Category Archives: Unpacking

America’s Casablanca — A Book Review

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.

Sound familiar?



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.

Tangent over.



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.

Miami New Times had the perfect rejoinder:

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.

Fighting City Hall; The Miami Corruption Tapestry — Part 2.5

This is a continuation of the August 29 post “Winker? I Hardly Know ‘Er – Part Two of the David Winker Affair“, renamed The Miami Corruption Tapestry.

In that exciting episode I related:

What a difference a few days make. Another shoe has now dropped.

An ad hoc taxpayer group, an HOA, and the Coconut Grove Village Council spent cold hard cash to erect a billboard to SHAME the City of Miami into doing the right thing.

There are several ironies to observe here:

  • The last private citizen to successfully fight City Hall was current District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell, long before he ever thought to run for office;
  • Day Avenue is in Commissioner Russell’s district;
  • Unless he takes the long way around, Ken Russell needs to drive past this billboard to get to City Hall.

▌READ: Unpacking Grand Avenue


The Miami Corruption Tapestry so far:

The David Winker Affair
Winker? I Hardly Know ‘Er
An Email to the City of Miami & An Open Letter to Miami Taxpayers

An Email to the City of Miami & An Open Letter to Miami Taxpayers — The David Winker Affair; Part Three

The begining of The Deep Dive

Wake up, Miami taxpayers. You’re being played for suckers…again. And, by the same gang of [alleged] crooks that fleeced you once before.

Everything old is new again.

I’m currently reading America’s Casablanca: A “True Novel” about Miami’s Emergence from Bankruptcy and Corruption by Jose Garcia-Pedrosa, (published in 2019). Someone I highly respect touted this book when I was recently ranting about unfettered Miami Corruption.  This book is look at Miami politics from the inside.

Quick bio: Garcia-Pedrosa is a Cuban-American, moving to Miami as a child, where he finished high school, doing well enough to get a scholarship to Harvard (according to the blurb on the back of the book). After collecting a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law, he returned to Miami, where he championed the causes of Cuban exiles. Over the years he worked on many cases, including pro bono on behalf of Elián González, the child who became an international Tug of War between Cuba and ‘Merka that roiled Miami’s large — and politically powerful — Cuban community.

Where Garcia-Pedrosa fits into the Miami Corruption Tapestry: He later went on to become City Manager of Miami Beach. Not long after that, he joined the Big Leagues. He was hired as City Manager for the City of Miami when Magic City was going through a whole lot of misery, for a number of reasons. His service to the city lasted only 5 months. A very rocky 5 months. During the last 2 weeks of his short tenure, he was fired 3 separate times. As the Sun Sentinel tells us, the third time was the charm:

He asked the City Commission, which supports him, to let stand his final dismissal by Mayor Joe Carollo.

But Garcia-Pedrosa got in a parting shot against Carollo, saying the mayor used “seven or eight different and false excuses” to fire him.

“The residents of Miami do not deserve such dishonorable conduct by Mr. Carollo,” he wrote in a statement.


Bottom line: Miami has been dealing with batshit Crazy Joe Carollo — one way or another — for some 3 decades. Xavier Suarez has been kicking around just as long (although voters just put him out to pasture again; he recently lost an election to become Miami-Dade County Mayor). These politicians don’t go away when they are term-limited. They just recycle themselves, up, down, or sideways.


Back to our narrative, which is already in progress: The Miami mayor who hired Garcia-Pedrosa as City Manager in 1997 was kicked out of office for voter fraud soon afterwards. That’s the aforementioned Xavier Suarez. Suarez was the first Cuban-born mayor of the City of Miami way back in 1985.


Crazy Joe Carollo pops up in Part One and Part Two
of The David Winker Affair. This is Part Three.

From here on in, I am renaming this series
The Miami Corruption Tapestry.”


Suarez eventually retired from politics to spend more time with his family. Maybe 4 years was all his family could stand because in 1997 he ran for Mayor again and was reelected again.

The ’97 mayoral campaign was an ugly one, but Suarez eventually defeated <checks notes> Crazy Joe Carollo. Then Crazy Joe challenged some absentee ballots as fraudulent and won. [Maybe this is where Mad King Trump gets it from.] Suarez was never officially accused, but the rumours flew. Nevertheless his election was overturned and the office was given to <checks notes> Crazy Joe Carollo, who keeps turning up in every corner of my Miami Corruption Tapestry. Carollo did not win reelection in 2001.

Suarez went on to become Miami-Dade County Commissioner for District 7 and, eventually, Carollo went on to become a City of Miami Commissioner, which is when he first appeared on my radar. One takeaway from the Carollo years I’ve personally witnessed — and everything I have read — is that he’s still crazy after all these years. 

MUSICAL INTERLUDE

And, Crazy Joe is still costing the city untold dollars in legal fees. Tangent over.


Here’s my basic point, even tho’ I took so long to make it: The same people have been picking the pockets of Miami taxpayers for decades — going back before the madness of 1997. Then Miami voters forgot all about the madness of ’97 and kept electing these same rapscallions, as if none of it ever happened. And, as if it didn’t cost the City of Miami both money and reputation while it was happening.

There will be more on Garcia-Pedrosa’s book in later chapters of The Miami Corruption Tapestry, but The David Winker Affair is just a continuation of decades of corruption.


When The David Winker Affair broke, I sent an email to the entire hierarchy of the City of Miami government seeking to get to the bottom of this travesty. I am still waiting for a reply.

Here it is:

EMAIL TO CITY OF MIAMI:
Subject: QUESTIONS – ON THE RECORD
Date: August 22, 2020
From: Headly Westerfield

CC List: Adele Valencia, avalencia@miamigov.com , Mayor Francis Suarez, fsuarez@miamigov.com, City Manager Arthur Noriega, anoriega@miamigov.com, City Clerk Todd B. Hannon,  clerks@miamigov.com, City Attorney Victoria Méndez, VMendez@miamigov.com, Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, District 1,  adiazdelaportilla@miamigov.com, Commissioner Ken Russell, District 2, krussell@miamigov.com, Commissioner Joe Carollo, District 3,  jcarollo@miamigov.com, Commissioner Manolo Reyes, District 4, mreyes@miamigov.com, Commissioner Keon Hardemon, District 5,  KHardemon@miamigov.com, dwinker@dwrlc.com

I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on television. I am a semi-retired, freelance investigative journalist who has been writing about Miami issues, on and off, for about a decade.

Most recently I was made aware of the David Winker story, which intrigued me as a classic case of corruption: The city coming down hard on a man who has launched several lawsuits against the city and won most of them. What intrigued me most was that a 65+ page dossier was produced, and the document was used to start Code Compliance inspections.

It took me a while to obtain this file. To her credit, Department Head Adele Valencia only passed along the specific property complaints (not the entire dossier) to her Compliance officers. Violations were noted and posted. It is my understanding that these violations are being disputed, as is the right of every Miami homeowner or business cited.

However, after a far more careful reading of this dossier, I have come to several conclusions:

1). This is the type of document usually prepared by a private investigator as oppo research against a candidate;
2). At one point it appears as if David Winker was under personal surveillance at a location away from his home, i.e. stalking;
3). And, most importantly, these documents were obtained through fraud, which may have contravened federal laws.

I draw your attention to Page 1 of Exhibit B in the dossier. About 2/3rds of the way down the page it says, “Your Social Security Number has been verified. Thank you.”

