You know the scenario. A South Florida politician gets pinched in a corruption probe. Next day, his fellow pols troop down to City Hall and strike mournful poses for the TV cameras. They feign shock and regret, and confidence that their esteemed colleague will soon clear up this terrible misunderstanding and return to public service.
Except in Homestead. After the less-than-esteemed Mayor Steve Bateman was busted last week, the customary press conference at City Hall veered wildly off script. They may as well have popped champagne corks and broken into song.
City Councilwoman Judy Waldman, for example, did not sound so very surprised by the mayor’s arrest. “I’ve known things were wrong for over three years,” she told reporters a few hours after Bateman’s arrest. “So it’s been a long time coming.”
Vice Mayor Jon Burgess did not sound so very regretful. He likened the mayor’s underhanded deals to “a cancer.” Burgess said, “There were innuendos that things like this were going on and then of course, as they came to light you start seeing things and putting pieces together in your mind that yeah, that did happen.”
Then there was City Manager George Gretsas. City managers, of course, are notoriously circumspect about legal problems encountered by their elected employers. Especially their mayors. The usual formula would require Gretsas to mumble that he and the staff could only attempt to soldier on without their beloved mayor.
Beloved, in this case, may not be the right adjective.
“The evidence is pretty clear that from day one city policies were not followed, procedures were not followed, city laws were not followed, abuses of power took place with this individual. Staff was bullied. People had special favors done for them,” Gretsas said. “It was pretty clear from day one of this individual’s reign here his attempt was to turn this into a strong-mayor form of government and utilize his position to line his pockets.”
The only note of regret struck by the city manager and council members at Wednesday’s press conference was their lament that it took four years to nail Bateman. “It took a lot longer than we had hoped,” Gretsas said.
It was as if Homestead’s insurgents had managed to depose a tyrant, with a little help from the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office (If this failed, the City Council might have called on President Barack Obama to lob a few cruise missiles at the mayor’s office). Gretsas told reporters that the incriminating information had been supplied by Bateman’s colleagues at City Hall. It wasn’t just an arrest. It was a coup.
‘SO MUCH MORE’
That Bateman was hauled off to jail didn’t surprise folks down in Homestead, though some might not have expected him to get rung up on these particular charges. The dethroned mayor is accused of failing to disclose his work as a paid consultant for a healthcare operation looking to build a clinic in Homestead. Bateman, according to investigators, pushed city and county bureaucracies to approve the necessary permits as if he were the mayor working for the civic good, rather than a $125-an-hour secret lobbyist. (The nonprofit also hired, at $40 an hour, Bateman’s assistant, whose various duties included joke writing — a job description that doesn’t often crop up in South Florida political corruption investigations, despite an abundance of comic material.)