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Miami Mayor - We're on the verge of greatness

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From the Herald: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/8997241.htm

Diaz tells New York: Miami's almost there

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz visited the Big Apple to start spreading the news of Miami's success -- and potential for greatness.

BY MICHAEL VASQUEZ

[email protected]

NEW YORK - It is the grandiose buildings, the frenetic pace and -- ultimately -- New Yorkers themselves who convince outsiders to accept an unavoidable truth: Theirs is a city of greatness, of world-class caliber, and importance.

Into this terrain strutted Miami Mayor Manny Diaz on Wednesday, telling a respected Manhattan think tank that his city, too, had become worthy of admiration and praise.

Many of those who listened to Diaz's words -- which documented Miami's transformation from America's occasional laughingstock to a stable metropolis attracting healthy amounts of new residents and investment -- couldn't help but agree. Miami, they concurred, really seemed to have its act together nowadays.

But is it a great city, in the spirit of New York? Not just yet, they said.

''It's going to grow into greatness,'' predicted Henry Olsen, executive director of the Manhattan Institute's Center for Civic Innovation, which hosted the event, entitled ''The Miami Renaissance.'' The institute invited Diaz to speak after members became impressed with the job he has done in Miami.

The key, Olsen said, is sustaining an atmosphere where residents feel ``they can live safely, raise a family and make money.''

POLICE PERSPECTIVE

Miami Police Chief John Timoney -- still a Manhattan Institute favorite from his many years in the New York Police Department -- offered the introductory speech, highlighting the fact that no Miami police officer has fired a bullet since he took over the department roughly 18 months ago.

Then Diaz began his keynote speech, boasting quite a few accomplishments, including an unprecedented building boom and financial health that has led to a top bond rating. But he did not brag of greatness.

Instead, Diaz cited greatness as the overarching goal driving much of the structural changes he has brought to city government.

It is why, he said, the city needed to take long-range views on issues such as development, capital improvements and parks.

''Why do we want parks? Because parks make great cities,'' Diaz said. ``Why do we want a great city? Because we're going to attract new people, it's part of this overall concept and vision.''

If not yet great, Miami has nevertheless become an inspiration for Hispanics around the country, said former U.S. Rep. Herman Badillo after hearing Diaz's speech. Badillo, who served in the 1970s, was the first Puerto Rican-born congressman to represent a district in the continental United States.

Badillo called Miami ''the most important city'' and a source of pride for the nation's Hispanics.

''You get people who come in escaping from Cuba and in one generation they have become enormously successful,'' Badillo said. ``It's something we point to when they say they Hispanic community cannot achieve.''

Diaz has pledged to spread Miami's prosperity to every neighborhood, and every ethnicity.

RACIAL DIVIDES

Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, said Diaz gave a strong argument that Miami is improving, but that its ascent into the upper echelon of cities will hinge on whether it can heal its historical racial divides.

Miami police have also been criticized for their treatment of protesters during November's Free Trade Area of the Americas conference. Miami was vying to become the secretariat.

''Economic development goes a long way,'' Meyers said, but added, ``Miami needs to get around its dire poverty, its racial tension and its lack of inclusiveness.''

Meyers then admitted his own city, greatness aside, has had some rocky race relations over the years.

''It's a work in progress,'' he said.

After his speech, Diaz mulled the greatness issue, saying he doubted Miami could achieve it during his time in office, even if he's reelected next year.

But Diaz said he could lay the groundwork that would keep Miami's trajectory high no matter who succeeds him.

History suggests a sense of greatness can become self-perpetuating, even in hard times. Back in 1990, when New York struggled with urban decline and skyrocketing crime rates, Time magazine ran a cover story entitled The Rotting of the Big Apple. Despite the pessimistic atmosphere, 70 percent of New Yorkers then surveyed by a Time poll called New York ``the greatest city in the world.''

Diaz says he wants Miami at that level, too.

''We're well on our way there, we can do it, we've always had the potential,'' he said.

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