This means that someone fraudulently used Mr. Winker’s Social Security Number on 7/27/2020 at 10:02:44 PM [according to the upper right-hand corner of the next page] to obtain this exhibit. Exhibit C, and maybe a few others, appear to have been obtained through the same illegal means. Other exhibits are publicly available docs that anyone can access.

I request answers to the following questions:

1). Have you ever reported an address to Code Compliance for inspection? If yes: Was it an address within your District?

2). Do the records of Code Compliance Violations come across your desk as a regular occurrence, or do you need to request them to stay up-to-date? [Ms. Valencia is exempt from this question, unless she’d like to volunteer some information I may be unaware of.]

3). Do you support the use of city resources to whack opponents over political disagreements? If no, what do you intend to do about it?

4). What is the current status of the Violations posted at Mr. Winker’s door, case number CE2020014267?

5). Is the accessory use permit fee just a tax grab, especially in the era of The COVID?

David Winker is not the first victim of Code Compliance being used as a cudgel. There are media reports going back several years that Code Compliance was used against the enemies of Commissioner Carollo. Those people subsequently used Code Compliance against the Commissioner 9 months later.

However, Mr. Winker’s case is the most egregious because of the way the information was obtained and how the city allowed this colonoscopy, based on a dirty dossier [I can’t believe I just typed that], to initiate a simple Code Compliance Complaint.

None of this is because David Winker is “scum”, a word I recently saw used against him on Twitter. This was done to punch back at an activist lawyer who has been holding the City of Miami accountable. Possibly, and more importantly, it’s also a shot across the bow of anyone who might want to fight city hall, as Commissioner Russell once did.

6). Don’t you feel just a teensy-weensy bit dirty being used this way?

7). Has the City of Miami begun an investigation into how these documents were fraudulently obtained? Who illegally obtained them? Who illegally distributed them to Miami City Hall? [There may be different answers to each of those questions.] If not, why not? If not, it would appear as if the city is a willing co-conspirator to a form of identity theft, a federal crime.

8). Are you aware that just a little bit of the information contained within this file could lead to Identity Theft (which appears to have already happened to have obtained Exhibit B)?

9). Does the city know how many people have received this dossier, with all its private and personal data? I ask because I have a copy and I never should have seen it.

I am on deadline and would appreciate as fast a turnaround as you can. If I publish before you reply, and your reply changes anything within my article, I will update my story.

You can also phone me at ███-███-████, but I prefer stuff to be on the record. Email is always best.

MUSICAL INTERLUDE #2

As I say, I am still waiting on an answer from someone — anyone — in the city. Are there any questions I forgot to ask?

Stay tuned for Part Four of The David Winker Affair, aka The Miami Corruption Tapestry.

Right That Block; Block That Write ► Unpacking the Writer

It’s funny how things work out. The day after I published my last Unpacking the Writer, The COVID Chronicles, Mad King Trump tongue-kissed Salt & Pepa in a tweet and I threw up a little in my mouth.

I didn’t write about it. I wasn’t writing about much of anything. But, for reasons that even I don’t understand, I saved that Mad King Trump tweet for posterity . I was minding my own bidnezz, cowering from The COVID, with enough Writer’s Block to build a concrete canyon down Grand Avenue (which is what will eventually happen, BTW, but that’s another story for another day), when I got a phone call from someone I had not heard from in years. They started telling me about a particular story about Miami Corruption and — JUST LIKE THAT! — I was interested in writing again.

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!


I had to learn how to write all over again. Writing is a muscle that can atrophy. I was rusty as hell. Furthermore, it DID NOT HELP that the WordPress software under the hood at the NNS Newsroom had been updated and the editor no longer did things I used to count on when I needed to count. There was a learning curve to the website software that I’m still working on.

At any rate: I managed to cobble together The David Winker Affair – Part One, followed rather quickly (for me lately) by Winker? I Hardly Know ‘Er – Part Two of the David Winker Affair. Part Three is almost finished and I have already outlined a Part Four. I’m not sure where this will go, but I’ll keep weaving these threads into the warp and the weft of my Miami Corruption Tapestry to form a bigger pictures.

That could be sooner rather than later. Suddenly sources have been sending the Not Now Silly Newsroom documents on Miami Corruption that others have only hinted at over the years. Now I have more Miami Corruption to look into than you can shake a FOI at.

Meanwhile, with about 60 days to go until the election, I’m hoping to write more about my opinions of Mad King Trump. He needs to be stopped. I’m old enough to remember the 1967 Detroit Rebellion and the other riots of the era. Following the murder of George Floyd the entire country has righteously erupted.

I don’t condone violence or destruction, but I understand the language of the dispossessed. I know how loud ‘the rabble’ has to get before any needed reform is even hinted at. In 1966 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told Mike Wallace:

I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.

Everything old is new again. We’re just calling it #BLM, or Black Lives Matter, but Black folk are still trying to make their voices heard. Were it not for the fact that people are now carrying video recorders in their pockets, so many of these murders at the hands of police would not be known.

I’ve watched, just during my lifetime, how the fight for true equality in ‘Merka has been two steps forward and one step back. The country never makes it to the finish line.

When I was growing up I couldn’t get my parents to drive me to school. Now 17-year old children are being driven across state lines to murder peaceful protestors with more firepower than police carry.

In Mad King Trump‘s ‘Merka, brownshirts taking over city streets with their pick-up trucks — jacked up to compensate for their cuckold-follow-the-pack lifestyle — shooting people with paint balls. Rich White Fucks with boats (or huge loans on their boats) are taking over ‘Merkin waterways.

Not only won’t Mad King Trump condemn the violence done in his name when asked outright, but he encourages it from the sidelines in tweets. He sees unhinged rallies where MAGAts wave the TRUMP 2020 flag, but only sees the support, not the this-is-so-bad-for-the-country-it’s-off-the-charts. Because, Mad King Trump has only ever seen the flags.

Which brings us full circle, dear reader. Just as I was getting ready to publish this update from the Not Now Silly Newsroom, I popped into Twitter to see if there was anything I wanted to roll into this post. There, right at the top of my timeline, as if daring me to screenshot it, and make fun of it, was the latest tomfoolery from Zircon & Burlap.

I don’t see this as a compelling
argument to reelect a monster.

Winker? I Hardly Know ‘Er – Part Two of the David Winker Affair

Image

David Winker has been described by Concerned Citizen as a “disheveled heavy-set man” in the anonymous hit job — the 95 page dossier — the city used as a basis to inspect the home where he lives and slap some code violations on the property, which happens to be in his wife’s name.  She’s just collateral damage in this crazy story.

I can affirm — and would so so under oath — that David Winker, activist lawyer, is a disheveled, heavy-set man. When I first met him, literally while making introductions, his wife started straightening his collar because it was askew. Almost sheepishly he related he just arrived from a YouTube LIVE podcast and must have been disheveled during it.


Read: The David Winker Affair – Part One


And, he is heavy set, with the body of a football player, which he inherited from his football-playing father. Ironically his father forbid him from playing football. Growing up in Canada he played hockey and ‘Merka’s national sport, baseball. Although these days he occasionally reviews high school football.

