Fable Si, Prescient No: How Legend Becomes Fact

Robert Wuhl had an interesting program a few years back called Assume the Position. The premise was to separate myth from fact regarding people and events in U.S. history and pop culture. The main point was a line made famous in a movie which starred Jimmy Stewart, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

So how does a legend become a fact locally? Last Sunday’s Miami Herald article about Norman Braman by Linda Robertson gives us a clue. In a story about Braman and his recall petition efforts against Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez – a recall I support – there is the following:

Two years ago, Braman sued to stop a $3 billion city-county public works plan that he called a “shell game” for its use of anti-poverty money to help build a Marlins baseball stadium, museums, a port tunnel and to aid the performing arts center. Braman’s suit was rejected in court, but last month his warning that Marlins ownership was bamboozling the public and commissioners about team finances proved prescient. While the Marlins were negotiating the deal, claiming they needed public money to stay afloat, the franchise’s income made it among the most profitable in baseball, leaked documents revealed.

Impressive, except for one little problem. While Braman did claim that the Marlins were misleading the public, his public arguments were that the Marlins financial position was so poor that they would not be able to fund their portion of the stadium costs. The exact opposite of what the leaked financials eventually revealed.

Well, you’re thinking, maybe that wasn’t really clear, y’know, a matter of emphasis. Sorry, this from a Miami Herald article by Charles Rabin on the trial on July 15, 2008 – Miami Herald links expire so my link is to my blog post at the time:

That didn’t stop Braman from going to the heart of his argument — which brought a string of objections and triggered something of a disjointed appearance by the wealthy businessman in the crowded, stately Miami courtroom. “I know as a matter of fact that the Marlins do not have the financial capacity,” was all the 75-year-old former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles could utter before he was cut off by Marlins attorney Sandy Bohrer, who also represents The Miami Herald in unrelated matters.

The court battle between Braman and Loria could make a nice morality play in the hands of a good writer, but it will be a play without heroes. On one side, you had Jeffrey Loria pocketing revenue sharing monies intended for player salaries and lying about the Marlins profitability to ensure the team received public financing. On the other, you had Braman, who surely was aware that the Marlins were profitable since their strategy was hidden in plain sight — low player salaries combined with increased revenue sharing monies — yet basing his arguments in court on the position that the Marlins were not profitable so as to box the Marlins in with their own false claims.

In addition to his cynical position taken at the trial, part of Braman’s fortune is derived from selling the Philadelphia Eagles [with partner Ed Leibowitz] for almost three times more than what they had paid for the team nine years earlier. The Eagles played at Veterans stadium, a 100% taxpayer-funded facility. After Braman purchased the team, the city of Philadelphia agreed to spend $65 million to upgrade Veterans Stadium. Adding insult to injury for us Miami sports fans with a memory, around that same time Braman was successfully blocking various efforts in Miami to upgrade the Orange Bowl.

I read once that a principle was not a principle until it cost you something. Since Braman’s aversion to publicly financed sports facilities was not evident when he stood to profit, I’ll have to pass on the great man Kool-Aid being passed around. My view of Braman is more in line with people from Philadelphia. He is not remembered fondly. My favorite Philadelphia-based view on Braman:

… he owned the team to torture us [fans]. Mr Braman was a soulless, cold-blooded auto salesman who could have easily stood in for Lionel Barrymore in the role of “It’s A Wonderful Life”s’ Mr Potter.

The reason I support the recall petition has nothing to do with Mayor Alvarez’s vote for the Marlins stadium – which I support – or Norman Braman’s character, of whom I am clearly no fan. Speaking of which, I envision Braman’s charitable donations to be in a foot race with his business practices over the years for the mantle of his ‘character.’ There is one sure winner in that race, 501(c)3’s!

I support the recall petition because I want people in government who vote to raise taxes rather that cutting government, especially public pensions, to lose their jobs. I want that to be a clear and unambiguous message to those who intend to hold elective office in the future.

Finally in the Robertson article, we get this:

Braman’s appeal as a self-made man with no political or financial aspirations has enabled him to reach across socioeconomic and ethnic boundaries, said Tony Alfieri … “It’s almost fable-like in its historical resonance,” Alfieri said.

Fable si, prescient [as in Marlins and Bernie Madoff] no.

The Miami Herald article referenced is copied in full at end of post.

It’s the mogul (Braman) vs. the mayor (Alvarez)

BY LINDA ROBERTSON – lrobertson@MiamiHerald.com

Posted on Sat, Oct. 02, 2010

While Norman Braman spoke on a WQBA radio show, supporters gathered outside the station on Calle Ocho in an impromptu rally. Even in a downpour, they came. They wanted to shake Braman’s hand or volunteer for his petition drive.

Braman — billionaire, luxury auto dealer, art collector, philanthropist and Philadelphia native — had taken his campaign to recall Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez into a neighborhood far removed from his Indian Creek mansion.

In Little Havana, he was received as a kind of savior.

