Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Donald Trump has Jorge Ramos ejected from his press conference

More proof that Donald Trump is unfit to run for dog catcher.

Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson responds to constituent's email: 'You seem to be very crabby'

Visit Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine's website and you'll see this right at the top of the page:


Commissioner Wolfson's credo:
"Swim, pray,
eat lots of French fries."
Keep those words in mind as you read the email exchange (below) between a long-time Miami Beach resident and Commissioner Jonah "Potty Mouth" Wolfson.

It was just a simple request from the resident, an elderly South Beach woman.

In the email sent last weekend to the Miami Beach City Manager, Mayor and Commissioners, the resident - who lives in a condo near South Pointe Park - wanted to know why there was so much clutter on the beach behind the Continuum Condominium and other buildings.

She voiced legitimate concerns about the crowding of chairs, trash cans, storage structures and traffic on the beach in her neighborhood.

From her email:
The view of the beautiful natural sweep of Miami Beach entering from South Pointe Park is completely obscured now.

Residents and tourists are confined to the foreshore. There is no fence, but this area is clearly defined, its looks like a claim to private ownership.

This spread is designed to deter the public's use of this section of the beach.

My question then is: How is this possible? Is it legal?

Who authorized this takeover of a public beach on a permanent basis?

They are not a concessionaire.. When was this agreement made? Has DRB, Planning, AIPP ever seen this ugly clutter?

Clutter on the beach behind the Continuum condominium.
(Click image to enlarge) 

A few hours later she received this curt response from Commissioner Jonah Wolfson: "I don't understand your concern. How does this affect you? Sincerely, JONAH M. WOLFSON"

The resident wrote back:
Commissioner Wolfson,

It is of concern to me and this is why.

I live here.That strip is my home beach. I swim and walk on it daily. I enter from South Pointe Park...my back yard I call it.

I experience the destruction of the view,and have to walk through the creeping unsightly piles of clutter that are causing it!

Locals and tourists have to sit and sun by the shoreline closer to the water, like second class citizens now.

The danger of the narrower pathway where concessionaire vehicles drive around as if they were authorized official vehicles is evident.

You have championed the proliferation of all this, for eight years.

All these schemes have created ever greater legal anomalies on OUR public beach.

Offer me an explanation instead of having the temerity to question my credibility.

A search of Google images backs up the resident's claims. Here's one shot that clearly shows beach clutter stretching from behind the Continuum and northward as far as the eye can see.

But here's how Wolfson responded to the resident the following day. Keep in mind, once again, that Mayor Levine says residents are to be treated as "valued customers."
-----Original Message-----
From: Jonah Wolfson
To: [redacted]
Cc: Cummins, Brett
Sent: Sun, Aug 23, 2015 11:55 am
Subject: re: Public Beach

The explanation is that those folks are having fun and enjoying life and not bothering anyone. You seem to be very crabby and trying to stop others. Maybe there's another way you can spend energy. You gotta.  Enjoy your swim, pray, I don't know. But I fail to understand how this really affects you. Anyhow god bless and have a wonderful day.

So how's that "customer service" thing working out, Mayor Levine?

Fun fact: The resident who forwarded the email exchange to me said she received Wolfson's last missive as she was watching last Sunday's "This Week in South Florida with Michael Putney."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Miami Beach activist Frank Del Vecchio calls Mayor Philip Levine 'unethical'

It was a side of Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine few ever see.

But there he was back on February 24, 2015, giddily offering up a warm and fuzzy tribute to two of his favorite people, Frank and Marian Del Vecchio; lavishing praise on the couple at a birthday celebration for Marian at the Cibo Wine Bar on South Beach.

Frank Del Vecchio, for those who don't follow Miami Beach politics that closely, is a long-time Beach activist and ardent Levine supporter. (During his 2013 run for mayor, Levine included the Del Vecchios in one of his TV spots.)

Just before presenting the Del Vecchios with a key to the city, Levine reminded them that they "make everyone be their best." Continuing, Levine said they were "the engine keeping everyone [at City Hall] honest, pure and good. You've done so much for our entire city."

But what a difference a few months makes.

Last Thursday, a day after Levine ally and Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson ran the first of two full-page ads in the Miami Herald attacking journalist Michael Putney, Del Vecchio sent an email to his friends with the subject line, "Setting the record straight."

Del Vecchio, a retired attorney, told friends what he thought of Levine's activities on behalf of the political action committee, "Relentless for Progress."

From: Frank Del Vecchio
Date: August 20, 2015 at 3:23:31 PM EDT
To: Recipient list suppressed
Subject: Setting the Record Straight

Dear Friends:

To set the record straight: Do not infer from my past support of Mayor Philip Levine that I condone the Relentless for Progress PAC [RFP], which he defends. I do not.

Although the PAC has been artfully structured so as not to be, on its face, in technical violation of state and local law, I consider it an unethical practice for a sitting Mayor and Commissioner or intermediaries to solicit contributions from vendors and developers who stand to benefit from Commission action. It violates the principles of integrity in government which I hold paramount.

Frank Del Vecchio

Well, it didn't take long for someone to forward Del Vecchio's email to Levine.

