Here’s one constant truth about former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré, who died Thursday at 84: He cared deeply about his beloved Miami and its residents.
Ferré never stopped trying to improve his community, never stopped being a public servant, never stopped cheerleading.
Ferré always thought the best of Miami — and us. He was among the first, from a dais, to boast that Miami could be in the big leagues. Back in the day, he used terms like “gateway to South America.” He said Miami was on the verge of becoming a “world-class city.”
And Miami has grown into that city, nurtured, at the outset, by Ferré.
The Miami Herald put it this way: “In his 12 often-tumultuous years as Miami mayor, from 1973 to 1985, Ferré set in motion a new vision of Miami — then a Southern burg struggling with persisting racial segregation, decimated by suburban flight and on the verge of transformation by an unprecedented influx of Cuban refugees — as an urbanized international center.”
Today, Ferré might not be a name familiar to millennials or newcomers — though they are living in a Miami he created. But if you lived n Miami when Burdines was king, Coconut Grove was a haven for groovy people and refugees from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua were knocking on the door, you knew Ferré — no first name needed.
Born in Puerto Rico, Ferré was Miami’s first Hispanic mayor, serving six two-year terms. After his election in 1973, Ferré quickly began to carve his way into becoming one of the most significant politicians of modern Miami.
A bit of a dandy, Ferré made public appearances in white linen suits, carrying on his sleeve a metropolitan vision for the city as he traveled the country. A kid from a wealthy Puerto Rican family, he carried himself with class, often with his beautiful wife, Mercedes, by his side during campaigns.
But Ferré was able to remove the silver spoon from his mouth to talk authentically to the city’s poor and vulnerable — who elected him over and over again. Ferré was among the first politicians to realize you needed a third, a third and a third to win a Miami election — that is, equal slices of Anglo, black and Hispanic voters.
Ferré was hardy. He survived the collapse of his family’s construction empire, Maule Industries, and, in 1995, the horrible deaths of his youngest son, grandson and daughter-in-law in an American Airlines plane crash in Colombia. Grieving, but determined, he flew to Cali to assist rescue workers in finding their remains.
Ferré survived, too, political setbacks. In 1983, during a heated re-election bid, Ferré thought he had snagged the endorsement of a young Joe Carollo, whom he had helped elect to the City Commission. Ferré called a news conference to announce the support.
But in a betrayal that bordered on Shakespearean, Carollo denounced Ferré. The local press corps was shocked. So was Ferré. But he moved on, with grace, and was re-elected mayor of Miami a final time.
Ferré returned to the political life in 1993, becoming a Miami-Dade commissioner. He failed in his bids to become county mayor in 1996 and Miami mayor again in 2001. Fortunately, the urge to serve never left him.
Ferré was an occasional Herald Opinion page contributor, passionately pitching his vision for public transit that works and the need green space.
We will miss him, too.