LINKing with Miami

Neely Young

I just got back from a foreign country – Miami and South Florida. This is a joke, of course, and one that Miami leaders good-naturedly tell on themselves. Miami Mayor Manuel “Manny” Diaz told a story of how Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in town giving a speech, and when she finished turned to an aide and said “I’ve got to get back to the United States.” The embarrassed Rice didn’t realize the mike was still on.

The reason for my visit was my eighth LINK trip, sponsored by the Atlanta Regional Commission. LINK stands for “Leadership, Innovation, Networking and Knowledge.” More than 130 leaders from Metro Atlanta’s 10-county region participated this year, including county commissioners, mayors, activists, developers, journalists, chamber of commerce members and ARC staffers.

The main focus of these trips, which visit a different locale each year, is for the group to learn what other cities and regions can teach Atlanta area leaders about coping with problems such as traffic congestion, keeping our air and water clean, and, most important this year, how to handle explosive growth in the immigrant population.

During the 1990s, Miami and South Florida had the same enormous growth and change in ethnic population as we are experiencing in Atlanta, and in other parts of Georgia. The area’s population increased by 23 percent, and shifted from majority to minority white. In Miami proper, with a 2.36 million population, the Hispanic/Latino population makes up 57 percent of the city. African Americans represent 20 percent and whites and others make up the balance.

During our visit we enjoyed several presentations, but the most important and dynamic one was a panel discussion about diversity and cultural issues facing the region. The panel was moderated by Cuban-American Mayor Diaz and was included a white, red-headed president of the Miami-Dade County Chamber of Commerce, a black Haitian-American member of the city council, and a Cuban-American council member.

We learned that Cuban immigrants enjoy special privileges not shared with other ethnic groups. In the 1960s after Fidel Castro was in power many middle-class and wealthy citizens had fled Cuba; following the embarrassing failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, a sympathetic U.S. Congress granted all Cubans who come to the U.S. automatic citizenship after only a short time on American soil.

As a result Cuban-Americans make up the majority of Miami’s Hispanic/Latino population and also control the city’s political structure. There could be a major resentment among the area’s white, African American, Haitian and other immigrant populations. Yet these leaders have worked out a structure in which they seem to get along together, and the community’s civic will is focused on building a better Miami-Dade County.

Most visitors remember the Miami of the 1990s. The region at that time was awash in political and ethnic turmoil. Riots and civil unrest seemed to be a daily event, and the city government was almost bankrupt. Since that time a new mayor and city council have effected a complete turnaround.

We all marveled at how well the ethnically mixed leadership – the mayor and council – worked together. The white minority members, Haitian- and African-American council members had nothing but praise for Mayor Diaz for cleaning up the city’s political structure and bringing the city from almost bankruptcy to “A” Bond rating.

Southeast Florida continues to lead the state in population growth, adding 175,000 people since 2004. The growth is being driven by a surging trade sector and by the arrival of immigrants, both documented and undocumented. Miami is going through an unprecedented building boom. More than 70,000 condo units are under construction. The city will soon open a major art complex.

Our LINK group learned that if a community stops fighting with its multicultural population, good things can happen. Miami’s governmental policy of embracing ethnic diversity has a positive side. Condi Rice is incorrect in saying Miami is a foreign country. It may be more and more like Atlanta, Georgia and the rest of the United States. We can all look to this city’s leaders to learn how to best deal with our own immigration situations, which are not going away anytime soon, if ever.

John Ahmann, Atlanta Committee for Progress/Ahmann Boyette

Clara Axam, Enterprise Community Partners

Charles Bannister, Gwinnett County BOC

Brandon Beach, North Fulton Chamber of Commerce

Eldrin Bell, Clayton County Commission Chair

George Berkow, Cowart/Berkow Development

Kip Berry, Benchmark Homes

Kay Beynart, Citizen Activist

Bill Bolling, Atlanta Community Food Bank

Lisa Borders, Atlanta City Council President

Jim Breedlove, BellSouth Corporation

Robert Brown, RL Brown & Assoc.

Kellie Brownlow, Atlanta Regional Commission

Amanda Brown-Olmstead, A. Brown-Olmstead & Assoc.