Less than 45 minutes after Del Vecchio hit the "send" key, Levine sent him this short response:

At 04:05 PM 8/20/2015, Philip Levine wrote:


I am sorry that you question my ethics.


Later that day, Del Vecchio wrote back: "Phil: I've been straight with you all along about my feelings. Frank"

To which Levine responded:
Yes but you threw me under the bus by clearly insinuating or rather saying that you do not support me anymore.

There were very few vendors who contributed to this PAC and only ONE developer as defined in our code. I guess I am a developer as well based on your rationale!!!

[To] everyone else, the majority are my friends that I have known for years!!! I am the guy who spent $2M to clean this place up, doesn't take a salary or expenses, funding my reelection campaign and spends out of pocket constantly when asked for a million reasons and causes and you gave the impression that I am not ethical.

I am hurt and appalled at your email.

Del Vecchio responds: "I am also hurt and appalled by this current mess that is affecting us all."

Levine writes back:
From: Philip Levine
To: Frank Del Vecchio
CC: Marian Delvechio
Subject: Re: Setting the Record Straight
Date: Thu, 20 Aug 2015 20:55:15 +0000

It is not affecting us "all." Only you are in the "fog of war" and are letting some inside baseball folks with a variety of allegiances and nothing to do cause you to jump ship when the ship isn't on fire!!!!

I would have expected my "friends" to stick up for me, call me out gracefully when they don't agree but not to try and damage me.

This "controversy" was created by a commissioner who wants her husband to take over the family business, a disgruntled commissioner who failed his ethics test and cannot be a police officer and Mt. Sinai who tried unsuccessfully to coerce us into not allowing Baptist to come to Miami Beach! This is election time!!! Last time I was anti Hispanic, Fidel Castro's business partner, a fraudulent businessman and a rich guy buying the election. This time I am unethical for following the law per our City Attorney and assisting to raise a few bucks like EVERY other elected official including our County Mayor!!!! Oh by the way, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled as well!!!!

No need for continued emails back and forth.

I guess there's nothing left to say except to play this oldie from 1966....


Earlier on Random Pixels: Miami Beach's sleazy millionaire mayor Philip Levine, has no moral compass

Michael Putney responds to Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson's attack ad

Michael Putney says Jonah Wolfson
is a "schoolyard bully" and
"lunch money thief."

Earlier this week, Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson took out an ad in the Miami Herald that attacked veteran journalist Michael Putney. Wolfson was pissed that Putney used the term "sleazy" to describe a political action committee chaired by Wolfson.

This morning on his show, "This Week in South Florida," Michael Putney responded to Wolfson and points he made in his ad.

In his commentary Putney said he had invited Wolfson to come on the show and defend what he said in his ad.

But he said Wolfson declined unless Putney first apologized to him. "Not very courageous," said Putney, adding that Wolfson's actions reminded him of a "schoolyard bully" who took "lunch money from the smaller kids."

Friday, August 21, 2015

When did Local 10 become The Onion News Network?

Caution: Video contains coarse language.

It usually goes something like this: "We'll get to that story we promised you about the kittens being rescued from a storm drain in Miami Beach momentarily. But first let's go to Jeff Weinsier in the newsroom who has some breaking news for us. Jeff, take it away. Thanks, Laurie. We're receiving word that a car has crashed into a pizza parlor in Hialeah. Sky 10 is high above the scene, and as you can see, a car has crashed into a pizza parlor in Hialeah. As soon as we know more, we'll get back to you. Laurie, back to you...how are those kittens doing?"

And there you have it, folks...that's pretty much what passes for news at what used to be a pretty decent TV news operation....cars crashing into storefronts, 24/7.

Someone in charge has apparently decided to mimic that other station and this is what we're left with: a really cheesy imitation of the Onion News Network...but way funnier.

(And don't get me started on the two or three stories per hour that involve some random act caught on surveillance video.)

The most recent episode of a car crashing into a store happened just today. And Local 10 veteran reporter Jeff Weinsier (see video below) milked it like a champ...setting what must be some kind of station record for the most uses of the word "miracle" in a two minute story.

Woman crashes SUV into Fort Lauderdale store
Driver says her foot slipped, hit gas

Here's a list of other stories on cars crashing into stores that have run on Local 10 in the past few months.

Employee injured after car crashes into Miami supermarket
Driver backs up into store, crashes into apartment building wall, police say

Car drives into store in Fort Lauderdale
Driver says he accidentally hit gas instead of brake

Car crashes into front of Deerfield Beach shoe store
No injuries reported

Van crashes into pharmacy in Miami after failing to stop for police
Driver taken into custody

7 injured when SUV crashes into DryClean USA in Fort Lauderdale
Driver, 85, believed to have suffered medical episode

Car crashes into Aventura business
No injuries reported after car crashes into Jus d'Orange

Driver crashes into supermarket, apartment wall in Miami

Ferrari driver loses control of car, crashes into Miami Beach home
Nobody hurt when car crashes into tree, porch on LaGorce Drive

10 hurt after car crashes into Homestead Little Caesars restaurant
Police: Older man mistook accelerator for brake

Bentley crashes into Miami Beach optical store
No injuries reported

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson blasts Local 10's Michael Putney in a full-page Miami Herald ad

Click here to enlarge.


