Op-Ed

New Yorkers and other transplants who helped to forge modern Miami

The Mariel boatlift in 1980 was one of the defining events that made the modern Miami.
The Mariel boatlift in 1980 was one of the defining events that made the modern Miami.

The reason I feel comfortable in Miami is because it is full of island people — people from Cuba, Haiti, the entire Caribbean basin and Manhattan of course,” commented Miami mover and shaker Pauline Winick. A New York transplant, she transformed herself into a quintessential Miamian because of her significant contributions to South Florida institutions, her uncanny will and charming personality.

The Magic City has had several identity reboots.

The last significant one, which established Miami as an international destination and gateway to the Americas, was forged in the late 1970’s and 80’s.

During that defining time in Miami history, Pauline Winick found herself in the proverbial thick of it from LGBT rights to bilingualism to riots, the Mariel Boatlift and the beginning of a now beloved NBA franchise.

“Part of Miami’s attraction for me was the fact that it was run and to a certain degree is still led by true frontier people who aren’t afraid of making mistakes. In fact, most pick themselves right up and continue the fight,” Winick told me over café at a trendy (she called it “hoity toity”) joint in midtown.

South Florida is noted for significant migrations over its short, yet dynamic history. Pauline Winick along with her now deceased ex-husband, distinguished University of Miami legal scholar Bruce Winick, and their two young children arrived in Miami in 1974, at the tail end of one of the area’s most impactful yet rarely recognized influxes, the mass arrival of New Yorkers.

“I’ve crossed paths with truly extraordinary people during truly transcendental times,” the native Brooklynite explained. “I’ve also had the fortune of having had really successful and incredibly short job interviews that led to wonderful opportunities.”

Her first in Miami was in 1976, where she landed an internship at WPLG-Channel 10. Pauline cultivated her initial humble assignment at the station into a producer’s role for none other than legendary South Florida news anchor Ann Bishop.

“We covered some of this town’s most complex, gut-wrenching, historic stories,” Winick recalled. “Miami was quickly becoming what it is today, one of America’s most important news towns.”

Winick’s second “successful and short” job interview came in 1979 with Dade County Manager Merrett Stierheim, also a transplant (from Chicago).

A few months into her new job as assistant county manager, Miami experienced the Mariel Boatlift — a gripping, historic event that presented political and logistical challenges like few cities have withstood.

Pauline remembers bringing her kids along to help with the processing of the newly arrived refugees. “I wanted them to appreciate how much people were willing to give up to live in freedom.”

“Those were turbulent times in Miami. As government officials, we navigated uncharted waters. Every day presented a different challenge and yet we were young, naïve, daring and fearless enough to tackle them,” she expanded. “But that’s what frontier people do.”

Pauline’s next interview led to the job she is most remembered for. The interview was with fellow Brooklyn natives Billy Cunningham and Lewis Schaffel, who were part of the ownership group that gave birth to the Miami Heat.

Pauline Winick became executive vice president of the Heat and one of the NBA’s first women to become a front office executive.

Pauline reflects on her experiences as part of the Heat front office as “exhilarating because I was part of building something that has flourished.”

Much to the chagrin of those that wanted to preserve Miami as a sleepy, Southern city the invasion of the New Yorkers and their wry wit, take-no- crap, sometimes arrogant, and perpetually pushy attitude helped mold the 305 identity into what we know it as today.

More importantly, the contributions made by many of these transplants including Pauline, her ex-husband Bruce and subsequently their children Margot and Graham, have made Miami a true cosmopolitan, innovative, adventurous city — one that makes mistakes but quickly gets up and continues the fight.

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