Politics: Like the Song Goes, I Got Through All of Last Year, I’m Still Here

Pricklier Than Ever, Matti – Despite 2012′s Turmoils – Still Is

If 2012 could rightly be described as her annus horribilis, Matti Bower doesn’t seem to have been diminished in the slightest by it.

There she was Tuesday morning, in front of the Breakfast Club regulars at David’s Cafe, holding court as if there never had been a spring of last year when City Hall protesters – some of them in her Cafe audience the other day – swarmed her, fingers in her face, shouting her down, demanding she resign.

As if there had never been a spring when perturbed Commission colleagues Tobin and Wolfson futilely demanded she call a special meeting to address recent corruption arrests; when her mentor and hand-holder-in-chief, Jorge Gonzalez, ended his city managership with what little self-dignity remained to him, sparing himself being unceremoniously tossed out by city commissioners.

As if there had never been a year in which she ran through two chiefs-of-staff (one of whom was rumored upon departure to have been reduced to tears by the mayor) and, besides blowing up at colleagues during Commission meetings, reputedly blew up at longtime staff members in her own office and accused some of being overpaid slack-offs.

As if there had never been a summer in which her vacation travel – to San Francisco, to Spain, to Basel, Switzerland – raised eyebrows and not a few derisive comments from scrutinizing citizens about what was paid by taxpayers and what was paid by her.

As if there had never been a year in which she expressed sadness over the corruption scandals that flowed like oozing sludge from city departments – from code compliance, from fire inspectors, from Gus Lopez’s desk in procurement – and in which she confessed she had lost faith in people she said she thought she knew.

After all that, why wouldn’t 2013 be the year that Alcalde Abuela would want to hang it all up and bid City Hall good bye and good riddance?

Some of the very people who confronted her at the City Hall protest last spring were present, albeit more civil, to hear her speak on Tuesday. (The city’s mayor is, by tradition, the Breakfast Club’s first guest speaker of each new year).

When she spoke last year, she asked for “positive” questions: “This year, I like to start positive.”

“How positive are you that Jorge Gonzalez will still be city manager at the end of this year?” I asked the mayor then.

“Very,” was her one-word reply.

Oh well, so much for Matti the Fortune Teller.

The morning’s guest speaker entered the dining room fashionably late by fifteen minutes, accompanied by civic activist-lobbyist Gabrielle Redfern, whom Bower announced was her new “assistant” (actually, chief-of-staff). Redfern, a past contributor to this paper under the fictional pseudonym “Anne Newport Royall,” follows in a line of ex-SunPost staffers (A. C. Weinstein, Rebecca Wakefield, Carl Zablotny) who have been tapped by Beach mayors to serve as their right-hand men or women.

Twenty-five minutes into her talk, Matti recognized the entrance – surprise! – of a familiar face and ally: a casually-dressed former manager Gonzalez, who was greeted by a smattering of applause, the loudest and longest-sustained, from Redfern. Strange that he would appear here, for it was at just this function exactly eight months ago, and before some of these same regulars, that he was taken down a notch or ten by one seething interlocutor after another.

That May 8, 2012, Breakfast Club appearance in the glare of TV cameras and the glare of angry citizens would be the embattled city administrator’s last public meet-and-greet before he retreated to his office to pen his resignation letter later that same day.

A somewhat perverse move by Gonzalez to return to the scene of his humiliation and defeat. Would Napoleon have dared return to Waterloo? Would Nixon have dared to visit The Watergate?

Perhaps sensing it more safe, just in case there were still any seething beings in the place, he took an empty seat at a rear table at which were seated Police Chief Ray Martinez and his deputy chief, Mark Overton. Gonzalez was neither harmed nor paid any attention thereafter.

And though this was her last New Year’s guest speaker role, one senses that it won’t be Bower’s last appearance there as a speaker. Back chatter about a possible campaign for a commission seat is rife.

Has she made a decision to run for one after her mayoral term ends? “No.” But she offered a tacit endorsement to one potential candidate in the room.

“I would never run against Elsa [Urquiza, longtime community activist and past commission candidate], somebody that has been in this community, helping people.”

With Gonzalez’s absence from City Hall, the mayor has become the city’s new prominent cheerleader for the convention center re-do. Last year, she wondered if she would still be around to see it ever get off the ground. Now, it looks like she just may be around. And she pugnaciously defended it to any nay-sayers within earshot, and there were a few who dared to don gloves and challenge her.

“People, you need to think twice before you say things. I don’t like bigger and better, that’s why I like preservation. But there are certain things that you want to have bigger and better, like the convention center.

“Why don’t you fight against the down-zoning, the up-zoning of certain areas? Why don’t you fight about taking away the parking or making less parking for new buildings? Why aren’t you there for that? You’re so attached to the convention center [issue]. You should be more attached to the regular, normal things that are happening.

“Every time they do a street they take more parking [spots] away. And nobody is saying anything about that.