Apparently Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson has never heard of a quotation attributed to Mark Twain about picking fights with the press.  Had he known, perhaps he would have thought twice  about taking out a full-page ad (text here) in today's Miami Herald that hits back at Local 10's Michael Putney over comments the veteran reporter made on his Sunday show, and a column in the Miami Herald about Wolfson's political action committee, Relentless for Progress.

In an August 4 op-ed headlined "Sleazy politics on Miami Beach," Putney wrote, in part:
Putting together a slate of candidates who favor a mayor is nothing new.. Ditto for setting up a political action committee. Nearly every politician has one these days. But what sets the Relentless for Progress apart from other PACs is its high-pressure tactics, the contributors it's soliciting and the mayor's admitted involvement. The chairman of RFP is Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, who is term limited. The mayor says he and Wolfson have together and singly called prospective donors asking for money. Levine makes it sound totally benign.

But some on the receiving end have told me they agreed to give only because they feared payback from the mayor, commission and city administration if they didn't. Mount Sinai Medical Center, for example, may lose a $15 million city grant because it refused to cough up a big contribution to RFP. At a city commission meeting last week, Wolfson called the $15 million grant to Mount Sinai "corporate welfare" and tried to get it cut from the budget. You have to wonder if he'd feel differently if Mount Sinai had written a check to RFP for, say, $100,000.

In the ad, Wolfson writes that Putney never called him before leveling his accusations. "Had he done so, he would have learned that I have always been against Mt. Sinai's corporate welfare ways."

"Mr. Putney's suggestion that my votes against taxpayer-funded handouts are related to campaign contributions is both false and defamatory," Wolfson says in the ad.

Click here to enlarge.

Reached by email, Putney politely declined to comment when I asked if he planned to respond to Wolfson's charges.

While Putney didn't say so, perhaps he was thinking of another quote; this one attributed to George Bernard Shaw: "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."

Miami New Times: Michael Putney, Glenna Milberg targeted in full-page Herald ad by Beach Commissioner


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Can a hard-bitten Florida journalist who's seen it all, write a hot, steamy romance novel?


Since graduating from Emerson College in Boston in 1993 with a degree in mass communications, journalist Tamara Lush has pretty much seen and covered everything.

She's covered more than a half dozen executions, including that of notorious Sweetwater cop-turned serial killer, Manny Pardo.

In 2000, a man she was interviewing, confessed to committing a murder because the victim "was at the wrong place at the wrong time."

In 2009, she convinced South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford to spill the beans about all of his extra-martial affairs.

In 2012, she wrote about a man who rescues animals from high-kill shelters and flew with him to Alabama where he rescued his 1000th animal.

"It was decided that Rex, a floppy-eared, mixed-breed puppy was Bennett’s 1,000th animal," wrote Lush. Rex rode back to Florida sitting in Lush's lap. (See photo at left)

That same year, the Associated Press named her the AP's Tampa Bay correspondent.

By now you're probably asking yourself, "Well, she's watched men die and rescued puppies from puppy death row...what else is left?"


This morning on Facebook, she wrote: "For the past year, I've been working on a book at night, after work and when my very patient husband was in bed. It's been an interesting and humbling year, to put it mildly. Creative writing has become my escape. Being an author is something I never imagined doing -- I even scoffed when Heather Hanson told me that I should write a book. But last summer, I sat down at my computer and didn't stop."

Lush calls the book, "Florida noir."

On her publisher's website, the book - "Hot Shade" -  is described this way:
Journalist Skylar Shaw covers a plane crash on a Florida beach that leads her to a handsome yet mysterious Italian man...and the conspiracy that threatens all he holds dear.

Romance is the last thing on reporter Skylar Shaw's mind when she covers a plane crash on a Florida beach. Her best source could be a mysterious Italian man, but he's strictly off the record—unless it involves indulging their electrifying attraction to each other. Little does Skylar know, but that crash is only the beginning.

Luca Rossi is hiding a big secret: He's a journalist, too, and his anonymous exposé on the Mafia destroyed his world. Now, after two lonely years on the run, he will do anything to possess this vulnerable American beauty. But Skylar is as relentless as the Florida glare, and the situation ignites when she reports on a gruesome murder in a swamp. Soon erotic nights will bleed into dangerous days, and nowhere will be safe from the heat.

Click here to pre-order "Hot Shade" at Amazon.com

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Donald Trump says he gets all his military advice by watching retired generals on cable TV

Donald Trump, the man who said John McCain wasn't a war hero because he was a POW, admitted to Chuck Todd today on Meet the Press, that he gets all his military advice by watching retired generals on TV talk shows.

Via Crooks and Liars:
TODD: Who do you talk to for military advice right now?

TRUMP: Well, I watch the shows. I mean, I really see a lot of great... you know, when you watch your show, and all of the other shows, and you have the generals, and you have certain people you like.

TODD: But is there somebody, is there a go-to for you? You know, every presidential candidate has a go-to...

TRUMP: Probably there are two or three. I mean, I like Bolton. I think he’s a tough cookie, knows what he’s talking about. Jacobs is a good guy.

