Monday, October 24, 2011

The way we were...Miami: Its early days as a Banana Republic

Miami News cartoon by Don Wright, Oct. 26, 1984. (Click image to enlarge)

Twenty-seven years ago this week, Miami city manager Howard Gary was fired. It caused a spectacle that makes recent events seem tame by comparison.

Friday, October 26, 1984
Herald Staff Writer

Howard V. Gary, who as Miami's first black city manager guided the city through the turbulent years following the 1980 riots, was fired Thursday before an angry, chanting, predominantly black crowd at a junior high school in Wynwood.

Mayor Maurice Ferre provided the decisive vote, citing differences with Gary's "personal style." As the stormy meeting ended, almost a dozen police escorted Ferre from the auditorium while Gary backers surrounded him, taunting and shouting.

Ferre joined persistent Gary critic Joe Carollo and Commissioner Demetrio Perez Jr. in voting against the manager. Commissioner Miller Dawkins and J.L. Plummer supported Gary.

Despite the vote, Gary effectively remains city manager for 30 days and, under the city charter, may appeal the firing no sooner than 20 days but before the 30 days are up, said City Attorney Lucia Allen Dougherty. "He is still city manager," she said.

Late Thursday, Ferre, accompanied by two police guards, held a press conference and called on Gary "to recuse himself" from office immediately.

Ferre said he will convene a special committee to search for Gary's replacement and ask former Gov. Reubin Askew to head the committee.

Moments after the vote, police patrols mobilized at two locations near the Robert E. Lee Junior High School, 3100 NW Fifth Ave. in Wynwood, where the commission meeting was held. Maj. Jack Sullivan said no extra police were called in, but the normal complement of 65 squad cars and 86 officers was deployed to potential trouble spots.

Police in Miami Beach also went on alert. County and city officials, including Gary, took to the streets to try to keep calm.

Latin and black radio commentators urged people to stay home.

Gary, who graduated from Miami Northwestern High, only a few miles from where he was fired, took the dismissal calmly. Speaking in soft, measured tones, he said he learned of his impending dismissal from Ferre through an intermediary late Wednesday night. The intermediary later was identified as Miami developer David Weaver.

"I didn't have any forewarning until late last night," he said. "I was surprised. My performance, I think, was excellent. Read the comment of the mayor during my last review. . . . I think it was an issue of personalities and relationships. I'm a little disappointed."

Ferre said he offered Gary "an opportunity to resign in 60 days, an opportunity to do it gracefully. He rejected that."

Gary, who at $106,871 a year is the highest paid city manager in the nation, said that "at this point" he plans an appeal, as provided by the charter.
In editorials, both the Miami News and Miami Herald called for the ouster of the Miami City Commission.

From the Miami News editorial:
Think about it: In less than a year, Miami public officials have given the city, county, state, nation and the world a city commissioner who makes a political deal with the mayor and then at a press conference pulls out his political shiv and gives the mayor a stab in the back unlike anything since Brutus turned on Caesar; a city manager who fired the police chief for insubordination at 2:47a.m. amid a swirl of rumors about public safety and security; a commissioner, the one with the courage to confront his political foe from the blind side, who stands up at a public meeting and with the wave of a hand and the flash of papers sweepingly implies that the city manager is involved in laudering drug money.

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