Before I ever wrote a word about The David Winker Affair — it had just broken in the news — I was ranting about Miami Corruption to a friend. I already knew I would write about Winker because what I had already learned rubbed me the wrong way.
That’s when my friend said, “You’ll get a much better understanding of Miami Corruption today, if you read ‘American Casablanca‘”.
Boy, were they right!
America’s Casablanca: A “True Novel” about Miami’s Emergence from Bankruptcy and Corruption, by José García-Pedrosa, is a true eye-opener about Miami politics and how it’s been crazy after all these years, to quote Paul Simon.
However, let’s get the least important stuff out of the way first: This book is clearly self-published and screams for an editor. A h/t is given on the last page to Dr. Norma Martín Goonen, for editing and helping shape the book. However, she may have been too close to the author. Although they met after the book was written, they were married somewhere along the way. And, I suspect, her normal employment is not writing or editing. There are typos galore and an odd lack of a space after many quotation marks, a habit that became infuriating over 300 pages.
Furthermore the events related in the book, of which Garcia-Pedrosa was a participant, is a complicated web of people and motives spanning decades. An editor in on the ground floor — so to speak — at the beginning of the project, might have given the book a different outline. There’s far too much back and forth in the chronology. Some of that is necessary. However, some of it was intrusive, especially as events accelerated near the end of the book. There were times I wasn’t sure the meeting being described took place before, or after, the meeting just described. In this book it could be either. A few words here and there could have made things clearer, but a better outline could have solved the problem. I’m sure it’s something Garcia-Pedrosa grappled with; his solution didn’t work for me.
Having said that, this is not a book you read for the fancy prose. This is a book you read to see current City of Miami District 3 Commissioner, “Crazy” Joe Carollo, meltdown time after time over the many decades he’s been a Miami politician, sucking off the government teat while bullying opponents, misusing his authority, having people followed, and lying about just about everything.
Here’s where this book review takes a slight tangent:
I had no idea this book would be [mostly] about Crazy Joe. He turns up as early as the preface and is the focus of every chapter, even if he doesn’t make an appearance. The events depicted in American Casablanca happened, for the most part, because of Carollo. Every one of his shenanigans back then echoes in present day Miami politics and informs my Miami Corruption Tapestry, starting with The David Winker Affair.
I don’t want to take that tangent here, so look for it as Part Four of The Miami Corruption Tapestry, coming soon to a browser near you.
As a self-admitted carpetbagger, having only lived in South Florida since Hurricane Wilma, I was unaware of most of the events related in this book. Therefore I had never heard of Xavier Suarez referred to as Hurricane Xavier, but that’s a moniker he gave himself along, with “a meteor the size of Texas”, “an earthquake”, and — later — “not deranged” as the media happily reported on his every stumble.
Others called Suarez different things as his 2nd term of Miami Mayor began in 1997. His continued antics led to stories of chaos in the Miami Herald, NYT, USA Today, TIME Magazine, and the London Economist, which called him El Loco in its headline.
However, it wasn’t long before Joe Carollo, who lost the election, challenged the results in court over the issue of bogus Absentee Ballots. He was successful. After some more court decisions, which eventually tossed all Absentee Ballots, even the honest ones, Suarez was disqualified. Crazy Joe was appointed the Mayor of the City of Miami.
Essentially, this book is the inside story of those roller-coaster years. The author, José García-Pedrosa, was hired by Suarez to be Miami City Manager (one of the most powerful positions in any city) having been hired away from Miami Beach, where he held the same position.
As it happened, Carollo hated García-Pedrosa for an incident from all the way back in 1982. As Miami City Attorney while Carollo was a Commissioner, García-Pedrosa ruled Carollo had violated Florida’s Sunshine Law.
It took 15 years for Carollo to get his revenge and he was as vengeful as anyone named Crazy Joe could be. García-Pedrosa only served 5 months as Miami City Manager and was fired by Mayor Carollo 3 times in his last 2 weeks.