I spent 4 hours with David Winker. Mostly we talked at his dining room table, which the City of Miami seems to think is a dedicated office. The rest of the room is filled with the flotsam and jetsam of a large family room occupied by people with children. If this were my house I wouldn’t necessarily want a client to see that clutter and Winker assured me he doesn’t meet with clients there. But, I didn’t really care about that.

Nor did I really care about most of the other items in the 95+ page dossier.

Mostly I wondered why I was even there.

Then I remembered that my source told me I would uncover Miami Corruption, so I stuck with it.

I asked about every exhibit in the 95-page document and it felt dirty. Nothing in this colonoscopy — other than about 40-50 words — had anything to do with the Code Compliance Violations tacked to Christina’s house. Not the pages and pages of printed screenshots labeled “Exhibit A: Winker Tweets/Social Media Assaults.” Exhibit B is every traffic ticket, parking violation, and some “no valid license plate history.” Exhibit C is called Winker Criminal DWLS. I could go on and on through “Exhibit J: Winker City of Miami Permit History”.

Part of the Winker DossierWhen we were done, I wanted a shower. But, I had to ask about every page — every exhibit — in those 95 pages if I wanted to find the corruption I was promised.

Winker’s wife drifted in and out of the room during this rectal examination, until she had to go do children taxi.

Winker copped to some of it; he also had reasonable explanations for some of it; said some of it had been cleared years ago, but he forgot to file those docs that would take them down; and (later) showed me why the plate on his pickup truck appeared invalid. His registration is valid. However, someone tore off half of the little yellow sticker to put on their own car because their sticker had expired. [Apparently this is more common in Miami than I knew.] The problem to replacing the sticker is The COVID and government offices not being fully operational yet.

Later we walked completely around the property where I examined the supposed Code Violations.

The granny flat, f’rinstance. It’s a converted garage and had been a granny flat for who-knows-how-long? However, it was there the last time the City of Miami signed off on all these surveys and documents, both before and after the last sale 8 years ago. It’s all on record. Public record. Records available to Code Compliance, had it wanted to look.

The surprise was meeting Winker’s mother, who snowbirds in the granny flat. Normally she’d be back in England at this point in the year, but that’s another thing The COVID complicated. (FULL DISCLOSURE: We share a Queen. I’m Canadian.) 

But, all of this is getting so far away from the dossier. This cannot be stressed enough: almost nothing in that document was germane to the issue of Code Violations. It was an attack on a taxpayer by another anonymous taxpayer throwing anything and everything against the wall to see what sticks. And, it’s pretty clear that it was compiled by a private detective as oppo research.

It’s disgusting.

Why would anyone do such a thing?

It all goes back to Winker’s profession. He’s a lawyer for hire. In his spare time he sues the city and wins. According to Miami New Times:

Beyond representing the group calling for a recall of Carollo in a case against the city, Winker has openly criticized City Attorney Victoria Mendez for defending Carollo in the recall effort and acting as his “private law firm.” He also has filed ethics complaints against the MLS soccer stadium construction effort.

Winker also sued the city after it appointed the lawyers and lobbyists of developers to serve on a zoning review board. LAW.COM picked up that story with Activist Criticizes Naming Developer Attorneys to Miami Zoning Review Group:

Escarra, Leiva and Tapanes represent most of the big developers before the city and will have front-row seats shaping the city’s development regulations. Winker maintains It would be difficult for them to focus on the public’s best interest rather than their clients’ priorities.

“Miami has an image problem, and these appointments are the quintessential ‘foxes guarding the chicken coop,’ ” Winker wrote in a letter Friday to City Attorney Victoria Mendez. She had no comment by deadline.

Winker argued the appointments violate the Florida Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees barring private employment and public office with conflicting interests.

Winker won that argument, too.

Then there was the time Winker filed a suit against the City of Miami and Ultra Music Festival, the massive, yearly, 3-day EDM fun fest. He filed on behalf of the Brickell Home Owners Association, which would have to include some heavy-hitters, just based on the zip codes. That contretemps was big enough for Billboard to take notice. Winker lost that one. Ultra went ahead in what many people believe is an environmentally sensitive area and the squabbling has really never ended. Another Miami mess. But, that’s not this story.
 

And, that’s the problem with this story of Miami Corruption. To tell it properly, it’s necessary to weave an entire wall tapestry in which Winker’s Code Violations is just one vignette in the corner. Stick with me because I’m growing fond of this analogy.
 

In another corner of this tapestry is Coconut Grove, a community I know well because of the hundreds of stories I’ve written about it. Another of Winker’s pro bono lawsuits was on behalf of a Coconut Grove homeowner who righteously opposed the fact that the city’s building department approved permits to build two houses on Day Avenue without the 10 feet setback AS REQUIRED BY LAW.
 
This is Code Non-Compliance. The laws are clear. How does a thing like this happen? 
 
Either the permitting department doesn’t know WTF they are doing or somebody greased the skids so that these house could get more square footage. That would be bribery. That would be Miami Corruption.
 
There are now calls to tear down these houses, but the city seems to be leaning towards turning away from the problem.
 
You can read more about it here: Residents: West Grove is losing its identity because Miami doesn’t enforce zoning code.  But — again! — that’s not the story I’m trying to tell today. However, it will turn up in subsequent chapters of The David Winker Affair, which is one reason I mention it here.
 
Another reason: It adds new names to the canonical list of suspects I’m compiling. Who is Concerned Citizen? Rather than narrowing things down, this list grows with every conversation I have.
 
Winker has amassed a number of powerful enemies due to his activism. They are all suspect until one person confesses, or is outed by another anonymous concerned citizen. So far no one has shared the real goods on who might have hired a private dick to go through David Winker’s dirty laundry.
 
Without question Winker’s most powerful enemy is Miami District 3 Commissioner Joe Carollo. For the record Winker doesn’t put him on my suspect list. I disagree. I wouldn’t put it past him because he’s used code compliance as a cudgel against his enemies in the past…more than once.
 

Ironically, as I was preparing this part of The David Winker Affair, more Winker stories came in over my electronic transom, delaying its publication. They converge at the recall effort for Miami District 3 Commissioner Joe Carollo.
 
I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds about the Carollo recall because it’s as tangled as all the other threads in this tapestry. However, it would be dead center.
 
If you like weeds, start here: He’s not called Crazy Joe for nothing. Miami New Times published A Brief History of Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo’s Craziest Moments on May 14, 2018, long before the recall effort even began.
 
Here’s the recall in non-legal jargon.
 
CIVICS 101: Citizens wanting to recall a Miami politician have specific laws to follow. The first step is registering the recall effort with the city. Oddly enough you do not have to register the the specific language of the recall petition and could make up any series of lies, but you’ll still have to convince 5% of the district to sign on to your theory. Your recall effort does not begin until you get your first signature and you only have 30 days before the recall petitions must be turned in. [Who is allowed to sign the recall petition is also regulated, but that’s deeper weeds.] Finally, the law directs what you do with the petitions once that deadline nears, how the signatures are verified (no Santa Clauses allowed), and what’s required of the city at that point.
 
Think of the recall like a fishing line spun out into the community (to begin a new metaphor I can torture). The recall law keeps the line taught.
 
Once the recall petitions were signed, sealed, and delivered by Take Back Our City, the City of Miami allowed the fishing line to go slack. Now it sits in my imaginary tapestry as a tangled mess, emblematic of Miami political corruption. Only the courts can untangle this Gordian knot, which would have already been solved — one way or another — a long time ago, were it not for the tangled mess Miami government has made of it. Throwing it into the courts has delayed the entire process, which may have been exactly what Carollo wanted.
 