“No, [opponents say] the convention center is the biggest item that is going to destroy Miami Beach when it’s the biggest item that is going to make Miami Beach better. Okay? And it’s the least-impacting. We should be [focused] on transportation and other things.”

Say what you will about the little lady. It may be her last year as mayor, but don’t count her out. She may have lost her temper at commission meetings, lost her cool with staffers, lost chiefs of staff along the way, lost faith in crooked city employees, and lost patience with angry citizens jabbing fingers in her face. But she’s not lost her will to lead. She was bruised and bloodied in 2012, but this is a new year and a new round. She’s still got some fight in her yet. And if city politics this year approach anywhere near to how turbulent they were last year, then what a year this may turn out to be. May we have ring seats, please?

BEST WISHES

to Redfern, who assumed her new full-time post at City Hall at year’s start.

A previous Commission candidate as well as a 2011 ballot choice for county mayor, Redfern most recently served as a project manager for Russell Galbut’s planned retail/residential Crescent Heights development at Alton Road between 7th and 9th streets, and lobbied legislatively on the local developer’s behalf.

She becomes Bower’s fourth chief-of-staff. Considering the amicable rapport between these two, this might finally be, in Bower’s last year as mayor, the marriage that works, so a fifth is not anticipated.

“SLIPSHOD”

South Pointe Residents Association president Frank Del Vecchio is taking Interim City Manager Kathie Brooks to task for what he calls “terrifically slipshod” work by city staff in recommending to the Commission that it pursue a pre-feasibility light rail transit study that could revive the comatose BayLink transit project linking Miami Beach with the mainland.

The study, to be conducted by FEVE, which operates rail service in parts of Spain, would, according to a Dec. 11, 2012, letter to the commission from Brooks, “evaluate the viability” of a catenary-free, or cable-less, bi-directional streetcar system between Miami and Miami Beach.

But her recommendation, argues Del Vecchio, neglects to show that the city “carried out any due diligence about potential funding” for such an analysis.

“The city should not spend its own funds without doing the essential legwork beforehand about prospects for funding,” he wrote to Brooks. “Based on the 2004 studies, funding prospects are ephemeral at best.”

Del Vecchio, who chaired a technical subcommittee of the citizens advisory committee on the 2001-2004 BayLink study, told me that “there’s no money for the project” and that the “first step is to check out funding sources,” including any available federal and state funding as well as revenue from the county’s half-cent transit tax.

“Why create the impression that there may be a project and put everyone through hoops knowing that whatever the results of a study a rail line cannot be funded? The city badly flunked the most rudimentary due diligence test.”

He called a separate July 9, 2012, memo (“illiterate and uninformed…should have been dismissed out of hand” by Brooks) attached to her LTC, “terrifically slipshod” work by city staff.

“Premium mass transit connectivity between Miami Beach and the mainland is vital to the economic and environmental sustainability of our city,” Brooks said in her LTC. “The city will be engaged and take a proactive stance on this important transportation project.”

Stay tuned.

SMELLS LIKE PARFUM DE CHIEN PIPI

It’s such a shame how Miami’s Margaret Pace Park has become “Dog Piss Park,” as evidenced by the odor of the environs during a recent visit to this 8-acre green space, an otherwise idyllic park with a beautiful view of the bay, nestled opposite condo towers on North Bayshore Drive between 17th and 20th.

Seems the city should have initially designated a portion of it as a dedicated dog park. As it is – and the nose knows – the whole place has become one damn dog urinal, regrettably.

CIRCLE THE DATE

The West Avenue Corridor Neighborhood Association’s open-to-the-public presentation of the latest on the Crescent Heights development will convene at the Miami Beach Golf Clubhouse (2301 Alton Rd.) Tues., Jan. 15, at 6 p.m. Galbut’s people are expected to present their plans and strategy for developing their site, which includes the defunct South Shore Hospital property and adjacent lots.

County Commissioner Sally Heyman will be the guest speaker of the Miami Beach Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club, Jan. 15.

KUDOS

to two productions that I recently enjoyed, the traveling Broadway rendition of Mary Poppins at the Arsht, and the erotic, exotic (“part Moulin Rouge, part Cirque du Soleil”) Orchid at The Pleasure Garden in the Design District. One, a G-rated, family fare; the other – ahem – so not so. But two marvelous, well-spent evenings they were.

While the former has, like its title character with the aerodynamic umbrella, flown town, the latter’s run has been extended to this weekend by popular demand.

THE ASS-WIPE TROPHY GOES TO

DebraLee Hovey, the Connecticut state legislator who, in an insensitive, not to mention plain lunkheaded, Facebook posting, told former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords to “stay out of my towns!!!” when Giffords came to console and shore up families of the Sandy Hook victims last Friday.

READERS: This column will henceforth run biweekly and will return on Jan. 24.

About Charles Branham-Bailey

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