Michael Byrd, Cherokee County

David Connell, Regional Business Coalition

Jock Connell, Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners

Jack Conway, Forsyth County Commission Chair

Bill Cooper, Cobb Chamber of Commerce

Pat Corleto, CH2MHill

Steven Cover, City of Atlanta

Ann Cramer, IBM Corporation

Walter Deriso, GRTA

Gerri Dickerson, CH2MHill

Jeff Dickerson, Dickerson Communications

Douglas Dillard, Dillard & Galloway

Hattie Dorsey, Atlanta Neighborhood Development

Kit Dunlap, Metro North Water Planning District

Jim Durrett, Livable Communities Coalition

David Ellis, Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association

Todd Ernst, ARC Board Citizen District Member

Andrew Feiler, Metro Developers, Inc.

Shirley Franklin, Mayor, City of Atlanta

Sharon Gay, McKenna Long & Aldridge

Michael Gerber, Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education

Virginia Gibbs, Fayette County Chamber of Commerce

Sara Gonzalez, Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Kevin Green, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce

Scotty Greene, Buckhead Community Improvement District

Jerry Griffin, Association County Commissioners of Georgia

David Hankerson, Cobb County Manager

Jason Harper, Henry County Commision Chair

Helen Hatch, Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Assoc.

Randy Hayes, Hayes Development Corporation

Rick Hirsekorn, Sandy Springs Service Team

Richard Holmes, Georgia Power

Douglas Hooker, PBS&J, Inc.

Kevin Isakson, Isakson-Barnhart

Vernon Jones, DeKalb County CEO

Maggie Joslin, McKenna Long & Aldridge

Raymond King, SunTrust

Chick Krautler, Atlanta Regional Commission

Steve Labovitz, McKenna Long & Aldridge

Tony Landers, Atlanta Regional Commission

Brian Leary, Atlantic Station

Tad Leithead, Cousins Properties

Loretta Lepore, Georgia Department of Economic Development

Eric Linton, Douglas County Government

Rob Lipson, WellStar Health System

Tim Lowe, Lowe Engineers

Stephen Macauley, The Macauley Companies

Ellen Macht, The Clean Air Campaign

Frank Mann, Trammell Crow Company

Thomas Martin, Gwinnett Community Bank

Penny McPhee, Arthur M. Blank Foundation

Michael Meyer, Department of Environmental and

Civil Engineering, Georgia Tech

Anna Millikan, Atlanta Regional Commission

Scott Morris, Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce

Lee Morris, Stevens, Wilkinson Stang & Newdow, Inc.

Emory Morsberger, Morsberger Group

Clair Muller, Atlanta City Council

Al Nash, The Columns Group, Inc.

Bill Nigut, Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition

Sam Olens, Cobb County Commission Chair

Al Outland, Georgia Municipal Association

Michael Paris, Council for Quality Growth

Carl Patton, Georgia State University President

Alicia Philipp, The Community Foundation

Ashlee Phillips, Atlanta Regional Commission

Kay Pippin, Henry County Chamber of Commerce

Cecil Pruett, Mayor, City of Canton

Laura Ray, Emory University

James Rhoden, Jr., Futren Corporation

Spurgeon Richardson, ACVB

Steve Rieck, Regional Atlanta Civic League

Malaika Rivers, Cumberland CID

A.J. Robinson, Central Atlanta Progress

Michael Robison, Lanier Parking Holdings

Rosa Rountree, State Road & Tollway Authority

H. Jerome Russell, H.J. Russell & Company

Maria Saporta, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Pam Sessions, Hedgwood Properties

David Sjoquist, Georgia State University

Steve Smith, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.

Steve Stancil, GRTA

Shelton Stanfill, Woodruff Arts Center

Denise Starling, Buckhead TMA

Robert Steele, Oglethorpe Power Corporation

Jim Stokes, Georgia Conservancy

Eric Tanenblatt, McKenna Long & Aldridge

Pat Upshaw-Monteith, Atlanta Leadership Development Foundation

Ed Wall, MARTA

Harriette Watkins, AGL Resources

Tom Weyandt, Atlanta Regional Commission

Dave Williams, Southtrac, Inc.

J.T. Williams, Killearn, Inc.

Sam Williams, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce

Yvonne Williams, Perimeter CIDs

Dottie Wise, Henry County Chamber of Commerce

Jere Wood, Mayor, City of Roswell

Tom Worthan, Douglas County Commission

Neely Young, Georgia Trend Magazine

Neely Young is editor in chief and publisher of Georgia Trend. Contact him via e-mail at

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