Braman doesn’t speak Spanish, but inside the Hispanic community that has long been an Alvarez stronghold, he speaks the words frustrated citizens are longing to hear.

“It’s all about saying, `Stop,’ ” said Braman, 78, who has used his personal wealth to bankroll three previous challenges of government tax hikes and spending plans. “People are suffering and our leaders aren’t listening. I see the misery and I feel the anger everywhere I go.”

At 3:20 a.m. on Sept. 24, Miami-Dade commissioners voted 8-5 in favor of Alvarez’s budget, increasing property taxes for 60 percent of homesteaded property owners and giving pay raises to most county workers.


On Wednesday, Braman chose the Cuban airwaves to announce he had launched the process for a recall vote. The grandfatherly instigator of a populist revolt had a translator.

“Senor Braman, gracias,” one caller said when Braman was a guest on the “Prohibido Callarse” (Silence Banned) show. “Thank God for you.”

Others told Braman how they had lost their jobs and were struggling to pay their mortgages. A woman on a fixed income wanted to contribute $20.

Some asked him to also recall the two Cuban-American commissioners who voted for the increase, Bruno Barreiro and Natacha Seijas.

“The house needs to be fumigated!” one caller said.

Others compared Alvarez to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez.

“Braman has made people feel empowered,” said Helen Aguirre Ferre, co-host of the show and a journalist at Diario Las Americas. “There is a terrible disconnect between politicians and their constituents.”

Braman’s message — combined with 12 percent unemployment, one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, construction cost overruns at Miami International Airport, budget woes at Jackson Memorial Hospital, a highly paid county bureaucracy, a generous car allowance for the mayor and double-digit raises for his aides — has spurred Hispanic voters to focus on local issues, said program host Roberto Rodriguez Tejera.

“It used to be, `Let’s talk about Cuba over a cafecito at Versailles,’ ” Rodriguez Tejera said. “We’d talk about Nicaragua or Venezuela but not much about our own politics right here.

“This is a game changer. The days of blindly following politicians out of loyalty are over.”


Braman said he has been “deluged” by e-mails, letters and phone calls from people who want to help him collect signatures he needs from 4 percent of registered voters.

“Eighty percent of the names are Hispanic,” he said. “Maybe they feel betrayed more than anybody else.”

Alvarez is confident he has plenty of support for a budget that sustained social services and cultural programs despite the deficit caused by plunging property values, his spokeswoman said.

“The Hispanic community is not a homogenous community,” said spokeswoman Victoria Mallette.

Alvarez called Braman’s effort “a campaign of misinformation and opportunism” and has formed a political action committee to derail it. The mayor may claim that the recall is illegal because it’s the second attempt to oust him in a year. The county charter limits recall petitions to one per 12 months.

Braman, who lost a court fight against the county to prevent public funding of the new Marlins stadium, said he is not nursing a grudge against Alvarez.

“I never dwell, nor do I take pleasure in saying, `I told you so,’ ” Braman said. “Until someone figures out a way to turn back the clock, I’ve got to move forward.”

Braman said there is nothing personal in his targeting of Alvarez, and that the recall campaign is a first step in making county commissioners accountable, too.

“The mayor is well-meaning and he honestly believes what he says, which I find incredible,” Braman said. “He is not corrupt. I just think he is unfit for the job.”

But Merrett Stierheim, former county and city manager and schools superintendent and a keen observer of the civic landscape, questions why Braman is going after a mayor with two years left in his term.

“It makes you wonder if the stadium defeat is part of his motivation: Is this payback?” Stierheim said. “Norman says it’s not personal, but it’s personal for Carlos. How do you depersonalize it?”

Stierheim said Alvarez’s budget is flawed, yet Braman’s attempt to unseat him is “ill-timed.”

“I respect Norman but this is going to tear the community apart,” he said.


The recall campaign is more important than his three previous challenges of the political establishment, Braman said.

“None involved removing an individual from government,” he said. “None were as essential to quality of life. None occurred during the greatest economic downturn since the Depression.”

Braman, who underwent spinal surgery in 1991, is a little stooped but still trim and robust thanks to his 60-minute regimen on a recumbent stationary bicycle every morning. He relishes another battle to uphold the fiscal and moral principles he espouses. “I have to admit it’s fun and it energizes me,” he said.

“Maybe we can make a breakthrough in this county where so much of the business and legal community has sat on the sideline, where so many people have a habit of accepting government as is.”

State Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, said Braman’s channeling of citizens’ frustration is “Dade County’s tea party moment.”

Braman, No. 269 on Forbes’ 2010 list of the world’s richest people with a fortune of $1.5 billion, might seem to be an unlikely hero in the Hispanic community. He and his wife Irma are on ARTnews list of the world’s “200 Top Collectors.” They have raised and donated millions for the arts, the underprivileged, a breast cancer treatment center and Jewish charities. Braman, who owned the Philadelphia Eagles for nine years, spends summers in the south of France.

