Politics: Perk Up!

Your City Leaders Make Damn Sure They’re Well-Gifted

 I met my confidential City Hall source (who, for lack of anything more clever, I’ll call Husky Throat) in a darkened rear corner within the bowels of the 17th St. parking garage, one day last week.

It was just days after the revelation that ethics czar Joe Centorino of the State Attorney’s Office had launched an investigation into the brouhaha between the New World Symphony and Miami Beach City Hall.

To recap, the happy honeymoon between the two – on the heels of January’s stellar grand premiere of the Symphony’s new $150 million plaything – has evidently now come to a screeching, pandemonic halt over a $15 million grant and 18 (or 26, depending on who you believe) free tickets.

City Manager Jorge Gonzalez – for whom 2011 has already become an annus horribilis, thanks to fallout from his questionable hiring for the city building director post and the Collins Park arsons – yanked the table out from under the wedding cake.  He’s pissed off the NWS by allegedly holding the grant hostage over what the music folks claim is his demand for free tickets for top city honchos.  That would include him, the mayor, commissioners, and city attorneys.

Perks for the pols are a “decades-old practice,” the Herald tells us.  I was curious about whether there were any other perks that Beach officials might be helping themselves to – but which we were oblivious to – and I found a willing blabbermouth to spill the dope.

“So, whaddya got?” I greeted my surreptitious snitch with the whistle-blowing itch.

“First,” insisted Husky, “some ground rules.  What I divulge to you, you promise not to publish who you heard it from or in what city department I work.”

“Agreed.”

“We wouldn’t want something terrible to happen to your publisher, Ms. Stark.”

My informant’s sinister hint reminded me of John Mitchell’s infamously obscene threat to Carl Bernstein of another Post (Washington’s) not to run a certain story else “Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer.”

“No prob,” I assured Husky, “your identity will be strictly incognito.  Just leave my publisher’s tits out of this.”

“Huh?”

“Oh, uh – ignore that – my mind was on something else.”

Husky proceeded to fill my ears with an astonishing laundry list of perks, freebies, and swag.  Leave no stone unturned, it seemed, is the mantra among the City Hall VIPs:  Let no perk go untapped.

I learned, for instance, that they score freebies whenever Pizza Rustica unveils a new topping.  Whenever The Frieze scoops out a new ice cream flavor.  Whenever Starbucks finds a new way to brew a frappa-mocha-latte-whatever.

Whenever the Apple store on the mall issues a new I-Pad, I-Phone, or I-Gotta-Have-It, guess who gets to leapfrog to the head of the line?

If your name is Commissioner So-and-So, Joe’s Stone Crabs will throw in an extra crab, no charge.  Kastner’s will part company with a loaf of rye and a bag of bagels if you have a seat on the dais.  Lucky Strike will let you take a free do-over on that gutter ball you just sunk.  Books & Books will award you a free coffee table edition, and The Pottery Barn has a free lamp under which you can read that book.

Banana Republic has a nice new pair of britches for you too-big-for-your-britches City Hall types, and Sudsie’s will dry clean them for you – gratis.  And if a cigar butt should accidentally burn a hole in them, it likely was a cigar from out of that complimentary box of premiums that La Pirata supplied you.

“Whenever the Victoria’s Secret store on the mall gets its new lingerie for the season,” Husky confided, “Matti gets some frilly frocks for free.”

“Wait a minute, is this Matti, as in Mayor Matti?”

“One and the same.”

“She gets free Victoria’s Secret?  I just can’t picture that.  Unfuckinbelievable.”

“I even know what favorite undergarment she likes to shop for.  Curious?”

“Uh, ya know, I think I’ll pass.”

“And, rumor has it there’s a former mayor who, when he was in office, inquired of the Club Madonna owners if he might be allowed to offer his lap for ‘auditioning’ any new lap dancers being hired by the club.  They politely turned him down.”

“Let me guess.  Alex Daoud.”

“Seymour Gelber.”

“No way!”

“Way!”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“Yeah, I have my doubts, too.  I’ve always suspected it was something li’l ol’ lady Bea Kalstein tried to stir up to get back at him for always trying to limit her time at the podium whenever she’d show up to grouse at all those commission meetings.”

All these hush-hush revelations were making me nearly giggly with excitement.  I wanted – and pressed for – more.

“I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret that – if it were more widely known – would cause most people in this city to rip their spleens.”

“Yeah?”

“The administration has this handshake agreement with Publix – top-secret, I tell ya.”  Husky’s voice dropped to nearly a hush.

