rogue city employees gone bad on his watch. However, he was responsible for stamping and rooting it out, and for setting a zero-tolerance for such miscreants and their misbehavior.

The cancer, rather than being excised completely and much earlier, was left to fester: From the building department scandal, there was, within four years, more, this time in code compliance and fire. Had he proposed his five-point plan then, rather than in 2012, he might have nipped future corruption in the bud and salvaged both his managership and his repute.

Instead, the fallout from last spring’s corruption scandal proved too much for this manager to withstand. The combined public anger and Commission impatience with a city manager perceived as being unable to control the “organization” beneath him became too much for Gonzalez to survive.

Tobin, like a fortune-teller with her crystal ball, as much as prophesied Gonzalez’s spin campaign.

In an email to Gonzalez within hours of the city manager’s resignation announcement last May, Tobin blasted Gonzalez’s management style as having “fostered fertile ground for corruption.”

If the Commission were to give in to Gonzalez and let him stay in office for one more year, as was Gonzalez’s expressed desire, Tobin feared that –

“[Y]ou will have the opportunity to spend much of your time and energy resurrecting your professional reputation by concealing any indication that a lack of management and accountability is at the heart of so many problems in our great city. You will punish those who have recently embarrassed you, by calling into question your ability to manage. You will reward those that were loyal.

“You will resurrect your reputation and those of your staff by all means necessary….The next year will be a Jorge Gonzalez PR campaign. It will be about concealing any indication that a failure in management was the root cause of the latest corruption.”

The commissioner, in a you-can’t-fool-me undertone, continued:

“Human nature suggests that the next year your mission and the mission of your team of very well paid and pensioned friends will be self preservation and that means shifting blame and concealing data that suggests a management failure.”

It appears Tobin interpreted his crystal ball correctly.

To be sure, Jorge Gonzalez achieved many good things in his dozen years: Cultural edifices, notably the Miami City Ballet campus, a new regional library, and the New World Symphony concert hall. The Loews Hotel. Fifth and Alton. A revitalized South Pointe. Additional parking garages to alleviate a chronic parking shortage. The list is too voluminous.

But if he hopes to have any chance of a return to City Hall, he’d best concentrate on reminding voters of what good he did for the city rather than attempting to re-write the history of what went wrong. Our memories of last year are still too fresh, and, besides, he’s terrible at historical revisionism.

Rather than fashioning denials for why he was forced out, he should come to terms with the truth. Corruption has everything to do with it. Deny that and Gonzalez may likely encounter in response denial of a different sort: that of voters denying granting him the privilege of ever returning to Miami Beach City Hall in any capacity.

THE DAY MIAMI MADE HISTORY FOR THE WRONG REASON

Next Friday marks the 80th anniversary of an incident that occurred right in our own Bayfront Park, one whose violence, had it been completely successful, would have changed the course of the 20th century as we knew it.

On Feb. 15, 1933, seventeen days before he would stand on the Capitol steps and assure his Depression-ravaged fellow Americans that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself, Franklin Roosevelt disembarked from Vincent Astor’s yacht in the Biscayne, gave a speech from his open car to the assembled crowd in Bayfront, then narrowly missed being struck by bullets fired by a 32-year-old Italian immigrant, Giuseppe Zangara, standing on a wobbly chair. The itinerant bricklayer’s .38-caliber, $8 pistol came from a Miami pawn shop.

Thanks to the assassin’s bad aim, the president-elect wasn’t hit, but Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak and four bystanders were. Zangara was convicted in a Miami courtroom five days later and when sentenced by Judge E. C. Collins to 80 years, dared Collins, “Don’t be stingy. Give me more. Give me 100 years.”

FDR was inaugurated March 4. When Cermak died of his wounds two days later, Zangara was charged with his murder and condemned to die. Exactly two weeks later, at the state prison in Raiford, Fla., he was electrocuted; his last words, “Viva Italia!….Push the button!”

 NUGGETS

WHAT IS IT with Miami-Dade? Have we become the hit-and-run capital of the country? Even before last week’s Stefano Riccioletti tragedy, this region has been rife with careless drivers getting into careless bang-ups, then carelessly speeding off. I’ve been observing the frequency of this phenomenon for some time. In fact, one local TV station’s morning traffic report included at least one hit-and-run accident every morning last week. And then, on Wednesday, an ex-Miami police sarge was charged with having ditched his Mercedes on I-95 last September, just after having rear-ended a taxi and injuring four UM students inside. The FHP found a six-pack in his car, but he had beaten a hasty retreat before they could ever check his blood alcohol level.

Hit-and-runs…a local epidemic perhaps?

AND WHAT OF THE incidence of drivers who not only run off the road but right through somebody’s humble abode? I’ve counted at least 5 the number of reports I’ve seen of this happening in our region in recent weeks.

BUT NOT EVEN THE AISLES ARE SAFE – Sunday night. Man arrested for driving drunk. On a motorized shopping cart. Through a Walmart. Here? No, this time Tampa. (You’re spared ridicule this time, Miami-Dade.)

ED KOCH – now THAT was a mayor. We could sure use a character like him among our own local leaders here in South F-L-A, most of whom come off as spineless jellyfish in comparison. Asked in this month’s Vanity Fair what trait he most deplored in himself, he offered, “A willingness to go with my gut feeling, rather than wait a day and contemplate other options.” Mayor, that was what we liked about you. You were a man who went with your gut feeling – and told it like it is – come what may.