Yesterday Ladra reported Miami’s Joe Carollo tries to recall the recall by getting petitioners to recant in which she tells of unidentified “young women” who are roaming various neighbourhoods, trying to get people to disavow their earlier signatures on the recall petition. Keep in mind only some 1900 people were needed for the petition to succeed and these “young women” knew where they all lived. Ain’t that some shit?
 
Ladra:
 
 
Miami City Hall, formerly the Pan American Air Lines Sea Plane Terminal,  Coconut Grove, Miami, Fl... Via Amplification, Inc. | Miami city, Florida,  Miami photosThe Miami Herald, as only that rag can, took a look at the same story and chose to parrot Joe Carollo’s lies, before relating why there’s been such a delay in this recall,  how that delay gives Crazy Joe all this extra time to intimidate petitioners into recanting, and why these shenanigans are bad for democracy. But I expect no more from the Miami Herald, which has been totally useless in ferreting out Miami Corruption. But I digress.

Carollo and his attorney, Ben Kuehne, confirmed Wednesday that an undisclosed number of residents have signed forms expressing their desire to be removed from the recall petition. In his lawsuit, Carollo claimed that the recall organizers misled and lied to some of the 1,941 voters who signed petition forms, arguing in part that Spanish speakers were confused by a document written only in English.

“Many people were lied to and told that this was for something other than to recall me,” Carollo told the Miami Herald. “Dozens of people are telling us that they didn’t sign [any] recall against me. They voted for me, they like me, but their names appear [on the petition].”

Carollo added: “If these people wanted me out of office so badly, they’re not gonna change their mind and take their name off the petition.”

There’s a similarity to the way Carollo brazenly lies without providing proof and the way Mad King Trump lies, but that’s another story for another day. The main point is the Miami Herald buried the lede:

“We knew it was only a matter of time before Carollo started a campaign of intimidation,” said David Winker, an attorney for the recall group. “Given his track record, you can’t blame residents who are getting a knock on the door from Carollo’s people [for] signing whatever is put in front of them.”

Winker said intimidation tactics by Carollo were “exactly what inspired the recall in the first place.” The petition focused on controversies that have marked Carollo’s term since he was elected in 2017, including accusations that he pushed the city’s code enforcement department to target properties owned by Little Havana businessman Bill Fuller, including the Ball & Chain nightclub.

Carollo obtained copies of the petitions — which include signers’ names and addresses — through a public records request, the Miami city clerk said Wednesday.

The very same Miami city clerk that tangled the fishing line in the tapestry in the first place.

So all that legal wrangling is costing taxpayers money. That’s one of the things that concerns Concerned Citizen (Remember: This story is about that malcontent). None of this was ever really about code violations. This is a baldfaced attempt to silence a critic of the City of Miami with an enviable track record in court.
 
Take Back Our City, the recall committee, recently held a presser on the courthouse steps:
 
 

IN SUMMATION:

My source promised I’d find Miami Corruption if I dug into this story. I also promised you, dear reader, corruption if you stuck with this story. However, it just didn’t turn out to be the kind of corruption my source alleged and that you are probably expecting.
 
That happens sometimes. You get a tip and chase it down wherever it might go. When I was writing Fox “News” criticism (9 years I’ll never get back) I once got a tip from a very reliable source that Flava Flav dated Bill O’Reilly’s wife back in the day. I chased that story right down to Flava Flav himself.
 
SPOILER ALERT: It’s not true, but it was fun looking.
 
However, while chasing down this story I did find some real Miami Corruption and real crimes committed. It just wasn’t the corruption and crimes my source alleged.
 
Bottom line: Florida’s laws on privacy were breached to obtain, and then distribute, David Winker’s information contained in the 95 page dossier. Both are crimes, which may — or may not — have been committed by the same person. Worse yet, Federal laws were also broken.
 
These will be easy crimes to prove. The rapscallion who committed this crime left their fingerprints in Exhibit B. The language cannot be more clear.
Your Personal Information in Florida motor vehicle and driver records is blocked in accordance with the Driver Privacy Protection Act.

Your Social Security Number has been verified. Thank you.
Furthermore, in the top right-hand corner of every page in the subsequent report is the following notation:
[7/27/2020 10:02:44 PM]
The government helpfully dated and time-stamped the request. It won’t take a colonoscopy to discover the IP address of the criminal interloper; just a few sharply worded subpoenas.
 
I feel like I’m living in a noir movie now. What kind of crooked private detective would break Federal law to obtain kompromat on an enemy? And, what kind of Concerned Citizen would overlook these criminal trespasses in a false attempt to prove an activist lawyer is crooked?

END OF PART TWO.

Stay tuned for Part Three of the David Winker Affair in which I reveal the questions the City of Miami needs to answer, not that I believe it ever will.

The David Winker Affair – Part One

As this article was in the edit stage, Miami sent out the following, making it easier to rat out your neighbours.

Let’s start with a generally accepted fact known by every homeowner, developer, and builder: If you send a city by-law inspector to any address, in any town in this country, it’s more than likely they will find an infraction…or two…or six. Which brings us to the latest brand of insidious Miami Corruption:

Unscrupulous people are using the City of Miami’s by-law inspectors to settle political and/or personal squabbles. And, it’s ugly as hell and getting worse.

This has probably been going on for quite a while, but on a small scale; petty neighbour vs. neighbour bullshit, HOAs trying to get leverage, or just mean folk looking to make trouble. However, it only recently became public that the city’s Code Compliance office is an international joke.

This ugly mess broke out into the open back in 2018 when 2 city employees, both Code Compliance Inspectors told stories about District 3 Commissioner “Crazy Joe” Carollo — under oath and testifying at his ethics hearing.

NB: Crazy Joe is also at the center of a recall effort that’s as tangled and convoluted as anything else in Miami. That’s not the story I’m writing about but, it is tangentially related.

In “Carollo Might Have Broken the Law by Sending Code Enforcement After Ball & Chain’s Owner”, it’s alleged Carollo attempted to illegally use two Code Compliance Officers to…Wait! I’ll let Miami New Times’ Jerry Iannelli finish that thought:

Those employees’ allegations came during an investigation launched this past March when Bill Fuller, co-owner of the nightclub Ball & Chain, complained that Carollo was illegally using code enforcement investigators to target his businesses, all because Fuller helped Carollo’s election opponent.

Moreover, Crazy Joe has done this very same thing before. From the same article:

This isn’t the first time Carollo has been accused of sending code enforcement after his enemies. As New Times detailed last week, he used a nearly identical scheme in 1996 to attack Rodney Barreto, a local fundraiser and lobbyist. Barreto was the godson of then-Miami Mayor Stephen P. Clark, who frequently sparred with Carollo. Barreto also supported Carollo’s 1995 election opponent, Victor De Yurre. At the same time, Barreto also owned a series of parking lots outside the then-existent Miami Arena.

Carollo openly admitted to the Miami Herald in 1996 that he sent city employees to shut down Barreto’s allegedly illegal lots, but the city eventually let Barreto reopen them. Carollo claimed he was simply trying to trim “fat cats” from the city government, but the Herald said De Yurre’s supporters were the ones who wound up hit hardest.