TODD: You mean Ambassador Bolton?


TODD: You mean Colonel Jack Jacobs?

TRUMP: Colonel Jack Jacobs is a good guy, and I see him on occasion.

Today wasn't the first time that Trump demonstrated that he's not just a shrewd businessman, but also a brilliant military tactician.

Three or four years ago he talked about how he would deal with the Somali pirates if given the chance.

Maybe it's time to start drug testing sports team owners who ask for public money

"No one has ever said 'hey, let's go hang out in the area around the stadium...'" -John Oliver


I remembered the line above as I read the first paragraphs from a story by the Miami Herald's David Smiley in this morning's paper:
It’s a crystal clear Wednesday night. The Miami Marlins just drubbed the Boston Red Sox 14-6. And right about now, thirsty baseball fans should be pouring out of Marlins Park and into Ysbel Medina’s sports bar two blocks away.

That’s what Medina envisioned when he says he plunged $700,000 into the Batting Cage on Northwest Seventh Street and timed its opening with the Marlins’ first season at their $639 million ballpark in Little Havana. But the 26,000 fans leaving in streams large enough to snarl traffic are mostly walking into the surrounding neighborhood toward their cars — not the businesses that Miami’s politicians and the team said would thrive in the Marlins’ shadow.

“The Marlins ...” says Medina, whose bar is mostly empty, save a few stragglers drinking draft beers and eating cheeseburgers. “Man, the Marlins. I don’t know what to say about them.”

Well into a fourth disappointing season in the new stadium, little has changed in the surrounding neighborhood. Predictions that restaurants, cafeterias and hotels would open around the publicly funded park have proved false. The area surrounding the stadium is still pocked with small strip malls, empty lots, vacant buildings and affordable housing. Even the city-owned retail stores in the parking garages surrounding the stadium remain mostly empty.

So as Miami’s politicians once again negotiate to build a sports stadium on the former site of the Orange Bowl, there is talk about what a Major League Soccer franchise would mean for fans and Miami’s global brand, but little boasting about how a second professional sports franchise will share the wealth with its neighbors.

A little further down in his story, Smiley writes: "But now that Miami Beckham United has settled on city land across 16th Avenue from Marlins Park as the site of their future stadium, no one is claiming the surrounding community will see a sudden renaissance if soccer comes to town."

I guess someone in this town is finally getting the message.

In July 1988, as the Miami Arena prepared to open on the edge of Overtown, Miami Heat co-owner Zev Bufman, told the Miami News, "upscale bars and restaurants" would soon dot the area around the Arena and "the streets will bustle with nightlife."

Eleven years after the Arena opened, the Miami Herald reported, "the arena attracted little investment besides subsidized housing and a sports bar that failed. Downtown stayed desolate after dark."

Twenty years after it opened, the Miami Arena was torn down.

Elsewhere, however, some still haven't gotten the message.

Yesterday the New York Times published a story headlined "Bucks’ Owners Win, at Wisconsin’s Expense."
[Republican presidential candidate] Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill Wednesday to subsidize the arena, which could cost the public twice as much as originally projected. Echoing the owners’ arguments, the governor proclaimed that the arena, a practice complex and a promised “entertainment district” would spur a renaissance for downtown Milwaukee and attract tourists. Income taxes paid by the pro athletes, the governor said, would fill local coffers.
One reader of the New York Times story posted this comment: "Will the owners be drug tested before getting public money like Walker wants to do for food stamp and welfare recipients?"

Friday, August 14, 2015

Havana, Cuba, Jan. 4, 1961

Miami News, Jan. 4, 1961


Via the New York Times:
The Marines Who Took Down the American Flag in Havana

Mike East, Larry Morris and Jim Tracy, all Marine Corps veterans,
will help raise the U.S. flag in Havana on Friday, Aug. 14, alongside
Secretary of State John F. Kerry. They took it down for the last time on Jan. 4, 1961, as the U.S. ended diplomatic relations with Cuba. [via YouTube]

Around noon on Jan. 4, 1961, after spending hours feeding mounds of government documents into an incinerator, three American Marines assigned to the embassy guard force in Havana turned their attention to a solemn task: lowering the American flag.

As they stepped outside, the Marines were greeted by a throng of Cubans who had gathered. Many of them were clamoring for visas, hoping to get a ticket out before diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana were formally severed.

“We looked at the flagpole, we looked at them, we looked at the flagpole, we looked at them,” James Tracy, one of the Marines, recalled. “I guess they got the idea. They cleared the sidewalk.”

Mr. Tracy saluted the flag as Larry Morris pulled the halyard. Once down, Mike East grabbed the tips of the flag as his two comrades stepped in to help fold it. The Cubans gave them polite applause as the men headed back into the building.
On Friday, the three Marines will fulfill an old dream as they return to Havana with Secretary of State John Kerry, who is traveling there to mark the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The American government has asked the men to raise the flag once again.

“We’re doing something that not too many Marines have ever done,” Mr. Morris, 75, said. “It’s thrilling.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Philip Levine, Miami Beach's millionaire populist mayor, is now a certified diplomat

Miami Beach's millionaire populist mayor, Philip Levine, posted the above picture on Facebook this morning.