LAST WEEK, TESTIFYING before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, were the best of America (Gabrielle Giffords) and the worst of it (the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre). Gabby (“You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”) gallantly and admirably laid down the challenge. Now let’s see if the gutless wonders will follow suit and tighten gun laws and close loopholes.

STANDING IN THE CAPITOL ROTUNDA following the inauguration, admiring a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr., with her husband and the Obamas, was Jill Biden, in a sleeveless dress. This, in January. In D.C. In winter. And, yes, our first lady likes to show off her arms, too. But can someone (ladies?) explain to me why a woman would go sleeveless in the middle of winter in anywhere but Miami? I always thought that was more a spring/summer look. But every time we see Michelle, she’s baring those arms of hers, even in the cold months. How do you women endure dressing that way? What braveness. There’s no way I could bare my own arms or legs in that climate. Just thinking about it makes me shiver. Brrrr!

MUHAMMAD ALI’S YOUNGER BROTHER, Rahman, says The Greatest, ravaged by Parkinson’s, is in “a bad way…very sick” and that his demise “could be months, it could be days.” Countering that claim, Muhammad’s wife posted a photo to Twitter showing her husband watching Sunday’s Super Bowl game from their Phoenix home, rooting on the Ravens. He doesn’t look like a man near death to me. You be the judge: twitter.com/RealALI_me

ONE MAN WAS KILLED and two others wounded when a Super Bowl party was rudely interrupted by a drive-by shooting. Where else? In that crime-blight of the county, Miami Gardens. The Big Game’s half-hour power outage must have proved too boring for some:

– “What do we do now?”

– “I dunno.”

– “Hey, I got an idea! Let’s go shoot up some people.”

There you go. Miami Gardens on a typical night.

THE DOLPHINS’ INSISTENCE that stadium improvements are what’s needed if we’re ever going to lure another Super Bowl to Miami may have been trumped by this: Seems all we really need is to assure the NFL the power won’t go out and the lights will remain on. Thanks New Orleans; you may have just saved us having to fork over $200 million in public revenue for a billionaire’s folly.

THERE HE GOES AGAIN – The Donald. Trump, that is. Tweeting stupidly. Sunday night: “The lights went out in New Orleans…the country’s lights went out also” and “The country is being run just like the stadium.” Good try, Donald, but the country chose its leader, your pathetic birther nonsense notwithstanding.

THE REELECTION of Barack Obama, writes Charles P. Pierce in a superb post-election analysis in this month’s Esquire, “was a thunderous moment in what appears to be in an irreversible process. The Republicans will leave the old conservative universe, rejoin the reality of what America is becoming, or fade as a political force. They realize at some level that the tectonics beneath them are shifting.…” The politics that reelected the president are the “politics of the people outside the Beltway, the ones who waited in line for five hours in places like Cleveland and Fort Lauderdale in order to endorse with their votes the ideas on which he was running.”

NOW I’VE SEEN IT ALL – I’ve spotted email in my spam folder – you too, I’m sure – that’s been dated from something like the year 2034. Don’t ask me what that’s about or how that’s even possible. Well, the other day, I saw one dated not in the future but way, way in the past. In fact, before Al Gore was ever supposed to have invented the internet: Wed., March 13, 1963. Gore would have been two weeks shy of turning 15. I never imagined that he invented it when THAT young!

AND WHAT WAS THAT email for? you ask. The subject line said, “Compare prices for auto tires.” Don’t know if they were pitching me 50-year-old tires at ’63 prices. I didn’t open it.

THESE 8 RETAILERS, according to 24/7 Wall St., are the top companies expected to have to close the most stores in 2013: (1) Best Buy, (2) Sears Holdings, including Kmart, (3) J.C. Penney, (4) Office Depot, (5) Barnes & Noble, (6) GameStop, (7) OfficeMax, and (8) RadioShack. Anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 stores among them could close. Blame it on poor sales figures and online shopping.

IF EVERY TREND AND EVERYBODY has their 15 minutes, one can only hope that the annoying “Gangnam Style” craze and its South Korean sire, Psy (short for psycho – no, I’m not making that up), will be mercifully running the course of theirs any minute now. Please.

 WORD COMES FROM FRANCE of the passing of the inventor of the Etch A Sketch. It won’t be hard to spot his grave marker. It’ll be the one with the red border and the two white knobs at the bottom.

UPDATE

I told you in the last column that the SunPost had learned from a previously reliable source that a Miami Beach building department inspector got caught sneaking out of work in the afternoons to carry on an affair with a permit clerk and that the two had been spotted performing the horizontal inside a car in a city parking garage. According to the paper’s source, no one involved has been suspended or fired. And I promised you a follow-up after I made an inquiry to the city. A city spokeswoman has since told me they have no information or evidence to support the allegations.

This would not be the first time that city workers have been alleged to have engaged in inappropriate activities with one another.

Public works property management director Duane Knecht was shown the door after hiring his wife, through a temp agency, to be his assistant.

Code compliance director Robert Santos-Alborná was accused of carrying on an intimate relationship with a subordinate. He was cleared, and she later left her position.

Code employee Jose Alberto, since convicted and imprisoned for his role in the code division’s extortion scandal, was found to have dated his aide, a part-time code officer, in violation of rules governing supervisor-employee conduct.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR

The Miami Beach Taxpayers Association and Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club will hold a joint meeting Tues., Feb. 12, at the Shelborne Hotel (8:30 a.m.). Guest speaker Michael Gongora is expected to formally toss his hat into the ring for Beach mayor.

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