Bateman: from cufflinks to handcuffs

On any other day, Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman could be found in City Hall, wearing a well-fitted suit and tie, his jet-black dyed hair perfectly parted and combed. But on Wednesday, he wore an orange jumpsuit, his hands cuffed behind his back. His puffy-eyed wife stood beside a bail bondsman.

In the early morning hours, Bateman was escorted in handcuffs from his home in a neat Homestead subdivision to the county jail.

Not only was he suspended from office by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, but his image and bio were scrubbed from Homestead’s city website.

For those left behind at City Hall, his arrest was a cathartic.

“I’ve known things were wrong for over three years,” said longtime Councilwoman Judy Waldman. “So it’s been a long time coming.”

A former Golden Gloves boxing champion, Bateman is tough, argumentative and resilient — having lost nearly as many races as he has won. His more than nine years in office have been marked by police investigations, at least one other arrest and a bar fight with one of his predecessors.

There were questions over the price of a used Mercedes his wife bought from a prominent local developer and heavy campaign contributor, and allegations that he directed a former city manager to wipe clean a $10,000 electric bill for a well-known Homestead family.

Other incidents included an investigation into a woman’s claim that Bateman, her landlord, pushed her against a wall and tried to shove his hands down her pants. And a boating-while-drunk charge in which he refused to take a breath test. In that episode, his female companion, when asked if she was carrying any “weapons,” raised her shirt and flashed her breasts.

None of those complaints went anywhere.

His fellow elected officials were the ones who reported the latest allegations against the mayor, City Manager George Gretsas announced at a news conference on Wednesday in Homestead.

Gretsas said the process leading to Bateman’s arrest had taken four years.

“It took a lot longer than we had hoped,” he said.

Though his opponents worked to land him in handcuffs, Bateman had his admirers. Ruth Campbell described him as a hands-on mayor. Although the part-time job paid just $6,000, he spent much of his time at City Hall.

“People want to talk to the mayor,” said the 93-year old Campbell, who served on the City Council for 20 nonconsecutive years. “When you wanted to speak with him, he would always make arrangements to meet him in his office.”

John Alger, whose family has farmed in the Homestead area for nearly 80 years, said Bateman “represented what I think was a fair and pro-business climate. His platform is to help improve our local economy.”

“I know he was arrested today,” said Alger, a contributor to Baseman’s latest reelection campaign. “I don’t know the details. I know you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

Bateman first ran for office in 1995, while Homestead was still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Andrew. A Kiwanis volunteer and city board member, he was voted into the role of vice mayor.

His first term would be an indication of what was to come: A freshman politician, Bateman wasted no time going after the then-city manager, who eventually resigned under pressure.

Bateman’s subsequent stints in office, including the most recent, would feature similar showdowns with the city’s top administrator and his staff.

From the dais, the physically imposing politician has been known to cut off speakers in mid-utterance and roar his red-faced disapproval of staff while demanding resignations.

Gretsas said on Wednesday that he and his staff often wondered: “Could we survive this?”

Bateman and his wife Donna have been married about 20 years. They have one son. Bateman grew up in Homestead as one of six children, according to an obituary for one of his brothers.

The son of a cop and a homemaker, Bateman attended Homestead Middle and later Homestead High.

Reached Wednesday, a woman identified in public records as Sharron Falco said she was Bateman’s sister. She seemed unaware of her brother’s arrest.

“I would never give out any info about my brother unless I hear from him first. We are that close,” she said. “I love my brother, and I respect my brother very much.”

Follow @Cveiga and @ben_brasch on Twitter.

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