Some very smart people think Levine is getting ready to run for county mayor in 2016.

But the photo shows that Levine clearly has his sights set higher.

In an email to me this morning, one Miami Beach resident floated this theory:

"I have decided that Phil is sporting that t-shirt and unshaven look to prove that he could be an ambassador to Iraq. And that's a good thing. Iraq is the perfect place for him. Things are already so f*cked up there...how much worse could he make it?"

Worse than this, perhaps?

The way we were....Letters to the editor in the 60s and 70s

If you've ever wondered how Internet trolls expressed themselves before there was an Internet, wonder no more.

Long before newspapers empowered stupid people by allowing them to post idiotic comments on their websites, they printed letters from stupid people in the paper.

Miami News, July 31, 1975

Miami News, Nov. 16, 1971

Okay, not all Letters to the Editor were stupid. Some were funny, like this rant from Miami Beach press agent Sid Weber:

Miami News, Nov. 22, 1961

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The summer of '85: A posh Miami Beach hotel suite, a MAC 10 and a drug deal gone bad

Here's a clip from TV station WTVJ's coverage of an Aug. 7, 1985 drug deal gone bad at the Doral Hotel at 48th Street and Collins Ave. on Miami Beach.

Video via the Wolfson Archive.


And below is a column - complete with references to Miami Vice and Miami as the "Murder Capital of America" - by the Miami Herald's Carl Hiaasen that ran in the paper two days later. It appears that thirty years ago, Hiaasen would actually leave the Herald building for some stories.


August 9, 1985
by CARL HIAASEN, Herald Columnist

We beat the ambulance by two minutes.

The emergency room at Mount Sinai was filling with gray- suited men wearing plastic IDs, and out front were the cops -- motormen, patrol officers, detectives, SWAT commandos, all with the same haggard look in their eyes. The look of the Grim Wait.

The call had gone out as a hostage situation, then a sniper and then this: "We have two police officers down!"

Racing across the Julia Tuttle Causeway, we'd heard another voice on the radio: "They're on the way to Sinai. We need a trauma team. We need a trauma team!"

And both of us, the photographer and I, thought the worst. Somebody murdered some cops, we thought.

At the emergency room we were told that the number was four. Four police officers shot during -- what else -- a drug deal.

In the swank Doral Beach Hotel, of all places. In the middle of a dead summer, in the murder capital of America.

What exactly had gone wrong was not clear, but it certainly wasn't Crockett and Tubbs gliding through a TV bust. Four cops down was life gravely mocking art.

It doesn't matter how long you do this sort of thing, the sight of the first ambulance always turns your throat to sandpaper.

Because the first ambulance usually is where they put the one who took the worst shot. The first ambulance tells the story -- just how bad it's going to be.

The doors swung open and there lay Detective Jim Mahle. His head was wrapped to cover two bullet holes in the right side of his skull. But one hand was moving. Best of all, he was conscious.

Then came Detective Joe White, bearded and shirtless, his white shorts bloodied. His eyes were open and he was holding his own IV bag. Sgt. Mike Lowe, a crimson smear on his forehead, walked into the emergency room on his own.

Another ambulance delivered undercover man James Scarberry ("I'm OK," he said), and then came the wounded police informant, pale, and moaning into an oxygen mask.

A few minutes later, a woman in a pink outfit gingerly made her way past the police cordon. A reporter asked if she were related to one of the victims. "No, my daughter just had a baby," the woman said, smiling. "I'm here for a happy occasion."

Soon a trauma specialist came out to announce that the policemen were going to make it. Miraculously, none of the injuries was life-threatening.

Over at the Doral, a man with a mop swabbed the front steps. The place was quiet.

"I got to work and I saw all these cop cars," said Rocky Hile, the downstairs bartender. "I thought they were shooting another episode of Miami Vice. I saw the blood on the steps and I thought: Boy, they really go all out. Then I come in and turn on the news at six o'clock and that's when I found out . . .

"I had a guy at the bar earlier tonight who was on the 10th floor when it happened. Heard all the shots and thought it was some kind of celebration," Rocky said. "Then the elevator door opens and there's a guy on a stretcher, all covered with blood. It still didn't occur to the guy that somebody had actually been shot.

"Until he got downstairs and saw the SWAT team."

I thought about that poor tourist -- gaping at the stretcher in the elevator, finding the elegant lobby taken over by men with automatic weapons. I imagined the fellow turning to his wife and muttering, "You were right. We should've gone to Epcot Center."

Or maybe not. Maybe he knew what to expect from the South Florida vacation package: Four days-three nights-one shootout.

That evening, by the hotel pool, Pfizer and Co. threw a private party attended by trim executives with new golf-course tans. There was an open bar and a twirling ice sculpture of a sailfish.

Upstairs, in a suite on the 11th floor, forensic experts hunted for bullet fragments and measured the bloodstains on the carpet.

