This being the 4th of July weekend, my thoughts wandered to the abysmal state of politics in Dade County and the one reformist Miami Mayor we have had in all my years of living here. The curious thing is that if you google him, you find almost nothing about him. One crummy park in Miami and not a single photo of him other than the one here that has him cut off in the left corner when Kennedy came to address the survivors of the Bay of Pigs in 1962! Amazing, since this was the only politician in local politics in the last 100 years that actually ran on a reformist platform and moved Miami from the neanderthal state of old dixie politics in the 50's to a more normal mainstream view. In 1957, Abe Aronovitz, who had been Mayor of Miami in 1953-55, asked High to run for mayor. With Aronovitz's backing, High ran on a a platform of promising nothing but honest government. Once in office, High began tackling corruption. With most of the City Commissioners opposing him, he could do little as Mayor, but he began pushing to publicize problems. High won re-election in 1959, and was joined by new, reform-minded city commissioners
Now here is where it gets interesting. Tell me if this sounds like something we could use today. High and the new commissioners put all the city's insurance out to competitive bid (previously insurance on county buildings was the individual "pork barrel" of each commisioner). High also led a state-wide campaign to force Florida Power & Light to lower its rates. After the City of Miami started a study of Southern Bell telephone rates, the Florida Public Service Commission ordered major reductions in those rates. High also led a fight to force the Florida East Coast Railway to pay the arrears in its assessed property taxes. While High was Mayor, Miami adopted a $10,000 spending limit for city elections. High spoke Spanish well, and made a number of goodwill trips to Latin America. He exchanged visits with several heads of state of Latin American countries. Working with City Manager Melvin Reese, High established the Torch of Friendship in downtown Miami as a symbol of relations between Miami and Latin America. As Castro's revolution proceeded, Cuban refugees flooded into Miami and High worked hard to accomodate them. High was a strong supporter of civil rights. As Mayor he set up a panel to hear job grievances from blacks. High was involved in the successful effort to integrate lunch counters in Miami. He publicly backed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 while campaigning for governor. Although he had received threats that he would be killed if he spoke in Pensacola, High told a crowd there that, "Segregation is wrong. It is evil and un-American."
So what happened to this paradigm of political enlightenment? You guessed it, the powers that be destroyed him. High's mistake was to take on the political machine when running for Governor in 1964. He announced that he would refuse to accept large campaign donations. The Miami News (not the Herald) was the only newspaper in the state to endorse High. High came in second out of five contenders in the Democratic primary, but lost the run-off to Jacksonville mayor Haydon Burns, who became Governor. Undaunted, High tried again in 1966. During the 1966 primary campaign, a seat became vacant on the Miami city commission. High appointed M. Athalie Range, a black woman, to the seat. Range had led in the primary for a seat on the commission in the 1965 election, but lost to a white man in the run-off by a small margin after her race was made an issue in the election. Range was the first black person to serve on the Miami city commission. As in the 1964 campaign, attempts were made to arouse segregationist white sentiments against High as the 'black' candidate. Handouts with no attributed source, were circulated. One showed a pregnant black woman in a rocker, with the caption, "I went all the way with Robert King High". Another had pictures of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Robert King High, and was labeled, "A poker hand one joker and a pair of Kings." A photograph of High playing pickup football with some black newsboys was widely circulated.
Surprisingly, High won the Democratic primary in 1966 anyway! Burns made the mistake of accusing another conservative candidate Scott Kelly of being bought out by High and that turned Kelly against him and in favor of High. But here is the irony of the story. Democrats that had held the office since Reconstruction refused to support High and the racist Republican candidate for Governor Claude Kirk was actually helped by the defeated Burns to defeat High. Kirk mounted an all out racist campaign against High accusing him of being an "ultra liberal" . High lost the race and the first Republican in over 100 years was elected Governor. Sadly, High died less than one year later of heart attack.
And that dear friends was the end of any semblance of honest and decent politics in this City