“This is just basic, vindictive politics,” Barreto told the Herald in 1996. “It’s all promoted by Joe Carollo. This is not a nice message the City of Miami is sending here.”

Of course, because it was an ethics hearing, Carollo was allowed to defend himself. That’s not a rabbit hole I’m going down right now, but a week later Jerry penned “Video Suggests Carollo Lied to Miami-Dade Ethics Board“, which could be worth your time. However, here’s an important takeaway:

New Times obtained two seven-second clips from a witness who says he was riding in a GMC Terrain that night when Carollo was caught idling outside the Little Havana valet parking lot. The source — who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from Carollo — says the clip, which begins in the middle of a heated Spanish-language argument, shows Carollo arguing with a Ball & Chain parking attendant, which corroborates the account that three witnesses gave the ethics board.

Reprisals? In Miami? Never happens.

IRONY ALERT!!!

It wasn’t but some 9 months after that when Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla, the business owners Crazy Joe had targeted, held a presser accusing Crazy Joe of living in a glass house.


To bolster their claim Fuller and Pinilla provided “photo evidence of each violation collected via Google Streetview.” It’s not like they hired a private dick to go through Crazy Joe’s dirty laundry.

But, someone did hire a private eye, a shamus, gumshoe, private investigator, sleuth, spy, bloodhound, eavesdropper, flatfoot, peeper, shadow, snoop, tail, P. I., Sherlock Holmes, bird dog, and/or slewfoot because that’s what happens in the next chapter of Code Compliance Corruption, as the laws are being used and abused to settle political scores.



David Winker, looking professional

Before I get too far along, let me introduce David Winker. I’ll tell you more about Winker in subsequent chapters of what’s looking like will be a multi-part story, but suffice to say that he is a Miami lawyer for hire. As a side gig he sues the City of Miami and, more often than not, wins.

This ugly episode will likely be his next lawsuit against the City of Miami.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED:

On August 6, 2020, Miami Code Compliance Department Head Adele Valencia received an anonymous 95+ page dossier on David Winker, activist lawyer and Miami homeowner. The only allegations in those 95+ pages that Code Compliance would care about can be quoted from the after-action report in an email from Valencia obtained by the Not Now Silly Newsroom:

On Thursday, August 6, 2020, the Code Compliance inspector conducted research on the permit history of the property through iBuild and Laserfiche, researched the property records on the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser’s Website, Sunbiz, the Florida Bar, and Realtor.com, and personally visited the property in the field.

The Code Compliance inspector inspected the home from the public right of way and opened a Notice of Violation, Case Number: CE2020014267.

The Code Compliance Inspector issued a Notice of Violation for 1) home occupation business without a Certificate of Use and/or Failure to follow the requirements for a home occupation business; 2) failure to obtain a valid Certificate of Use for the type of business being conducted; 3) Failure to obtain a Business Tax Receipt for the type of business conducted; and 4) illegally operating a business in a residential zone; 5) work performed without a permits and/or permit not finalized; and 6) illegal units. 

Clearly it didn’t take 95 pages for “Concerned Citizen” to hate on Winker’s property. So why were all those trees felled? The Not Now Silly Newsroom has obtained the entire dossier and is shocked by its contents. It was clearly prepared by a private investigator and alleges everything from traffic infractions to property liens; from tax troubles to Lis Pendens (which is going to be the next nom de plume I ever assume); From Exhibit A to Exhibit J. That’s right: Nine exhibits.

The file is a throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks. It even includes tweets that Concerned Citizen labels “social media assaults.” I hope nobody looks at my timeline. I swear a lot.

A careful reading-between-the-lines of the exhibits seems to indicate that at one-point, Winker may have been under surveillance away from his home. Private dicks follow their quarry. Some people would call that stalking.

This dossier — this colonoscopy — is nothing more than a hit job. Whether any of it is true, or not, it’s an attempt at character assassination to silence someone holding the city to account. None of it is germane to the issue of the property and the alleged violations. This is the politics of personal destruction. And, it’s a shot across the bow of anyone who may decide to become an activist and fight city hall.

Furthermore, Concerned Citizen is not subtle at all. A letter addressed to Honorable [sic] Elected Officials of Miami City Hall begins: “RE: David J. Winker: Activist or Opportunist?

The first line attacks Winker as “disheveled” and the last line of the first paragraph says, “Unfortunately he is just a vicious individual.” Between those ad hominem attacks is the nature of the Winker’s real crime:

He came onto the scene about two (2) years ago by purportedly calling out the City of Miami and its elected officials on everything under the sun: from the soccer deal to building code violations, ethics issues to task force appointments, recalls to settlements, etc.

LEFT UNSAID:  Winker keeps winning his lawsuits against Miami, which means that the problem is not with him, but with the city. Yet, Concerned Citizen disagrees: The havoc David Winker has caused needs to be addressed categorically. I am extremely concerned that as a taxpayer I will be forced to pay higher taxes or lose services based on the many lawsuits or lost revenues caused by this man and his negative motives. Enough is enough.

Home Sweet HomeIn other words: I prefer City of Miami malfeasance to allowing a pro bono lawyer holding the city to task. [TO BE FAIR: One of the allegations is that he’s not *really* pro bono.]

Having been following this story from afar, I contacted Winker, who agreed to an interview.

We spent 4 hours together, at his house in the Shenandoah neighbourhood, one of Miami’s oldest subdivisions, going back 100 years now.


But first, a mea culpa.

I walked away from my reporting about West Grove for a variety of reasons, Pop’s death, not getting enough traction on my investigative stories, the time and money it was costing, and the distance to Coconut Grove: 35 miles. I should have been paying better attention in the interim, but I was UberLyfting hard. While otherwise occupied Coconut Grove has turned into a crazy game of telephone, a viper’s nest of innuendo, and enough conspiracy theories to launch a new QAnon.

END OF PART ONE.

Keep your eyes peeled for Part Two, in which I:

  • Write more about David Winker and his Non-Code Compliance;
  • Discover what Federal laws may have been broken;
  • Codify the Florida privacy laws allegedly breached;
  • Try to discover who paid for the 95 page hit job;
  • Who might be Concerned Citizen;
  • And, how all of this relates to Coconut Grove.

The COVID Chronicles — Unpacking the Writer

The COVID

I still call myself a writer, but I’ve barely done any in almost 2 years. Aside from posts on the facebookery or THE [Twitter Hate Engine™] — short, concise, and generally angry bursts of energy — I’ve not written anything of any length since There Will Be Hell Toupee, on December 27, 2018, and mostly because it is a topic (to lean into the cliché) near and dear to my heart.

Six days previously I published my very last gasp on Coconut Grove, Bulldozing History in Coconut Grove. The Grove was a topic that burned at me from the day I first discovered it 12 years earlier. At the time I was still disguised as Aunty Em Ericann, having launched Aunty Em’s Place in 2006. It was my very first ‘Merkin blogging experience. I had only recently moved from Canada and was trying to make as big a ripple as possible in what I knew to be a huge media ocean. The nom de troll was part of that plan. For a time, it worked, but that’s another story for another day.

Aunty Em’s very first post about The Grove was published on February 24, 2009. Presciently that post, The Shame of Coconut Grove, promised to be “Number One in a series”. Little did I know how right she would be…I mean…how right I’d be.