Miami Beach's sleazy millionaire mayor Philip Levine, has no moral compass

Philip Levine, Miami Beach's millionaire populist mayor has had a rough few weeks,

Late last month, veteran political reporter Michael Putney closed out his Sunday show by blasting Levine for  calling up Miami Beach vendors who do business with the city and demanding they "donate" to the political action committee, Relentless for Progress,

Putney called Levine's actions morally and ethically wrong.

Levine responded by asking Putney if he could appear on last Sunday's show to present his side of the story.

Once on the show, Levine began by sucking up to Putney - comparing him to Walter Cronkite - and then spending the better part of nine minutes dodging Putney's questions on whether or not it's morally or ethically correct to strong-arm city vendors for contributions.

Putney asked Levine no fewer than three times about his involvement in calling up city vendors to solicit donations, and Levine dodged the questions every time. At one point he essentially said, "If everyone else has a PAC, why can't I?"  (Click here to see the entire segment on This Week in South Florida.)

While the mayor did his best to avoid answering Putney's straightforward questions, his appearance on the show did serve to demonstrate one thing: He's a man who has no moral compass.

Whether it's accusing a police officer of unprofessional behavior, or illegally snatching the keys from the cab of a Coca Cola delivery truck, Levine continues show that he believes he lives in a world where he's exempt from any kind of scrutiny or accountability.

Putney followed up Levine's shameful performance on his show by firing another shot at hizzoner with a blistering op-ed in Wednesday's Miami Herald.
"[Mayor Levine] is trying to amass absolute political power in his city — not that there's anything wrong that that. But to do so he’s using a questionable political action committee that appears to be breaking city ordinances — and there is something wrong that that.
"What Levine and Wolfson are doing with their PAC may be marginally legal, but it's unethical and wrong. It doesn’t pass the smell test."

Perhaps sensing that he'd fail in any further attempts to convince Putney that there's nothing wrong with shaking down city vendors, Levine turned to another long-time South Florida resident for help in cleaning up his image.

In a Facebook post that invoked the name of Mahatma Gandhi, Levine announced that he was calling for the release of the Seaquarium's killer whale, Lolita. "Look Who Lolita the Orca Has on Her Side Now!" crowed the mayor. (It's not the first time Levine has compared himself to some of history's great leaders.)

Levine's out-of-left-field announcement that he was calling for Lolita's freedom is classic Phil Levine: If people won't stop asking tough questions...change the subject. 

Too late, Mr. Mayor, your charade isn't working.

Click here to enlarge. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

The way we were....Elvis arrived in Miami 59 years ago today

In 1956, Miami had been a city for just 60 years.

In the years since its founding in 1896, the town had grown from a small settlement on the banks of the Miami River with a population of a thousand, to a bustling mid-sized city of a quarter-million.

On the surface, 1950's Miami appeared to be small-town friendly. Day-to-day life was simple, uncomplicated.

Former Florida governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham, a 19 year-old college freshman in 1956, remembers the time fondly: "There wasn't a better time and place to grow up. Miami was a relatively small and neighborly place; quiet and laid back."

South Florida's two or three television stations signed off shortly after midnight. Radio station playlists included songs by World War II era singers like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin and Kay Starr.

Downtown Miami was the city's business, entertainment and cultural hub. Plans for large suburban shopping centers with multi-screen theaters were still on the drawing boards. The influx of Cuban refugees would not occur for another five years.

My-am-uh - as many locals called it - was as Southern, conservative and deeply religious as any comparably sized town in Alabama, Georgia or Mississippi.

The city's afternoon newspaper, the Miami Daily News, printed a Bible verse daily on its editorial page. On Saturdays the Miami Herald carried two pages of church news.

But for those who cared to look, an undercurrent of unfairness was visible just below Miami's placid facade.

White males dominated the city's political power structure, businesses and newspapers and the word "change" was not in their vocabulary. They made the rules and inequality was the rule of the day. Blacks were barred from restaurants, theaters and beaches frequented by whites. Miami's schools - like the rest of the South - were also segregated.  

"Before Elvis, there was nothing." -John Lennon

In August 1956, a lavender Lincoln Premiere speeding south on US1 was bringing change to Miami - whether it wanted it or not. One of the car's occupants was a 21 year-old Memphis truck driver-turned-singer named Elvis Presley.

Presley was no post-war balladeer. He sang "rock 'n roll"... a new kind of music that took its name from a euphemism for raunchy sex - as in "my baby loves to rock 'n roll all night long."

"This boy had everything. He had the looks, the moves, the manager, and the talent. And he didn’t look like Mr. Ed like a lot of the rest of us did. In the way he looked, way he talked, way he acted - he really was different." -Carl Perkins  

Exactly three years earlier, in August 1953, Presley walked into Sun Records in Memphis with either a $7.75 or $12 guitar - depending on which story you believe - and paid for a few minutes of studio time.

Sun's owner, Sam Phillips, who had been on the look-out for a white singer with a "Negro sound," liked what he heard and soon invited Presley back for another session. A recording contract followed. 

