VOL. 130 | NO. 37 | Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Former Miami Mayor Diaz to Speak in Memphis
By Andy Meek
In his forward to former Miami mayor Manny Diaz’s book “Miami Transformed,” Michael Bloomberg said Diaz will go down in history as one of the country’s most innovative urban leaders.
Diaz was born in Cuba and first arrived in Miami in 1961 as a 6-year-old with his mother. Four decades later, he was an attorney settling in behind the big desk at City Hall, elected as mayor of a city that had been beset with racial division and a corrupt police department.
Diaz is speaking in Memphis this week at an event hosted by the New Memphis Institute, along with CBRE-Memphis, Latino Memphis, the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club and LEAD, part of the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement at the University of Memphis. The event is set for Thursday, Feb. 26, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Ballroom C of the University of Memphis University Center.
Diaz also will speak at this month’s Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club event Friday, Feb. 27, from 7 a.m. to 9:15 a.m., with Diaz speaking at 8:30 a.m. The Lipscomb Pitts event will be held at the Great Hall and Conference Center in Germantown, 1900 S. Germantown Road.
“My personal and professional experience – from immigrant, to businessman, to mayor of a major American city – has brought me to this conclusion,” Diaz writes. “To rebuild America, we must rebuild our cities, making investments in the people and places that make us great, and make us who we are.
“I have spent my life as an observer and student of politics, from high school class president to serving as mayor of Miami for eight years, but I’ve never seen the political landscape as bad as it is now. What we need is a return to basics, a return to cities, to the political unit closest to the people.”
Diaz’s talk Thursday, which is free and open to the public, will focus on his book and on creating dynamic urban communities, something for which he was lauded in 2004 with the Manhattan Institute’s “Urban Innovator of the Year” award.
“We have an opportunity to learn from the best with Manny Diaz,” said New Memphis Institute communications specialist Mac Bruce. “The complete transformation he created in Miami is proof positive that with the right leaders and the right strategy, you can turn a good city into a great city. We’re looking forward to a conversation that will help us apply some of Diaz’s methods of change here in Memphis.”
Before his election in 2001, Diaz saw his name become known partly because of Elian Gonzalez, the young survivor of a boat that sunk while his mother and boyfriend were attempting to bring Gonzalez to the U.S. Diaz represented the boy’s Miami family, at odds with his father in Cuba who wanted him returned there.
There was a time, Diaz writes, when Miami was a nice place to visit, but not so much an ideal place to live. He recalls a 1980s Time magazine cover that called the city “Paradise Lost” and that what people knew about the city tended to come from movies like “Scarface” and “Miami Vice.” Other negative factors like race riots and the drug trade only added to the mix.
Upon his election, Diaz pursued policies that included tax cuts, rebuilding the city’s reserves and working to take the city from junk bond status to an A+ bond rating.