Over the years I have written dozens of investigative articles about Coconut Grove. The Grove consumed untold hours of my time in research and writing. Then there were the absorbed costs of multiple FOI requests, not to mention the gas needed to drive the 70 miles to The Grove and back, when I needed to be on the ground.

I’m proud of my work on Coconut Grove. During that time I broke some important stories about The Grove before the so-called Miami Media: Trolleygate and Soilgate were being ignored until I kicked up a stink. It was gratifying to see my stories picked up by the Miami-Herald and local newscasts, even though I wasn’t being credited. I knew who got there first.


If links are your thing:

Where the Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins:
Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three

The Coconut Grove Playhouse Trojan Horse:
Part One, Part Two

How Will the Playhouse Redevelopment Hurt West Grove?

No Skin In The Game:
Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four

Who Is To Blame For The Destruction of the E.W.F. Stirrup House?

Say Goodbye to the E.W.F. Stirrup House While You Can

Interview With District 2’s Ken Russell

EXCLUSIVE: Are Valet Companies Stealing From Miami Taxpayers?

My last really important investigative story on Coconut Grove (at least in my mind) was published on August 8, 2018. It ended with the words “Because, make no mistake, at the core of every story about Coconut Grove is a story about Racism”. While I didn’t realize it at the time, Rapacious Developers Are Destroying A Historic Black Neighbourhood was both a summation of my time in Coconut Grove and my swansong on the topic. I didn’t figure that out until later.

After I dropped that article, I started compiling/composing a new Freedom of Information request for all the properties I would need to track for the proposed Charles Street hotel. Officially called The Charles Avenue Grove Inn, immediately across the street from the E.W.F. Stirrup House I failed to save from Demolition by Neglect. There were at least 6 properties — possible 8 depending, on anticipated sales — but there were also several other issues I had been tracking, which I knew I needed to FOI the fuck out of. I started adding up the costs in my head and could see that I was faced with a bill of several hundred dollars because the City of Miami charges for that shit. And, that would have only been Step One. Once one gets the documents [if you even get the documents], they invariably lead to other documents and another FOI. These things can expand exponentially quickly. I didn’t have that kind of money. I had an occasional sponsor/patron/unnamed source, but wasn’t sure I could get them onboard for this much.

I’m building you a chronology.

Between those last 2 stories on The Grove was my very last Unpacking The Writer, a monthly feature of the Not Now Silly Newsroom. Quite unironically, considering the general topic of this post you’re currently reading, Kick That Block; Block That Kick ► Unpacking the Writer began “I am in the middle of the worst case of Writer’s Block in my lifetime.” It might be worth reading in full, but here’s one data point from the article:

That’s when I turned my back on The Grove. Why should I bust my hump, and spend good money, trying to help a community that didn’t seem to want to help itself? It made me recall the words of Al Crespo. To my mind the Crespogram Newsletter is Miami’s best muckraking site. Early on I tried to get him interested in my crusade to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House. His response shocked me at the time. “Why should I care about a neighbourhood that it doesn’t care about itself?”

If I learned one thing in all the years, it was that Crespo was right about West Grove’s apathy. While I recognized it more and more as I wrote about West Grove, it still ate away at me.

I had a ready excuse for that apathy. The folks who lived in that historic Black enclave were used to being ignored by the city, White folks, and the banks. Their concerns were more direct and immediate than saving a house at the end of a block that once belonged to a man who was — to put it bluntly — considered a slumlord in his lifetime. Or, fighting developers that were gentrifying their neighbourhood, replacing the affordable housing that was only affordable because it was in a Black neighbourhood. The ghetto.

Their bigger concerns were putting food on the table, keeping the young ones out of trouble, and avoiding the Miami Police, who could make their lives miserable if they got too far out of line.

Yes, I had a ready excuse for the apathy, but I was no longer willing to accept it.


The realization that I seemed to be the only person who cared, took my Writer’s Block and constructed a full-blown concrete block building, metaphorically like those that line Grand Avenue in West Grove. Impossible to escape from.

I stopped researching. I stopped thinking about articles. I stopped writing.

Which is odd because there was a time in my life that I just wrote to write. I had no place to publish my writing. I had no readers. I had no blog. I wrote merely to put my thoughts down and get them outta mind. It was cleansing, like a brain colonic. I wrote for the pleasure of the writing.

Eventually, I made somewhat of a living at it as a freelance investigative journalist and, later, toiled for a decade as a news writer on BreakfastTelevision [sic] on Citytv [sic]. Even then I still hammered words into particular configurations for my own enjoyment … and to clarify my thought processes. I need to start doing that again. Desperately.

To quote myself again from Kick That Block:

As much as that was true then, maybe enough time has passed that I think I might be able to finally get this down in digital form. I need to get it off my chest. I need to explore the problem deeper in order to see whether riffing on the topic with words will allow me to find what I’m looking for. It’s still going to take a while before I have anything in a finished form that I’d be willing to publish. If at all. Psychiatry might be faster, but who can afford that? They charge more than Miami FOIs.

For me it will be a relief to just get it ‘out there,’ because it’s a secret I’ve held on to a long time. Only one person on earth knows and they only learned in the last few weeks. I blurted it out while we spoke long-distance during one of my long walks during The Time of The COVID. I was explaining the various things that have turned my anhedonia into full time [find]depression.

It will be the most personal thing I will ever write. In fact, it’s so personal that all my previous attempts at getting my thoughts down were deleted from my hard drive so they could not be found.

That’s not something I normally do.

I still have every draft of every analog article I ever wrote during my magazine freelancing years. Some of them still have editors’ notes for further … err … edits. Electronically, I have an external hard drive (so that I don’t lose anything precious if a PC fries, as has happened many times over the years) with separate folders for each article, where I toss pics, links, notes, and, eventually, numbered drafts, until I have an article I am willing to release into the wild.

Having destroyed all my previous work on this deeply personal article, I’ll be starting from scratch. I saved nothing. I just looked.

Because it’s not something I can just ‘dash off’ — like this thingie you’re reading f’rinstance — don’t expect it any time soon. However, having finally told 1 person, I’m hoping it will be easier now.

However, to circle back to where I started, I need to get back to writing if I am going to continue to call myself a writer.

The COVID is a pretty little bug

Expect the Not Now Silly Newsroom to sputter back to life. It’s not like I got anything better to do. Today is my 44th day of self-imposed social distancing. I’m going wrangy, just like everybody else.


P.S. I was asked why I call it The COVID. I am harkening back to my childhood when elders spoke in hushed tones about The Cancer or The Polio when they didn’t think children were listening.

We now live in the Time of the COVID.

With all my love,
Aunty Em

There Will Be Hell Toupee

Caption

On Christmas Day I had a freaky bit of synchronicity in the Grey Ghost. 

Before it makes any sense, you’ll need some background to understand how truly bizarre this really was, and why the hair on my arms stood on end when it happened.

In a Throwback Thursday from August of 2017, Not Now Silly was never more confessional than when I revealed my lifelong, sick obsession. In Toupee Or Not Toupee I showed off my voluminous analog file on . . . err . . . toupees, which I started compiling way back in the ’70s, long before the world went digital. Among the many clipped articles in this file is the one to the left, from the Toronto Sun, all about me (which is my favourite kind of article).

