Dade Ain't Disney | The Nation


Dade Ain't Disney

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But what can you expect? After all, juries come from the general electorate, and look how that performs. When one of the Miami city commissioners went to prison for taking payoffs, voters replaced him with Humberto Hernandez, who was shortly thereafter indicted on twenty-seven counts involving bank fraud. Later, he was re-elected with 65 percent of the vote, and his strong turnout helped push Xavier Suarez to a victory in the mayoral race--a race resplendent with ballots cast by convicted felons, out-of-towners and folks in the poor section of Miami who were paid $10 a vote.

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Robert Sherrill
Robert Sherrill, a frequent and longtime contributor to The Nation, was formerly a reporter for the Washington Post. He...

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At first Hiaasen was outraged:

Is this really the kind of political system Thomas Jefferson envisioned, a system in which people sell their ballot privileges on the streets?
         Of course not. But neither could Jefferson nor any of the founding fathers have envisioned a place such as Miami, where pretty much everything and everybody has been up for sale at one time or another.

Cooling down a bit, he began to see the positive side. If politicians took payoffs, why shouldn't poor voters? Furthermore: "Purists argue that bribing voters can taint the political process. That might be true in other cities, but in Miami the practice actually could lead to cleaner elections." Bribed live voters are a step up from forged dead ones.

Next door to Miami is Hialeah, where the municipal government kept a squad of FBI agents busy for years. In 1993 Hialeah voters elected a convicted extortionist, Raul Martinez, to be mayor--again. He won by 273 votes, many of which were gathered in convalescent homes for the mentally and emotionally disturbed; the signatures on some ballots were obviously forged. Eventually a court threw out the election, but, asks Hiaasen, so what? What if Martinez had been left in office? Years of endless graft had drained the city of most that was worth stealing. Zoning madness had created an aesthetic mess that only a major hurricane could improve.

Since the vote had shown Hialeans didn't give a rap who was in charge, it might have been instructive to leave Martinez in office to establish the city, Hiaasen wrote, "as a unique sociopolitical experiment of the 1990s--a sort of biosphere of sleaze. The rest of Florida can watch and learn.... Even if Martinez went hog-wild, what difference would it really make? How much worse could it get?"

Some would say that question could be asked about several other parts of South Florida.

Even if all judges were honest and all juries had good sense, there would still be the problem of getting the bad guys into court. That's where the state attorney's office is supposed to spring into action. But as it goes now, says Hiaasen, "almost every significant bribery case in Florida is investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by the US government.... If it weren't for the feds, many of South Florida's most celebrated sleazeballs might still hold office." In Miami, he sees a particularly irksome paralysis of justice:

Dade's reputation as the crookedest place in America is secure, thanks to Dade State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle....
         When it comes to pursuing corruption, Rundle's record is even more pathetic than that of her see-no-evil, hear-no-evil predecessor, Janet Reno. That's one reason so many crooks flock to public office here--they know nobody's watching....
         In some places, prosecutors would be embarrassed if their communities were so visibly a-rot with corruption. In some places, prosecutors actually send out investigators to hunt for dishonest public officials.
         And in some places, when wrongdoing is uncovered, indictments are drawn, trials are held and an actual attempt is made to punish the crooks. Can you imagine?
         Here in Dade, the task of ferreting out graft is left to the FBI or the media. It's an icky little business, and the state attorney would prefer not to get involved.

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