By: DAVID NOACK
THE STATE ATTORNEY for Dade Coun-ty, Fla., is investigating whether Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez violated the city charter by threatening to cancel city advertising if the Miami Herald
doesn’t ease up on his administration.
Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Suarez, who was elected in November as the first mayor under a strong-mayor form of government, was cited earlier for overstepping his legal authority by directing city personnel moves. In a settlement, Suarez agreed to have his actions monitored by a circuit judge, who can hold the mayor in contempt or remove him if he meddles in administrative decisions.
The new form of government gives the city commission and city manager control over day-to-day operations.
Suarez’s attorney, James E. McDonald, said the phone call did not violate the city charter or the agreement with Rundle’s office. McDonald said Suarez “left a phone message. It’s a matter of interpretation what he meant by it. But clearly he did not take any action. There is no prohibition in the city charter to make a phone call and leave a message.”
Addressing the public furor after the Herald published a transcript of his threat, Suarez issued a statement castigating the paper for disclosing a “privileged business communication.” He also said the final decision on city ads in the Herald would be made by the City Commission ? not the mayor’s office, which only makes recommendations.
The controversy began Jan. 4 when Suarez called the Herald’s advertising manager, who processes about $200,000 a year in city legal and classified ads, and admonished the newspaper “to be a lot nicer to me, my people, my citizens, and my city. Because otherwise we’re going to figure out every possible way of advertising in any possible newspaper except yours.”
The Herald not only published a story about the threat but put an audio file of his voice on its Web site and provided a transcript of the minute-long message (www.herald.com/dade/archive/ suarez/docs/010402.htm).
Herald executives called the mayor’s move an attempt at extortion. “It’s just mind-boggling,” said Herald executive editor Doug Clifton. He said the newspaper decided to go public with the mayoral threat “because it was so outrageous on its face. The issue wasn’t that he was going to make good on the threat, but that he would propose such a naked quid pro quo: Be nice to me or else I’ll pull the advertising.”
Suarez failed to appear at a press conference two days after the dispute became public. He sent city manager Jose Garcia-Pedrosa, who told reporters the mayor didn’t intend to pull ads but was simply frustrated with the Herald’s treatment of a “friend and assistant.” He apparently was referring to Suarez campaign supporters whom the Herald has investigated for alleged voter fraud. The paper recently published allegations that the mother of a onetime mayoral aide pressured elderly food stamp recipients into voting for Suarez.
Suarez said in a statement: “My message was conveyed through the Herald’s sales representative and suggested a meeting to discuss the business relationship that the city has with that news enterprise. It was clearly meant as a privileged business communication by the CEO of an important Herald client to its sales managers.
“In view of their silly stance I will make my advertising recommendations to the City Commission on the basis of my own analysis, with no input from the Herald’s sales managers or sales repesentative,” Suarez said.
Herald publisher David Lawrence Jr. was standing firm but trying to keep communications open with Suarez. “It was a baldfaced attempt to intimidate this newspaper. We simply won’t back down . . . . The news columns of this newspaper are not for sale. We will continue to report on voter fraud, the city’s financial challenge and also report on the good things that the mayor does.”
Several city commissioners expressecd support for the newspaper, and the Miami International Press Club condemned the threat as an “illegal use of political pressure” and “an assault on freedom of the press.”
Be nice or else, Miami mayor demands,
?(“It was a baldfaced attempt to intimidate this newspaper. We simply won’t back down . . . . The news columns of this newspaper are not for sale.”) [Caption]
?( ? Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence Jr.) [Photo & Caption]