Like many Canadians I read Gary Dunford’s daily Page Six column because it was interesting, maddening, and funny, occasionally all at once. In response to something he said concerning toupees I wrote him a long letter, which he quoted extensively. Because the text is so small, here’s what he wrote:

Thursday, January 13, 1983
HOW TO CUT A RUG
Page Six gets many strange letters.
(Boy does it ever, snipes the city desk.)
But the strangest letter of a yet-young year is one from an Ottawa [sic] Page Sixer, an inventor who wants to sell us his new machine.
It is called a Toup-Alarm (patent pending, all rights reserved, nobody dare steal this idea).
“You merely set the alarm,” writes the inventor, “and go about your business in complete security. When you come into range of a bad toupee, the alarm automatically sounds. The noise it makes is a loud whoop-whoop-whoop, which alerts the carrier to a bad hairpiece.
“The vain man with the bad toupee does not know the alarm is sounding because of him and runs to the nearest exit thinking there has been a fire.
“I have been testing this device for the last two months with complete success . . . I feel very strongly about this matter.”
The inventor adds that the Toup-Alarm only goes off in response to “really bad rugs” and would not whoop-whoop for Burt Reynolds, William Shatner, Carl and Rob Reiner or “anyone else who wears an unidentifiable toup.”
Surely this is a device whose time has come.
Make the streets safe from unsightly fuzz.
The Page salutes Canadian inventors and all those who would help Turn This Country Around.
God bless us, every one.
Whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop . . .

The actual Toup File with a list of wearers

Aside from messing up my city, the rest is totally accurate. I really did write him such a letter and he really did quote parts of it in his column. However, I don’t have to tell you that there was really no Toup-Alarm machine. It was something I made up to fool Dunford.

However, there was a very real Toup-Alarm.

The Toup-Alarm was something that my oldest friend in Canada, Stephen, and I played around with while out in public. You see, Stephen shared my fascination with bad rugs (just not to the same obsessive degree). When we were out and about, if either of us spotted a bad toupee, we’d do the whoop-whoop-whoop sound with our voices. That would alert the other to take a discrete look around to see if they could spot the same wig.


This video reveals just a small fraction of my toupee file

Which [finally] brings us to Christmas Day.

While UberLyfting on the holiday I got a passenger named Joey, who was going from Hialeah all the way to Pompano Beach, which is a good long run with a lot of time for conversation. He needed to make a stop part of the way there to pick up a set of keys at his place of business, about 2/3rds the way to his sister’s house. We yabbered about all kinds of things until we got to his place of business, which turned out to be a hair replacement company in Fort Lauderdale. His family has been in the toup business for decades after being started by his father in 1962.

The only thing I wanted to talk about after that was my utter fascination with toupees.

Once Joey realized I was serious he apologized for not wearing his rug. He was wearing a baseball cap, but said his wig was 100% undetectable. In other words he was “not only the president, but a customer” just like Sy Sperling in the commercials for the Hair Club For Men.

We talked about the difference between good toups and bad rugs and it was his contention that a really good rug was always undetectable. I corrected him by pointing out that even the best toups in the world look like bad rugs on tee vee because they reflect the light differently. He said I was absolutely right and asked how I knew that.

This is the caption for the above image of something, looks like a list of some sort or other.

“Didn’t I just tell you I’ve been fascinated by toupees my entire adult life?”

When I mentioned the names of a few celebs who had fairly good rugs, which still reflected the light differently, including Jack Klugman among them. Joey told me his family did Klugman, along with Marv Albert.

Now, here’s the crazy synchronicity: I had just explained to the gentleman all about the Toup-Alarm when a Happy Holiday text came in from my friend Stephen, the only other person in the world who knows the truth about the Toup-Alarm.

Joey took my business card. I sure hope he calls. If not, I now know where the local toup factory is. I just might take my Toup File down there to demonstrate my bona fides to Joey.

Bulldozing History in Coconut Grove

Say “Goodbye” to the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse while you still can.

Oh, there will be something erected on the northwest corner of Main Highway and Charles Avenue, and those assholes who profess to care about historic preservation will still call it the Coconut Grove Playhouse — they may even add the word “historic” to that designation. However, just like the E.W.F. Stirrup House, catercorner, this will merely be a replication of the playhouse, not a restoration.

In other words: Developers in Miami win again over history and all logic

To be fair, not that I’m in the mood to be, they are saving the part of the building called “the eyebrow”. Some call it the facade, but developers want to disabuse you from using that term. It’s not the facade, they’ll argue. To be fair they are technically right. It’s the front 20 feet of the building, the entrance, that wraps around the corner of Main and Charles. To be even more fair: it’s the best part of the building as viewed from the outside.

It’s a wonderful example of faux Mediterranean architecture and the only part of the Bright Plan ever built.

READ: Early 1920s: Coconut Grove’s Historic Timeline, which all but erases the Black history of the town that once had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else in the country.

But, as I said, I’m in no mood to be fair. Last week a Miami-Dade judge ruled in favour of Miami-Dade County’s lawsuit against the City of Miami.

Now follow the bouncing ball because this is really a Battle Royale between 3 levels of government:

First you need to know, the land is owned by the State of Florida, which entered into a complicated lease agreement involving Miami-Dade County. The county’s Cultural Czar, Michael Spring, then spent some time in back rooms —with no public consultation whatsoever— negotiating deals with GableStage, architectural firm Arquitectonica, and the Miami Parking Authority to renovate the Coconut Grove Playhouse. Once this cake was fully baked, Miami-Dade Country [read: Michael Spring] started a sham series of public consultations for input. But nothing ever changed, except around the margins. The fully baked cake got new icing, is all.

However much the County wanted to run this project without oversight, this project is still in the city of Miami and the city, not the country, had to sign off on it. To everyone’s amazement and consternation, Miami’s Historic Board (officially called the HEP Board, Historic and Environmental Preservation Board) decided the historic Playhouse didn’t need historic preservation and signed off on the County’s plan to tear down everything behind the eyebrow.

The back of the Playhouse looking towards the E.W.F. Stirrup House 

This naturally triggered public outrage and (I won’t give you every step along this trajectory, but) the City of Miami Commission overruled its own Historic Board, saying the entire historic structure, auditorium and all, had to be saved because, as many preservationists argued, that’s where the history happened.

This led to the court battle mentioned above, which Miami-Dade County recently won. Now the “developer” can do whatever it wants with the auditorium, including adding retail stores to the eyebrow and building a big honking parking garage to the footprint.

READ: Ruling of the Circuit Court paving the way to raze the auditorium.

The word “developer” is in quotes because — once again — nothing is ever a straight line in this story. The “developer” is a complicated consortium of interests, which includes, but is not limited to:

  • Michael Spring, Senior Advisor to the Mayor for Culture and Recreation for Miami Dade County, who cooked all this up away from the prying eyes of the public who pays his salary;
  • Joseph Adler, 78 years old, Artistic Director of GableStage. GableStage is from the affluent city next door, Coral Gables, not Coconut Grove. It was his decision, apparently, to downsize the auditorium from 1100 seats to 300 seats. “Some people say” that the shlock movie producer pegged that number to the amount of seats GableStage currently fills in the Biltmore Hotel, where his productions run virtually rent-free.
  • Art Noriega, the head honcho of the Miami Parking Authority, a semi-autonomous board of the city, and someone I have often called the most powerful person in Miami government. His department is one of the only in the city that brings in revenue, so he pretty much has a free hand. This free hand decided to sell the Oak Street garage because he already knew he was building the huge Playhouse Parking Garage, before the public did.

