Op-Ed

It’s my kind of town

PUTNEY
PUTNEY

Call this an ode to Miami, a love letter to my hometown.

Miami has been home for nearly four decades. There were opportunities along the way to go elsewhere, but I never did because the overtures from other places, while alluring, didn’t outweigh the glories (and occasional agonies) of Miami. My definition of Miami, for the record, includes everything from Palm Beach to Key West.

But the epicenter of my professional and personal life since 1977 has always been Miami. There’s no place I’d rather live and work. Oh, the South of France has a certain romance and the Maine coast is lovely in the summer. I could spend long days gazing down the California coastline at Big Sur, which always brings to mind what Robinson Jeffers said of it: “The heartbreaking beauty was there before there were hearts to break for it.”

And speaking of hearts, broken and mended, Miami is where I was married (twice) and had my chest cracked to fix a leaky aortic valve and repair a droopy mitral valve. I call Drs. Ernie Tradd and Don Williams every March to thank them for their magnificent work. Thanks, too, to other doctors and caregivers who have, variously, repaired a shoulder, replaced a knee and removed a cancerous prostate. Tout va bien.

Everything hasn’t always gone well, of course. I was burglarized once, but the cops thought it was so piddling they didn’t even bother to come to my home. They did catch the burglar, but made a sweet deal with him so they could close numerous other cases, which he may or may not have been responsible for. That was my small introduction to criminal justice, Miami-style.

My large introduction was the McDuffie riots of 1980. I was one of those reporters running through the streets of Liberty City and Overtown — and then during the smaller racial convulsions that followed in the ’80s. I remember vividly doing live TV reports from Wynwood, long before it was hip, one Monday night in 1990 (football fans were furious) when Dominicans and Puerto Ricans looted and burned after half a dozen Miami cops were found not guilty for stomping to death a small-time drug dealer named Leonardo Mercado.

At the trial, prosecutors tried to rehab his son to testify by saying he was a member of the YMCA. Cracked the late and very witty defense attorney Richard Sharpstein, “Yeah, he belonged to the YMCA — the Young Mercado Crack Association.” The cops all walked. A community exploded. How history repeats itself.

And will again unless Miami’s political, civic, business and religious leaders take action. There’s an epidemic of gun violence under way in our black neighborhoods, young black men killing other young black men and the occasional bystander. These nihilistic killers and victims don’t think they’ve got a chance of ever achieving their American or Miami dream. They can’t even get it on layaway.

Another, more fundamental cause of unrest here is the disparity in wealth. Half the community, a recent study showed, is barely scraping by. This breeds more discontent. Another source is traffic gridlock. Will we ever get a mass transit system good enough to lure people out of their cars? Why not start with a light-rail line between Miami and Miami Beach?

I came to Miami in 1977 to write for the Miami Herald, then widely acknowledged as one of the 10 best newspapers in the country. What a privilege it was to be a Herald reporter. Still a privilege to write for this page. And how sad it is to see the paper trying to what it used to with far fewer resources.

But this is a love letter, not a valedictory for the good ol’ days. These are Miami’s the good new days. Construction cranes are once again flying on our horizon. Venture capitalists and high-tech innovators are opening offices, encouraged by savvy government initiatives and forward looking folks like the Knight Foundation. And philanthropy is thriving as never before. Give Miami Day recently raised a whopping $5.2 million, thanks to generous citizens and the Miami Foundation.

Then there the arts, expanding and improving exponentially. The Miami Book Fair International just held a smashing 30th edition.

Art Basel Miami Beach wound up its 13th edition on Sunday with untold millions in sales for happy buyers and endless pleasures for lookers. PAMM celebrated its first anniversary with attendance far above expectations. The other night I joined more than 100 jazz lovers at WDNA radio’s concert space for a sizzling performance by pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Ralph Peterson, jazz artists one can usually only hear in New York. A few nights before we laughed ’til it hurt at The Book of Mormon. I’m on my way this weekend to see Bad Jews at Gablestage and the marvelous Nicole Henry at the Colony Theater. It’s a cornucopia of culture.

Pamela Druckerman, the Miami-born writer whose recent op-ed in the New York Times put us down as lacking in “surprising interactions and ideas” doesn’t know Miami. I do. It’s my hometown and I love it, warts and all.

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