Published: Sept. 30, 2007 Anti-poverty spending
The only rooster sculpture still on display - one of eight purchased with anti-poverty money - stands tall at 201 SW Eighth Ave. in Miami. C.W. GRIFFIN/MIAMI HERALD STAFF
One project was an easy target for vandals
Fiberglass sculptures of roosters, bought by the Empowerment Trust for what was called a beautification project, are victims of vandalism.

The Miami-Dade Empowerment Trust wanted to lure shoppers and gawkers to an overlooked stretch of Little Havana along the Miami River.

So, five years ago, the poverty agency bought some roosters.

Eight of them, fiberglass and 5˝-feet-tall, painted in jaunty civic motifs. Cost to taxpayers: $26,000.

The statues were scattered around East Little Havana, and they indeed attracted attention: Violent vandals pummeled and dismembered most of the figures.

Only one bird, faded and punctured, remains on display today, standing before an out-of-the-way grocery. Another rooster never left the coop, gathering dust in storage for the past five years.

Sallye Jude, who represents East Little Havana on the trust's board, said the roosters were supposed to draw attention to the neighborhood, much like the flamingo statues in Coral Gables.

Jude leads the neighborhood group that recommends Little Havana projects to the trust's board. It was this group that decided where the agency's decorative poultry should go.

The group chose to put one rooster -- painted to portray Uncle Sam -- at the historical Warner Place office building, which Jude co-owns.

Jude said it was placed there because the city's Neighborhood Enhancement Team office was in the building at the time.

"This is promotion of the neighborhood," she said. "It wasn't anything to do with my owning the property."

Jude also voted in favor of the rooster purchase with the trust's executive board. At the time of the vote, the locations of the sculptures had not been decided, records show.

Some say the roosters were targeted by drug dealers who thought the birds were secret agents of the police.

"Somehow, the word went out that we put cameras in the roosters' eyes," said Pablo Cantón, head of the Miami NET office for East Little Havana. "The police rooster, little by little, piece by piece, it was taken down."

In 2004, police arrested one vandal tearing at a rooster - not one of the Empowerment Trust's - outside a cigar shop on West Flagler Street. Thirty-year-old Victor Escovedo told police he "needed the spurs," according to a police report.

After the vandal attacks, Cantón said, he moved the last rooster on display to a less visible location, where it stands today in front of a convenience store.

Another rooster remains in storage. Cantón said he is reluctant to display it, fearing that it would be treated like the one that once stood on Jude's property - "cut in half."