It’s this author’s contention that the Playhouse revitalization is
merely an excuse to build a honking huge parking garage.
READ: The Coconut Grove Playhouse Trojan Horse; Part IPart II


  • A smaller group of Robber Barons that really have no financial interest in the Playhouse revitalization, but have adjacent properties which will improve in value once this entire mess gets straaighted out. This includes names familiar to Not Now Silly readers, like Gino Falsetto and Peter Gardner, who (along with the descendants of E.W.F. Stirrup) are now trying to build a huge hotel immediately behind the Playhouse, across the street from the no longer historic E.W.F. Stirrup House, which has been replicated.

READ: Rapacious Developers Are Destroying A Historic Black Neighbourhood

Here’s what’s been sticking in my craw: Almost a decade ago I interviewed a person (who asked for anonymity, so I’m obligated) who ran down this entire scenario to me. We stood in front of the —then still historic— E.W.F. Stirrup House while they described a grand promenade that started at the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums (which this author has always called The Monstrosity) and continued through the Stirrup property across the street and continuing through to Commodore Plaza.

– Artist rendering of the proposed Grove Inn

I laughed. I scoffed. I discussed this with people in the know in both the Miami and Coconut Grove politics. They laughed and scoffed as well.

Everyone said it would never happen because the properties needed to be assembled were all zoned single family dwelling and they’d never get upzoning on that many properties.

Guess what? The Coconut Grove Village Council has already approved this hotel in theory and all it needs now is for the city of Miami, which has never met a developer it didn’t want to please, to approve the upzoning on the 7-8 properties needed to build this hotel.

As near as I can tell this hotel is a foregone conclusion, just as is the Playhouse replication. It’s all over but the whimpering by people who revere history.


FULL DISCLOSURE: During the brief period Miami Commissioner Ken Russell was running for Congress, I was his official biographer. Ken Russell has not contributed to this article (rant?) in any way.

Kick That Block; Block That Kick ► Unpacking the Writer

I am in the middle of the worst case of Writer’s Block in my lifetime.

I’ve been through this before and it usually dissipates naturally without my having to work it it. This one hasn’t and only seems to have gotten stronger the more I kick at it. In an effort to kick it to the curb, let’s talk about some of the reasons why this might be happening.

1). To begin with, I actually write every day . . . In my head while UberLyfting. I am on the road for hours and hours on end. During that time I write paragraph after paragraph in my head. This article, for example, has already been written dozens of times. I have, in my head on any number of occasions, reordered these paragraphs and come up with certain wording and bullet points. Writing so much in my head, by the time I get home to my keyboard it already feels finished, so I don’t bother to put it down digitally.

2). Speaking of when I get home: I sit down at the PC —with the tee vee on in the background— and start reading the news of the day on the various websites I haunt. Then I start farting around on the facebookery. By the time I next look at the clock it’s 3 or 4 in the afternoon and I no longer feel like writing.

3). Speaking of the afternoon: This is somewhat difficult for me to admit, being as how I’ve been a professional writer my entire adult life, but I stopped being able to write in the afternoons. It used to be that I could write day or night. I would wake up at any hour and start pounding on a keyboard, creating legible sentences and paragraphs. Writing was something that I had to do, not necessarily something I wanted to do, altho’ I did. Words were always pouring out of me in one form or another.

However, I noticed a number of years ago (about 5, if I had to estimate) that, while I could write up a storm in the mornings, any word craft later in the day was junk. All my articles for NewsHounds and PoliticusUSA were written early in the morning. Most (if not all) of my posts at Not Now Silly were written in the morning. If I tried to write in the afternoons, it came slowly, if it came at all. And, what I produced was of such poor quality that I’d often scrap it entirely or spend so much time editing it into shape that I may as well have scrapped it and started over. That may have been easier and faster.

4). I used to set aside time every day to write because I had assignments due, or a post I was compelled to write. Lately, I don’t seem to have anything I really want to write about, so I make posts on the facebooky, as if that’s really writing at all.

5). One of the heavier things weighing on my mind (but not the most) is this: If you’ve been following along at home, you’ll know how I’ve been writing about Coconut Grove for the last decade; first trying to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House (a battle lost, as the house has now been replicated, not renovated) and then moving on to fight the runaway gentrification on Charles Avenue. My last article on that topic was Rapacious Developers Are Destroying A Historic Black Neighbourhood.

Not to put too fine a point on it, no one shared this article. I’ve checked every corner of the internet I could shine a light into. I could not find a single instance of it being shared. None of the stakeholders in Coconut Grove seemed to care enough to share it. No one who professes love for Charles Avenue shared it. I couldn’t get the Miami Herald to look into it and no other pundit or publication showed a scintilla of interest.

It was a severe blow to my ego.

“Why the fuck should I knock myself out?”, I started to ask myself in the way one asks questions in your head during moments of self-doubt. I don’t live in Miami. I don’t even live in that county. The E.W.F. Stirrup House is 37.2, 40.1, or 41.2 miles away from me (depending on which highway I take). On a good day I can be there in an hour. On a bad day it’s take 3 hours. Three fucking hours on I-95 that could be better spent, even if it’s just cleaning lint out of my navel or farting around on the facebookery.

Why should I spend all that time, all that gas, all that energy, all that money on FOIA requests, when the efforts of my research are not appreciated by those I thought I was helping?

And, that particular thought bothers me as well. Was I doing this because it was the right thing to do? Or was it because I was trying to impress people in Coconut Grove? I thought it was the former, but this question preying on me makes me think that maybe it was the latter.

6). Here’s a larger data point looming within my Writers’ Block: While trying to get over this hump, I started writing an intensely personal confession about something from my past. It’s actually something I had been working on for decades, but —again— only in my head. Without going into detail (because that’s what that post would have done and will still do once [if?] I get back to it), I have recovered a childhood memory that has me questioning WTF?

Then I began the slow and emotionally difficult process of writing an article about it. I was making incremental progress on it, despite having to kick against the writers’ block. And then: Disaster!

As odd as it seems, the news of the day made me question whether I should finish and publish the article. It’s not that I couldn’t make this confession. It was more that I couldn’t make it at that time. It would have appeared as if I was jumping onto a bandwagon, trying to make something that was not about me all about me.

Consequently, I shelved the article to the point of deleting the draft I has been working on. It’s gone and, if I ever want to finish it, I will have to start it all over again.

It’s something I need to write eventually (if only for my sanity), but don’t know how much time will be needed before it no longer appears that I’m just trying to shine by reflection of other people’s difficulties.

7). Last, but certainly not least, because it’s really the #1 reason I am going through this: I feel like I’m losing my ability to rite gud. Whether it’s because the lack of use has atrophied my writing muscle or because my brain is not firing the way it used to. When I do try to write I occasionally get lost in the paragraph. I hit a dead end and no longer remember where I was going. Then I have to sit and reread what’s there before I can find the roadmap that gets me out of there. Occasionally, I’ll even lose my place in the middle of a word.

There’s no GPS system for getting lost like that. I have to find my way out of the maze on my own and there are times it’s a struggle.

For all these reasons I have been having trouble getting words down lately. The only saving grace is that this article came relatively easy and quickly. That may be because I’ve written it in my head many times already. Or, maybe, hopefully, fingers crossed, I am getting over this hump.