To hear admirers and detractors talk about Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who left office today after eight eventful years, has been something like hearing about two completely different people – a visionary on the one hand and a “malevolent’’ figure (and that is just how someone once described him to me) on the other.
I tried to highlight an overlooked side of Diaz in my print story today (see below) examining his legacy – the near-obsessive, detail-oriented technocrat who has probably not gotten the credit he deserves for modernizing the city and its administration. (If Mayor Tomas Regalado finds a working computer and wireless Internet when he moves into his office this week, he has Diaz to thank for it.)
But then focusing on what’s actually been accomplished is not nearly so much fun as railing against evil developers and indiscriminately accusing everyone at City Hall of corruption, is it?
Whether you agree or not with Diaz’ goals, from the Marlins stadium to Miami 21 -- and Urbanista! does not think they’re all good, though I urge you, kind readers, to hash out which are which -- the fact is he reached high and was remarkably effective in getting things done. It was refreshing and challenging to cover his administration after years of dreary antics and ineffectual doddering at City Hall. Did he overreach? His unrelenting agenda did wear down some residents in the end. But doesn’t anyone remember what it was like to walk up Biscayne Boulevard eight years ago?
And now we get to see now how that ambitious blueprint he’s left us turns out. Most interesting to see what and how Regalado does with Miami 21, which he of course voted against as a commissioner but is now bound by as mayor.
Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's legacy: a big-ticket transformation
Manny Diaz leaves office after eight years of ushering in changes grand and small. How will the legacy be judged for the mayor who reshaped Miami?
The binder, almost a foot thick, sits by outgoing Mayor Manny Diaz's elbow at Miami City Hall. Methodically indexed, it's stuffed with plans, progress reports, charts and conclusions on dozens of quality-of-life initiatives -- a nuts-and-bolts scorecard on his eight years in office.
It's all there, in exhaustive detail: Code enforcement overhauls. Crime reduction. Computer labs at city parks. New sewers and street drains. Rebuilt sidewalks. Even a chicken-busters team.
The mayor who will likely best be remembered -- and in some quarters, reviled -- for presiding over an unprecedented development boom and an ambitious set of grand plans wasn't focused just on the big picture.
``There was not an area of the city that didn't get our attention, and this is something I'm very proud of,'' said Diaz, hauling out the binder during an interview just days before leaving office. ``This was my Bible, and we focused on everything.''
Diaz, who is term-limited, leaves office Wednesday in some respects to a tepid farewell. Public weariness over his big-ticket plans amid a recession loomed large in the landslide election of new mayor Tomás Regalado. The commissioner cast himself as the anti-Diaz, a champion of residents who felt ignored by the mayor.
But admirers believe Diaz will come to be regarded as a transformative mayor who ably channeled the high-rise condo boom to forge a grown-up Miami, bringing vision and basic competence to a city that had become the target of jokes and banana-chucking demonstrators.
``You want to know his legacy? Then look up,'' said historian and activist Marvin Dunn, who started a large food garden in Overtown in part with city support. ``Manny Diaz's low-key and unassuming but tough style is what Miami needed.''
This is a Manny Diaz even his admirers might find hard to recognize -- a sober, patient reformist up to his elbows in the minutiae of turning around a troubled city.
But this side of Diaz may be key to understanding his administration, which was relentless in enacting an agenda of a scope unmatched by any other Miami mayor in decades -- often in the face of fierce criticism.
Read the full story here.