Three South Florida mayors were accused of corruption in August, offering up a salient, cautionary tale for anyone who puts their faith in Miami's elected officials. The mayors from Sweetwater, Miami Lakes, and Homestead represent a triumvirate of questionable behavior, a triple threat of public office tomfoolery and a real world trifecta of tropical sleaze.
I ran an informal poll of friends and acquaintances and the major takeaway and dominant response is that nobody is shocked. This is where we are in Miami politics:
"I'm not surprised."
"Business as usual down here, no?”
“A Miami government official/politician/city employee getting brought up on corruption charges?? Shocker.”
“Surely, you can’t believe the political apathy of Miami would create anything different?”
And in truthful self-reflection, I can’t say I feel much different. I don’t imagine you, fair reader, do either. Even outsiders from other states and journalistic outfits have come to expect nothing less from sunny and shady South Florida.
Last week’s New York Times article about the situation opened with a sentence that displayed a cheeky and premonitory attitude. It states that, “even by Florida standards, the arrests of three suburban Miami mayors on corruption charges within a month were a source of dismay, if not exactly a surprise.”
So while no one actually saw this coming, at the same time no one is flabbergasted. Miami politicians are like the 17th year of the cicada cycle: predictable and disgusting. Instead of dead bugs we get sticky fingered mayors with their hands allegedly in envelopes of cash, or a place they shouldn’t be.
The currently shamed mayors are Manuel L. Maroño of Sweetwater, Michael A. Pizzi of Miami Lakes and Steven C. Bateman of Homestead.
It’s sort of laughable what they threw their careers away for. Pizzi in particular will live the rest of his public life in the gray area of people’s respect for allegedly taking merely $6,750 from an FBI agent purporting to have a deal for federal grant money. This pittance was illegally grafted by the man who as mayor made $18,000 a year and simultaneously, as the lawyer for the town of Medley, made $192,000 a year. After his arrest he immediately posted $100,000 bond. This is also the same leader of the community who was going to follow through on the absurd spectacle of MMA style fighting another mayor before his arrest, a skill he may wish he had honed to fight off fellow inmates if convicted.
If seriously injured in jail, Pizzi and his pal Maroño (who himself allegedly took $40,000 in the same FBI fashioned grant scandal) could get treatment at one of the health care clinics our third crooked mayor Steven Batemen was allegedly representing and lobbying on behalf of at the same time. Bateman allegedly raked in $3,625 of a promised $120,000 illegal annual salary before getting caught. Bateman’s position as mayor of Homestead only pays $6,000 a year, which some have touted as a reason why he possibly sought alternative funds. But there is no excuse for this sort of brazen crookedness.
Perhaps it's a plague of the tropics, that we watch such public disrespect in laughable expectation of nothing else. There's a lot of suggestions we can make to hold our elected officials more accountable, but the reality of the situation is that our own malaise is what allows these kinds of men to breed influence. You and I not being surprised is the perfect Petri dish for scumbags.
With the third domino I was pretty surprised. It's nearly 10 percent of the 35 municipalities in Miami-Dade, which is statistically astonishing. Maybe it'll take more mayors? Or a RICO Act of the whole lot of them?
Whatever the catalyst, I know one thing; Miami's complacency allows crooks like this to double deal. And we all enable them.