Political theater: Who is Key West’s “ambassador to Cuba”?

“Me. Me. Pick me.” “No, pick me. Please.” “Me. Not him. I’m the real one.”

Oh, dear Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey.

We’ve got a splendid island kerfuffle over who gets to be the official “Key West Ambassador to Cuba.”  The school boy romp is playing itself out on Facebook, across the front pages of The Citizen, Key West’s local daily newspaper and, quite likely, in cocktail conversations among the political cognoscenti.

Key West Watch Media The rest of us are doing eye-rolls and betting on the next round of this grown-up version of Red Rover. Not that there aren’t a solid half dozen better things to do. Workforce housing, illegal vacation rentals, land use development, protection of the reef and the marine sanctuary, services for the homeless, air quality and street repairs to name but a few.

For those paying zero attention, here’s the recap. Last week, city commissioner Billy Wardlow announced he’d award an official “Ambassador to Cuba” certificate to outgoing commissioner Tony Yaniz, a one-termer who was soundly defeated in the last election. Yaniz asked Wardlow for the honorary title, which brings with it — and $3.95 — a cup of coffee and teensy doughnut, maybe. In short, said ambassadorship does not exist and if it did, the President of the United States might take umbrance over the usurping of his prerogative to name an ambassador first.

(Just so you know: POTUS named a career diplomat, Jeffery DeLaurentis, to the position of charge d’affaires in Cuba, preferring to postpone the naming of an actual ambassador. Cuba named Jose Cabanas, another veteran diplomat, as its ambassador to the United States.)

Key West mayor Craig Cates was having none of this Ambassador Tony Yaniz stuff. Any Key West ambassador to Cuba is a representative of the mayor, Cates told The Citizen, and by-gosh-darn Yaniz doesn’t represent the mayor. The mayor and the former commissioner are political archenemies and the two have wasted no opportunity over the years for political one-upmanship.

Cates wasted no time appointing his own Key West ambassador to Cuba. Knowing he was leaving for the annual U.S. Council of Mayors meeting in D.C., and knowing that Wardlow was presenting Yaniz with the title at Wednesday’s commissioners meeting, Cates announced his own ambassador at City Hall Tuesday morning. So, there. The mayor got his ambassador named first.

His pick is long-time Bob Harvey, commodore of the Key West Yacht Club. On Saturday, Harvey, Cates and Jose Miguel Escrich, commodore of the Marina Hemingway in Havana toured potential sites for a Key West ferry to Havana. One of those sites the U.S. Navy has pretty much said “over our dead bodies,” and thus is an unlikely, though photogenic, contender, but that’s a story for a different day. Escrich was reported to have been Harvey’s house guest for the weekend.

Key West is closer to Havana than to Miami. One can make it there and back easily in a day by plane, and with good winds by sail. The two islands’ histories are of the same cloth. Family ties are strong. Though there is a “we’ll wait and see” attitude among Key West’s Cubans — those with generational roots on this island and those who are relative newcomers — there’s little doubt that re-establishing diplomatic and economic connections will be welcomed in Key West.

A little political rivalry isn’t unexpected, nor is it much out of line. And, it provided a week’s worth of chuckles. This kerfuffle over an honorary ambassadorship ought be a reminder, though, that it’s well past time for Key West’s business, governmental and political leaders to stop the theater and figure out how best to re-unite these two islands. Before Marathon and Miami kick Key West back to the 1970s.

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media, a media marketing company. She admits she rolls her eyes along with the rest of the community that doesn’t move in the Key West cognoscenti circles.




The chickens of Key West: Disney couldn’t do better

Gotta love those Key West chickens

If Disney did chickens, they’d be Key West chickens.

Arrogant, independent, decidedly territorial, and, OK, cocky, Key West’s 2,000 or so chickens — though who’s counting I can’t imagine — rank up there with the six-toed Hemingway cats as tourist magnets and the scourge of locals wanting to sleep in.

Perfectly sane, sophisticated urban-dwellers fresh off a cruise ship or down for the day coo over the chickens and pull out their smartphones for a quick snap. Perhaps the only chickens they know come with bar codes? The Key West chickens are the quintessential “hey, Martha, look at that” moment.

A visiting friend did a double take one night at dinner at Blue Heaven. “That thing’s alive,” he whispered, watching one of the resident chickens scratch around under an adjoining table. “It’s not one of those Disney recreations, right?”