While Carollo really needed no reason to fire the City Manager, because he served at the pleasure of the mayor with Commission approval, he threw every mendacious and false claim he could invent at the author, including charges of criminal conduct. Nothing was ever proven against García-Pedrosa.
Naturally the author is biased participant in the events, so it’s worth taking a whole shaker of salt while reading the book. Clearly he has an axe to grind.
I found myself Googling many aspects of this story and the publications that wrote about it contemporaneously: Miniskirt mayor, George Magazine, 60 Minutes, The New Yorker, along with Spanish language cartoons. There were many threads I wanted to pull on, all of which led me to agree that Miami politics has been a 3-ring circus for a very long time.
Which naturally leads to the Miami Herald, the newspaper of record during this period. Bottom line: The Miami Herald has always been a lousy newspaper, which this book proves over and over again.
While García-Pedrosa has an agenda, so did The Miami Herald, and he proves it. It was willing to look past Corruption and Cronyism to come to the defense of Crazy Joe with mendacious articles or editorials that didn’t dig any deeper than the surface.
The Miami Herald is still useless in holding elected officials accountable, as any Miami Muckraker will tell you. It will look the other way, provided its executives can still hobnob with the movers and shakers at all the charity balls; a strata of society that the average Joe/Jane never reaches. The Miami Herald‘s view of us way down here is obscured by those clouds below them.
The most recent example of this paper’s idiocy is the recent endorsement of Katherine Fernandez Rundle for Miami-Dade County’s state attorney. This endorsement perplexed everybody and anybody who cares about social justice. Rundle had already served 27 years in the position and — SOMEHOW! — never found a police officer to have committed crimes against citizens. Never even took one to court
Even The Miami Herald realized this endorsement was bullshit when it wrote:
This is not a full-throated, unequivocal endorsement of the incumbent. Her 27-year tenure has been at times flawed, at times infuriating, at times befuddling. She can, and must, do better.
Some would say it was both infuriating and befuddling when Rundle opted not to charge the corrections officers who locked 50-year-old Darren Rainey, an inmate at Dade Correctional Institution, in a scalding shower and left him to die. And when Rundle said she couldn’t prosecute Jesús “Jesse” Menocal, a Hialeah police officer with a history of using his power to prey on women and girls because there were no witnesses to make the case. (This, despite the Herald’s own investigation, which found that prosecutors never interviewed three out of four witnesses and dismissed the women as gang members and runaways.)
Yet somehow, the editorial board pulled off the gymnastic journalistic feat of citing those “missteps” and still giving Rundle the thumb-up for another four years. The Herald argues that Rundle has the “muscle” and “valuable experience” to push for reforms in police departments, jails, prisons, and courtrooms.
This is not a review of The Miami Herald, so I’ll leave it here. Suffice to say García-Pedrosa proves it was bird cage liner back then. Current events show it still is.
The author almost lost me at the beginning of Chapter Eight — You’re Fired, which began with several passages about a section of Miami called “Germ City”. This small section struck me as being racist. It was only 4 paragraphs — and I could have read more between the lines than is really there. [I tend to see the world with Racism Coloured Glasses. Read page 157 and 158 of the book and tell me what you think.] Those paragraphs disturbed me greatly and I almost gave up reading the book.
However, the author did lose me near the end of the book for 2 reasons:
- He relates his involvement in the international squabble between Cuba and ‘Merka, which has little to do with the events in the book, other than another way to criticize Carollo;
- As Miami closed in on another Mayoral race, García-Pedrosa engaged in the same kind of backroom machinations that I have always found distasteful to try to become the next Mayor , even to the point of an attempt to change the city’s residency requirements in order to run for mayor.
Bottom line: It’s a whole lot easier to understand the crazy politics of Miami today by reading about its recent past in America’s Casablanca: A “True Novel” about Miami’s Emergence from Bankruptcy and Corruption, by José García-Pedrosa.