Behavior of Miami's new mayor sparks criticism, worry and snickers in print Suarez throws himself into troubled office at breakneck pace

December 12, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MIAMI -- When Edna Benson's doorbell rang the other night at 10: 30, she picked up her .38-caliber revolver and peered through the glass to find a tall, angry-looking man with some paper in his hand.

The paper, it turned out, was a letter of complaint the 68-year-old retiree had written to Miami's new mayor, Xavier Suarez, and the man at the door was the mayor himself.

"Oh, I recognized him right away," said Benson, who worked 26 years for the city. "But what a lot of nerve showing up at that time of night, without the courtesy of a phone call.

"I said, 'I'm not dressed, I'm on a long-distance call, and I don't have time to talk to you.'

"He went away. But really, I think this man is bouncing off the walls."

In fact, since Suarez regained the mayor's office in a close, scandal-plagued election six weeks ago, Benson is not the only citizen voicing concerns about the behavior of this Harvard-educated lawyer, known as a cautious plodder when he served as the city's chief executive from 1985 to 1993.

Even as defeated incumbent Mayor Joe Carollo was preparing to file a lawsuit seeking to nullify Suarez's election on the grounds of absentee ballot fraud, the new mayor was firing the city manager, attempting to fire the police chief, appointing a commissioner now under federal indictment for money laundering to investigate a state police agency, and announcing that the city's $68 million budget shortfall was fiction.

In a whirlwind tour last week, Suarez flew to Tallahassee, Florida's capital, to try to persuade Gov. Lawton Chiles and state legislators to disband as unnecessary an oversight board set up to save the city from bankruptcy.

While there, the mayor addressed one lawmaker as "Senator Cabbage."

Suarez, 48, and an eight-person entourage then jetted to New York, where he dropped in on former Mayor Edward I. Koch, stopped to pray at St. Patrick's Cathedral, met briefly with Donald Trump and failed to persuade bond rating firms to raise the city's credit rating from below investment grade.

"Before he comes home, he should drop by Bellevue for a checkup," wrote Carl Hiaasen in a column in the Miami Herald.

"Because the mayor is either certifiably nuts or seriously undermedicated."

The mayor's frantic pace and behavior have raised concerns among friends and fellow politicians.

In conversations, he often strays into non sequiturs and inappropriate humor. Twice he has reportedly burst into tears in front of reporters.

Alerted recently that the Herald was about to publish a negative story about his administration, Suarez was driven to the newspaper's downtown offices in the wee hours of the morning dressed only in a terry-cloth bathrobe.

On the way the mayor stopped to chat with several police officers.

"I think he needs to slow down. I read somewhere that anything going that fast is going to crash and burn," said Miami commissioner J. L. Plummer.

Suarez defends both his actions and speed, saying the city's woes need quick attention.

But not everyone agrees about just what the city's woes are.

The Dade County state's attorney's office is investigating whether Suarez overstepped his authority in trying to reorganize City Hall.

And four of Miami's five commissioners got together Tuesday to BTC block Suarez's move to oust Police Chief Donald Warshaw, who has broad support from the community and the police force.

As for Benson, who spent 22 years in Miami's personnel department and another four in zoning and building -- her advice is simple:

"Just pray for the city of Miami. I'm serious."

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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