Yet Braman’s roots reveal that he has much in common with blue-collar immigrants. His father was born in Poland, fought for the United States in World War I, owned a barbershop and never drove a car. His mother, born in Romania, began working in a sewing factory at age 12 so she could send money home. DEPRESSION DAYS

“I talk to students at Miami Dade College, and when I ask who is a first-generation American, I raise my hand along with them,” Braman said. “I remember walking a mile with my mother during the Depression to save one penny on a dozen eggs.”

Braman worked his way through Temple University, then made his first fortune by selling his shares in a discount drugstore chain. At 36 he “retired” to South Florida with Irma and their two daughters, intending to spend more time with the family he had neglected during seven-day workweeks. Before long, he started building his auto empire.

In 1980, Braman considered running for office “but allowed too many people to talk me out of it,” he said. “I should not have listened to them.”

President Ronald Reagan asked Braman to be Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner in 1981, but Irma didn’t want to move to Washington.

Instead, Braman organized his first anti-tax crusade in Miami. His friend Joe Robbie wanted to move the Dolphins out of the Orange Bowl into a stadium Robbie would build with his own money. When voters rejected a one-cent sales tax increase for a new stadium, Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre pushed a tax plan to renovate the Orange Bowl. Braman paid for a $125,000 ad campaign — and the proposal was defeated by a 4-1 margin.

Ferre doesn’t think Braman’s current strategy is the right one for reforming government.

“If I was mayor I would not have approved those salaries, but a recall is a disruptive and destabilizing action,” Ferre said. “Where was the activism during the electoral cycle, when we need to get good people elected? A recall is the negative way when we have the perfect storm of a bad economy and a country divided to a frightening degree.”


In 1999, Braman flew home from France to bankroll a campaign against County Mayor Alex Penelas’ mid-summer proposal for a one-cent sales tax increase for transit improvements. Voters defeated it by a 2-1 margin.

Two years ago, Braman sued to stop a $3 billion city-county public works plan that he called a “shell game” for its use of anti-poverty money to help build a Marlins baseball stadium, museums, a port tunnel and to aid the performing arts center.

Braman’s suit was rejected in court, but last month his warning that Marlins ownership was bamboozling the public and commissioners about team finances proved prescient. While the Marlins were negotiating the deal, claiming they needed public money to stay afloat, the franchise’s income made it among the most profitable in baseball, leaked documents revealed.

Braman’s appeal as a self-made man with no political or financial aspirations has enabled him to reach across socioeconomic and ethnic boundaries, said Tony Alfieri, director of the University of Miami law school’s Center for Ethics and Public Service.

“It’s almost fable-like in its historical resonance,” Alfieri said. “Here is a private figure stepping into the public light to speak to widespread disgust. Economic distress is the great leveler.”

For the recall campaign, Braman will post bilingual updates on Facebook and Twitter.

“We’d like to get young people involved since they’re the ones who have to bear the horrors of the future when the county has to pay off all the debt it has assumed,” he said.

Though Braman said he has not cut any of the 1,000 employees at Braman Motors, he feels obligated to stand up for others losing their jobs and homes. He is adamant that the raises and arts funding in Alvarez’s budget could have been postponed until the economy recovers.

“LeBron James said he was coming to South Beach,” Braman said. “Well, South Beach is not Miami, at least for the people who live here. We live in one of the poorest places in the country.”

Braman sipped cappucino and talked in his office just before going out to dinner with Irma to celebrate their 54th anniversary. In addition to art, he collects historical memorabilia, such as letters from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. A 13-starred American flag that dates from the Revolutionary War hangs on one wall.

“I look at that flag and it inspires me,” he said. “The American revolution began because of unjust taxation.”

Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/10/02/v-print/1854694/its-the-mogul-braman-vs-the-mayor.html#ixzz11rn6oaJm

About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
This entry was posted in Marlins Ballpark & Finances and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fable Si, Prescient No: How Legend Becomes Fact

  1. Robert says:

    I agree with you that Alvarez should have followed the example of his counterpart at the city hall in Coconut Grove, but I can't in good conscience support the Alvarez recall effort. Steirheim is 100% correct. Recalls are supposed to be for actions which break the law or at the very least go squarely against the city charter. Alvarez's actions, while much less than desirable, don't meet that criteria. If we start demanding recalls for every incompetent act by every incompetent politician, it won't be long before we have anarchy. I prefer my recalls to be made at the voting booth. That's what they're there for.

  2. Jorge Costales says:


    Good to hear from you as usual – re concerns about the overuse of recall elections, if that proves to be the case, the law could be amended before we reach any crisis stage. For now, what we have are homeowners offended by local governments choosing to raise taxes during historically bad economic times.

    Think about the political calculation which went into choosing taxes over government cuts. In the midst of a national Tea Party movement, our local elected officials still feared government employee unions more than home-owning taxpayers. I am hoping this recall election will correct that calculus for at least a couple of elections.

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