"Elvis Aaron Presley, [is] a drape-suited, tight-trousered young man of 21, and the sight and sound of him drive teenage girls wild. All through the South and West, Elvis is packing theaters, fighting off shrieking admirers, disturbing parents, puckering the brows of psychologists, and filling letters-to-the-editor columns with cries of alarm and from adolescents, counter-cries of adulation." -TIME magazine. May, 1956

  In 1956, Presley's popularity with teens and young adults exploded after almost two years of live concerts throughout the South. And by the summer of '56 a succession of national television appearances not only boosted his record sales among teens but also caused a stir as Eisenhower's middle America got a look at his on-stage gyrations and an earful of his style of "rock 'n roll" music.

With the filming of his first movie set to start in late August, Presley's days as a live performer were numbered. His manager, Col. Tom Parker, had scheduled one more series of live concerts in seven Florida cities.  

"Without preamble, the three-piece band cuts loose. In the spotlight, the lanky singer flails furious rhythms on his guitar, every now and then breaking a string. In a pivoting stance, his hips swing sensuously from side to side and his entire body takes on a frantic quiver, as if he had swallowed a jackhammer." -TIME magazine, May, 1956

The tour's first stop was Miami, where Presley and his three back-up musicians had been booked for seven shows on Aug. 3rd and 4th at the ornate Olympia Theater on Flagler Street.

It was perhaps fitting that Presley's last tour would include a visit to Miami.

In April, his haunting and eerie single, "Heartbreak Hotel," hit number one on the pop charts. The song's composers, Mae Axton and Tommy Durden, were inspired by a 1955 Miami Herald article about a man who had committed suicide in a downtown Miami hotel leaving only a one-line farewell note that read, "I walk a lonely street."

Shortly after midnight on Friday, Aug. 3, as Presley rolled into Miami in his Lincoln, frenzied fans were already beginning to gather outside the Olympia.

Presley checked into the downtown Robert Clay Hotel, a few blocks from the theater; his first show scheduled for 3:30 Friday afternoon,  

"[Presley is] the virtuoso of hootchy-kootchy." -The New York Times  

But even before his arrival, some in town had worked themselves into a different kind of frenzy over his visit.

Herb Rau, the Miami Daily News show biz columnist wrote on August 1st, "So that the Olympia theater won't be the scene of a two day riot, the management's taking every precaution to guard Elvis Presley against teen-age trouble this weekend. Every delinquent kid in town - plus many who aren't delinquents but are fascinated by a duck-tailed hair-do playing the guitar and squirming his hips - will be on hand Friday and Saturday." Rau went on to say the theater had hired a dozen off-duty cops to keep order.

Rau also reported that Col. Parker had turned down an invitation for Presley to stay at the swanky Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach because he feared hordes of fans might damage the place. Parker also nixed any other Miami appearances for Presley. According to Rau: "he's afraid to take him outside the theater because the kids would tear him apart."  

"It isn’t enough to say that Elvis is kind to his parents, sends money home, and is the same unspoiled kid he was before all the commotion began. That still isn’t a free ticket to behave like a sex maniac in public." -Cosmopolitan magazine, Dec., 1956

Early Friday morning, an enterprising Miami Daily News reporter showed up at Presley's hotel and scored the first interview with "The Pelvis" - as the paper's headline writers had dubbed him.

Reporter Bella Kelly informed her readers that Presley never wears blue suede shoes. "Ah don't wear 'em 'cause there's too many people wantin' to stomp all over 'em." But Presley told Kelly, "I like black. I never wear any other color but black pants."

Kelly asked Presley about his singing style. Presley replied, "I'm not trying to look sexy. I move around because that's the way I feel when I sing. It has nothing to do with sex."  

"Don't expect him for a rehearsal. He just doesn't need a rehearsal. He'll go on stage and kill 'em!" -Col. Tom Parker, Presley's manager

Shortly after 4pm on Friday, Presley bounded out on the stage of the Olympia wearing a pink jacket, black pants and white shoes.

A bemused Denne Petitclerc documented the scene for the Miami Herald: "Elvis Presley, a big shouldered kid in a pink coat and long black pants, staggered onto the stage at the Olympia Theater Friday like a drunken Brando. And the mob, which stretched way up into the darkness of the theater, stood up and shrieked.

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" 'Oh, go man, go!' one girl in shorts screamed, her frantic hands at her black hair, eyes stunned and face contorted. And how they screamed. Presley jogged around the mike, and opened his mouth, and the mob drowned the sound away. He loosened his white tie and licked his lips and tried again, but the jam of teenage girls wouldn't let his voice go.

"The mob of girls surged to the stage, where they knelt, arms upraised. A band of policemen, who were shaking their heads in disbelief, rushed in and pried the kids from the stage. Presley smiled, his shaggy brown hair began to fall like a horse's mane, and even that brought a thundering of delighted squeals."

But Miami Daily News reporter Damon Runyon Jr. - the son of legendary American newspaperman Damon Runyon - made no attempt to disguise his disdain for Presley, his music or his fans.

In his review he sneeringly called the show "contrived" and "obscene."

Runyon wrote: "Young girls (many less than teen age), not a few youths, and even a number of elderly deserters from Liberace's ranks, witnessed their 'lover boy,' as they call him do the most obscene burlesque dance this reporter has seen in more than 20 years of getting around.

"From the theater wings it was possible to see that the 21 year old Presley's ribald routine is not of the emotions, as he's been telling the press around the country -- his pelvic performance is clearly contrived.

