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Gersten vote to test savvy of metro voters

March 11, 1993

Sometimes an election is a community IQ test.

The city of Sunrise had one this week. Next Tuesday, it's Miami Beach's turn.

Sunrise did itself proud. An impressive 73 percent of voters decided that they didn't want a convicted extortionist as mayor. The shameless John Lomelo got tromped at the polls.

On Tuesday, a scandalized Joe Gersten runs for Metro Commission in District 5, which includes Miami Beach and part of downtown Miami. For Gersten to be elected would be a big upsetand a profound commentary on the collective intelligence of those voters.

For 11 months, Clueless Joe has been dodging prosecutors seeking to ask him about the curious events of last April 29, when the commissioner's now-legendary Mercedes-Benz was stolen. The car turned up in the hands of Biscayne Boulevard lowlifes, who said they'd swiped it while Gersten smoked dope and had sex with a hooker in a downtown crack house.

Gersten claimed the car was taken from his gated driveway in Coral Gables. For weeks he toured Europe and avoided questions about the incident. When he finally returned, he unsuccessfully resisted taking a drug test. The results didn't rule out the possibility that Gersten had smoked cocaine, but they indicated that he wasn't a regular user.

Joey declared vindication, a bit too soon.

Prosecutors collected the logs from his car phones, and tapes of conversations between the commissioner and the dirtbags who had his car. They took statements from Gersten's maid and fianc'ee that raised more questions about Joey's wanderings on April 29. And they found a cab driver who swore that he'd picked up a man resembling Gersten on Biscayne Boulevard that night, and drove him to Gersten's neighborhood in the Gables.

Only the hurricane kept the Gersten follies from becoming a running feature on the evening news. To this day, Joey refuses to give a sworn statement about what happened, refuses to disclose how he spent the evening. He says the sneaky State Attorney's Office is trying to trap him in a perjury rap, and he's hired a high-powered defense lawyer to fight the subpoena.

It's been quite a spectaclean elected public official, desperately ducking his civic duty to take a simple oath and tell the truth.

Clueless Joe blames ruthless prosecutors and bloodthirsty reporters for his troubles, but it was he who called police about the missing Mercedes. It was he who provided the porous yarn about leaving his keys (and his briefcase and his gun) in the unlocked car while he strolled into the house to make a phone call.

But don't count Gersten out. Scandalized or not, he's been able to squeeze an amazing $250,000 in campaign donations out of bond brokers, builders and others who do business with the county, and who want to stay on Gersten's good side in the unlikely event that he wins.

Residents of District 5 recently got a letter from "The Friends of Joe Gersten," extolling the commissioner's virtues while reminding voters that he hasn't yet been charged with any crimes. The letter carried the names of such well-known political and community figures as state Rep. Mike Abrams, Simon Ferro, Jesse McCrary Barry Kutun, Georgia Ayers, Luis Sabines and Alan Potamkin.

Unfortunately, the letter tells you more about Gersten's "friends" than it does about Gersten. It's interesting that such civic pillars aren't sufficiently appalled by Joey's evasive conduct to make them set aside their political loyalties.

Maybe the voters will be suckered, maybe not. They've got 12 other choices, none of whom are hiding from prosecutors.


Candidates can hide true colors November 13, 1989 | Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen | Ferre also owes voters an explanation April II, 1993