The politicians who got support from Yahweh Ben Yahweh were not deterred by years of rumors that he had a penchant for ordering murders.
They weren't deterred last year when a former sect member testified about what he said were Yahweh-ordered murders and a federal judge found the Temple of Love was involved in "a pattern of racketeering activity." And they weren't deterred this year, when U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen publicly acknowledged the sect was under criminal investigation.
Through it all, Yahweh's political allies wrote letters, issued proclamations and made appearances praising him as the economic savior of the black community. And in at least one instance, Miami officials helped the sect financially, with a deal struck in May to lease the Yahwehs a city-owned grocery store rent-free while taxpayers funded nearly $300,000 worth of equipment and repairs.
The reason, said one veteran political operative: Yahweh Ben Yahweh could deliver votes -- between 2,000 and 12,000, depending on who's counting, enough to affect the outcome of a close local election.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
"It's probably the best secure bloc of voters you can get in the city of Miami, " said political consultant Robert Levy, "because No. 1, he makes sure everyone in his church is registered, and No. 2, he dictates how they're going to vote. . . . You would court anyone, anytime, anywhere that wasn't going to get you on the front page of The Miami Herald, for a bloc of votes like that."
"It is a formidable voting bloc, " said Metro Commissioner Arthur Teele, who had 50 Temple of Love volunteers distributing literature for him in his failed 1987 race for Miami mayor. "Everybody's tried to figure out what the numbers are and if you figure it out, let me know. But they're impressive."
The list of Yahweh's allies reads like a Who's Who of local politics and black community activism. Among them are Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, a perennial recipient of Yahweh support, who proclaimed Oct. 7 as Yahweh Ben Yahweh Day in the city, using language suggested by the Temple; Commissioner Miller Dawkins, who asked the mayor for the proclamation; Commissioner Miriam Alonso, who got help from Yahweh volunteers in her fall election bid; and Miami City Manager Cesar Odio, who gave the Yahwehs permission to get in on the grocery lease. That lease was originally awarded to ex-City Manager Howard Gary, another Yahweh ally.
Others who have gotten Yahweh backing are Teele and the candidate he unseated this fall, former Commissioner Barbara Carey. In that race, Carey got Yahweh's support but lost the election -- proof, said Carey campaign coordinator Levy, that the Temple's clout is strongest in the city of Miami.
Greater Miami Urban League president T. Willard Fair, who went to meet Yahweh after being told the sect had taken out a contract on his life, has become a close ally. Unsuccessful Metro Commission candidate Betty Ferguson has written a letter praising Yahweh that was reproduced in Temple literature.
Suarez and most others who have gotten Yahweh's support did not return repeated telephone calls from The Herald seeking comment on his arrest. "I don't think he will be talking to anybody about this, " said Suarez aide Warren Bennett.
The mayor, who discussed the federal investigation with reporters as recently as last week, nonetheless pleaded ignorance in a prepared statement: "During the last three years I have researched and reviewed what I thought were exhaustive materials on both civil and criminal cases related to Yahweh Ben Yahweh. It was my impression from that review that Yahweh Ben Yahweh did not currently face criminal investigation of any sort.
"Obviously I was wrong."
Teele, who said he has visited the Temple "many, many times" and has college classmates who are members, was the only politician willing Wednesday to put in a good word for Yahweh Ben Yahweh.
"I still believe that economically speaking, he has been a very positive force in the black community, " he said. "I have never seen the Yahwehs preaching violence, teaching violence or intimidating anybody."
Like Suarez, Teele said he never saw news reports about the long-running investigation and didn't believe the rumors he heard about Yahweh. "I'm shocked at the nature and scope of the allegations against him. . . . Politically, after what happened this morning, I think he's probably a liability."
Levy said he's not so sure. Though he has always been too controversial to help candidates for anything other than strictly local office, "Yahweh Ben Yahweh is like family in the city of Miami, " he said. "We accept a political figure under investigation or under indictment here a little easier. I mean, we have so many of them."
Herald Staff Writer Carl Goldfarb contributed to this report.