Indeed, no; not a recreation. Key West’s chickens do things a Disney chicken wouldn’t consider. The roosters crow all day. The chicks get smashed on the pavement by cars and scooters. They nest in trees, and they, well, drop their business inside your convertible.

The Cubans of century ago brought the chickens in for food and fighting. Another bunch arrived in the 1950s when revolution in Havana displaced chickens and people alike.

When grocery stores and bar codes replaced the live versions and cock fighting was outlawed (at least one the law books), the Cuban chickens met up with the domestic ones and love happened. They remain food for some, but mostly Key West chickens roam paradise at will.

Locals love them and hate them in equal measure. Last summer, just after a clutch of chicks were old enough to follow mom on a foraging venture, I watched an elderly woman in her nightgown with white hair flying in the wind run into the street, screeching “shoo, shoo, get out of here.”

Mother and chicks simply looked at her and went back to scratching for breakfast.

When the foul population gets a bit out of hand, the city attempts to round them up for relocation. It’s a waste of resources, but it soothes the chicken haters who think “something must be done.”

Mostly though the chickens co-exist with the locals and the tourists, pose for pictures and meander out of the street — eventually. I leave for work 10 minutes early each morning because the resident flock on my office block are usually having breakfast in the middle of the street.

Who am I to interrupt?



Marco Rubio: Not the GOP star until he gets right on immigration, Creationism

Time for Rubio to “get right” on immigration, Creationism — or his Cuban surname won’t help

The national Republican Party, casting about for ways to mend its abysmal track record with Americans of Hispanic descent, ought not pin its hopes quite so naively on  Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

There’s no such thing as a Latino voting block in the United States, and if there were, it’s likely these days to be dominated by the surging immigration of Mexicans into the country’s West, Southwest and Midwest. Wooing and winning the future Mexican American voter demand the Republicans change up their immigration, economic and jobs policies. Success will be about policy — not last name.

Rubio ought to be allowed to rise or fall on his merits, not his parentage. Barack Obama ought to have been allowed the same, not because of, but despite of his skin color. And, as Hillary Clinton plays her cards for the 2016 presidential election, watch for web worlds filled with “first woman who …” headlines — and data-dumps of information about an imagined “block of women voters.”

Americans appear to understand that one white Alpha male doesn’t represent all men. We’re not so savvy about ethnicity, race and gender. We’re just aware enough not to say it aloud in polite company, but most of us haven’t moved too far past “some of my best friends are (feel free to fill in the blank.)

The Republican and mainstream media conversation about Rubio during and following the presidential campaign feels just too much like the “best friends,” pat ourselves on the back approach. The allure of Rubio’s Hispanic surname, his conservative credentials and his “rising star” moniker among the national media make him virtually irresistible to Republicans. One can hear them chortling in the backrooms: “We’ve got the trifecta here.”

There’s a problem with that. Three of them actually, and unless Republicans up-end their unsophisticated approach to America’s multinational Hispanic population, they’ll have little ballot box success.

Ruben Navarrette Jr., a long-time advocate and columnist for American Latinos, puts it this way in a column entitled “Why Marco Rubio can’t save the GOP”:

When you’re a Cuban-American politician who is being put forth by your party to help get votes from Latino voters — the majority of whom are Mexican or Mexican-American — things can get complicated.

First, let’s stop with the idea that any-Hispanic-surname will connect with potential voters.

Rubio is of Cuban descent, which may continue to play well in Cuban-dominated Florida, but that ethnic heritage is unlikely to appeal to the 63 percent of American Hispanics whose family trees are rooted in Mexico. Even in Key West with its 21 percent Cuban American population, Rubio fans are hard to come by. Why? Because as one multi-generational Cuban American told me: “Miami Cubans and Key West Cubans had different paths to the United States,” she said. “We’ve always lived here; we weren’t political refugees.”

If Rubio be disconnected from at least some Cuban-descent Key Westers, how much more so will he be disconnected from Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans and Hispanics from South and Central America and the Dominican Republic?

Second, Republicans must get their immigration policies straightened out. Cubans and Mexicans simply don’t share the same immigration challenges, and the GOP’s current hardline policies — staunchly supported by Rubio — aren’t going to work.

Third, Rubio’s Creationist, hate-the-science, Tea Party approach to governing are simply out of touch with pretty much every voting block except the neo-cons. It’s time for a platform update.

Rubio can’t connect the GOP with the ill-defined, virtually unshaped Hispanic voting block. Not solely because he’s Cuban, but because his immigration and public policies are out of sync.


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