“Every time a new store opens in the city, the mayor, manager, and commissioners all converge at the store in the middle of the night, a night or two before the grand opening.  Someone blows a whistle, and a grocery cart race begins.”

“What?”

“Everybody races down the aisles, piling up as many free groceries as they can fill up their carts with in five minutes.”

“You don’t say.”

“Say!”

“Ya know that big, fancy-schmancy birthday party for the billionaire’s wife a few weekends ago at Thomas Kramer’s mansion over on the island?  The one the city tried to stop?”

“Yeah, I read about that.  Because of code enforcement concerns and neighbors’ complaints about the noise and vehicle congestion it would generate?”

“Nah.  That’s what they wanted you to think.  Wanna know the real reason the city big-wigs didn’t want to allow the party?”

“Shoot.”

“All ’cause they didn’t get invites.”

Husky’s lunch break was drawing to a close and I had to split.  I thanked him for his cornucopia of classified secrets and bid him goodbye.  As I walked off toward the sunlight, I heard him hail me.

“Hey, Charles!”

“Hmm?”

“The ‘Sexy Leopard’ Hiphugger with lace trim.”

YOU FIRED ‘EM.  YOU SURE DID.

I wasn’t sure about you.  There were times I just didn’t think ya had it in you.

Even though you signed the petitions in droves, I feared the enthusiasm would dim and the fury would burn out long before the election.

But you actually did it.  You recalled not one, but both county officials-gone-bad.

The results weren’t just a defeat for Carlos the Arrogant and Sourpuss Seijas.  They were a shellacking.  You fired a cannon shot heard all ’round the Stephen Clark Center.  That building will be quaking for a long time to come.  Give yourselves a pat on the back.

Sourpuss’s aide dispatched this email message in the wake of his bitter boss’s humiliating battering:  “She will not be participating in any media stories about the election results.’’

What?  And not treat us reporters to any more shoves or slurs, or swat away our microphones and cameras one last time?  How can you leave us like that, Natasha?  How?

Now that you’ve swept those two out, ye citizens, you might want to consider taking the broom next to the asses of these 3:  Bruno Barreiro, Sally Heyman, and Barbara Jordan.  These clueless dolts, earlier on Tuesday, voted to let Seijas ladle out $245,000 of her office budget – your tax money – upon various groups in her district, a district that she, within hours, would no longer represent.  Her spreading of the wealth was a last-ditch ploy to curry favor and influence the recall’s outcome, her opponents charged.

Some lunkheads just won’t learn – even on the day when one of their own was being impaled with a stake driven through her heart and having the lid nailed shut on her political coffin.  If they don’t get the message plainly, then stick their names on a recall ballot, too, and watch them squirm.  Recalls for everybody!  ‘Tis the giving season.

WHOA!  IS THAT YOU, SOUTH POINTE?

When first I arrived in SoBe in the mid-’90s, I settled for a time in South Pointe.  It looked a lot different back then.  Remorsefully, I seldom venture south of 5th anymore, but a brief bike jaunt through the ‘hood this week awakened me to how amazingly transformed it has evolved of late and how it has gone from sleepy afterthought to vibrant exclamation, with additional eateries (there’s not just Joe’s anymore, but others), salons, and shops; new apartments, sidewalks, and landscaping; and repaved streets.

South Pointe is no longer SoBe’s ugly-as-a-runt stepsister; she’s blossomed into one of our city’s refurbished, rejuvenated secrets.  I vow to return more often.  If you haven’t checked her and her facelift out lately, go.  And if you live or work there, feel proud.

POTPOURRI

KEEP THE FUNDING for National Public Radio – it’s the salaries of congressional Republicans bloviating about killing NPR funding that we can do without.  NPR has been far more beneficial to the nation, dollar for dollar, than these pricks have been.  There’s how you begin to pay down the deficit.  Make killjoys like John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Eric Cantor have to beg for pledged donations just to scrape by.

VANITY FAIR CONTRIBUTOR James Wolcott, in the newest issue, pans Larry King’s CNN successor, Piers Morgan, with a damning evaluation of his show and skills thus far.  (“How did we get stuck with Piers Morgan?  Who is he, why is he here, is he returnable?”)

WHETHER AS A regular panelist on Washington Week In Review or Meet the Press or as a widely-syndicated print columnist, newsman David Broder was a journalist’s journalist.  He was an omnipresent observer of the nation’s politics for what seemed forever, offering sage analysis of Capitol Hill people and issues and hitting the hustings to gauge what average voters were saying.  It’s hard to fathom that forever has now ended.

About Charles Branham-Bailey

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