"Also far from fervor of the uncontrolled type are his other million dollar stage mannerisms -- the slack jawed gibberish, the glassy gape of a hypnotized hillbilly, the unmannered gesture of wiping the nose, the staggering and shaking as if he'd had a bad fit."

Runyon also reported that after fans spotted Presley at the back door of the theater following the first show, "about 2,000 almost broke a police line to rush the stage door."

Along with Runyon's review, the News ran photos of Presley performing on stage Friday night. Most of them were shot by staff photographer Charles Trainor, a 29 year-old Korean War veteran. Also assigned to work with Trainor was a young photographer named Don Wright.

Trainor was admired by his fellow photographers as a guy who always got "the shot."

Using a cumbersome 4x5 Speed Graphic camera, he preserved a single moment from the concert that endures to this day.

In the photo, Presley leans backwards, teetering on the tips of his toes as he pulls the mike stand towards him. The camera's flash captures his open mouth in the middle of a lyric. His guitar hangs from his neck like an over-sized piece of jewelry.

The editors at the News thought the photo was okay, but apparently not good enough for the front page of Saturday's paper. Instead, they chose Trainor's shot of the girls in the alley. They relegated the shot of Presley on stage to an inside page of the paper.

Trainor died in 1987 after 33 years with the News, but Don Wright, the other News photographer at the concert that night now lives in West Palm Beach and has vivid memories of covering Presley.

Wright had been given a chance to be a photographer after starting at the News as a copy boy. Assigned to work with the more experienced Trainor, Wright remembers that night at the Olympia as being "slightly overwhelming."

"Charlie was an absolutely great photographer," says Wright.

Wright admits he wasn't much of an Elvis fan. "I thought he was a passing phenomenon and the excitement [surrounding him] would all eventually die," adding, "but of course none of that would have occurred to a young photographer at the time just trying to get the shot."

Wright told me his most lasting memory of the concert was that any time Presley moved his body it "created waves of ecstasy among the girls [in the audience]."

Several times during the Friday shows, Col. Parker's fears for Presley's safety were realized. Wright shot a photo that shows a hysterical fan grabbing at Presley's pants leg. At least one fan managed to tear the singer's pink jacket to shreds.

And when fans couldn't get to Presley himself, they settled for anything he owned.

Following Friday's last show, Presley made his way to his lavender Lincoln parked nearby. He found it covered with hundreds of love notes and phone numbers written in lipstick. The car was less than two weeks old. On Saturday, Presley visited nearby Miami Lincoln Mercury and traded in the lipsticked Lincoln for a brand new, white Lincoln Continental Mark II; sticker price $10,688.

On Saturday afternoon, the late edition of the Miami News hit the street with some bad news for Presley's female fans.

"Hey, Gals! Elvis has 2 Steadies," read the headline.

Damon Runyon Jr. wrote: "Elvis Presley, the rock 'n' roll Romeo millions of girls scream about, is "going steady" with two of them. At the moment, the Miami News was informed, one has the upper hand. She's a shapely Biloxi brunette who was passed through police lines to Presley's Olympia Theater dressing room where she reportedly stroked his brow between stage shows.

"June Juanico, 18, the Biloxi beauty admitted that Elvis is as unsteady in love as he is on the stage.

" 'It would be nice if Elvis loved me as much as I love him,' June sighed. 'But right now he is married to his career and he isn't thinking of marriage. If Elvis doesn't marry it'd be a sin to let something like that go to waste.' "

Presley did four shows on Saturday; the last one at 9pm. He left town shortly after. He was due in Tampa the next day.

Following Presley's 1956 Florida tour, he cut back sharply on live appearances to concentrate on the second phase of his career; making movies and recording.


Post scripts:

It's still possible to find some who saw Elvis perform at the Olympia in 1956.

  • Nineteen year-old Bob Graham was one of those in attendance at Presley's Olympia performance. He told me recently that most lasting memory of the concert was Presley's "mystique." And he says, to this day "when one of his songs comes on the radio I stop and listen. Graham went on to win election as Florida governor in 1978 and was elected to the United States Senate in 1986.

  • Damon Runyon Jr., the acerbic Miami News writer who covered Presley's visit, jumped to his death from a bridge in Washington DC in 1968. When his body was recovered, his press card was found tied around his neck.

  • Photographer Charles Trainor died in 1987. His son Charles Jr., a Miami Herald photographer, found his father's Elvis negatives after his death and preserved them. In the 54 years since Trainor took the photo, it's been published hundreds of times in magazines world-wide. A few weeks after the Miami concert, Trainor's photo ran in LIFE magazine.

  • Don Wright become an editorial cartoonist at the Miami News in 1963 and worked there until the paper folded in 1989. Wright then worked for the Palm Beach Post until he retired in 2008. He has won numerous awards including two Pulitzer Prizes. 

  • It would be a stretch to say that Trainor and Wright photographed the birth of rock and roll on those two days in August 1956. It might be more accurate to say they documented the first baby steps of a uniquely American genre of music.

    (Note: I posted a slightly different version of this story on MiamiBeach411.com in May, 2010.)