Friday, July 6, 2007

Robert King High- The last decent man in Miami politics


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

6 comments:

coopdjour said...

I used to love the sports reports on the TV from Morris McLemore. My favorite reporters were of course Ralph Renick but Wayne Farris and Richard Whitcombe weren't bad either. I was very young when Robert King High was the Mayor of Miami but I too have fond memories of the man.
Saunders Hardware was the place on Coral Way. LeJune Dairy had rides as well as the rides that were up on 27th Ave close to the 112 expresway. Shirley's hamburger shop by Miami High was the place for lunch. Banjo Billy's was a favorite kiddy show as well as Popeye's Playhouse.
Remember the Silver Dollar Drive In on SW 8th Street as well as the Granada Seafood Restaurant.
Kreesge's Department store downtown had the cafeteria on the second floor overlooking the store below. Then the Mummers would come dancing down Flagler. L.P. Evans was just a used car dealer (before Mercedes Benz).

JillF. said...

I was a campaign worker for Mayor Robert King High and along with friends from my church group, we put in many, many hours of dedicated help and loving work, trying to assist this exceptional man become the Governor of the State of Florida.

Integrity was the Issue!

"Integrity is the Issue" was his campaign slogan and till this day with me, integrity will always be the issue.

I will never forget you Mayor High.... many tears were shed and shared when the Republican won the gubernatorial election.

However, many, many more tears and great lament were felt statewide when your heart failed shortly after the election.

Your funeral was attended by multitudes and it was both beautiful and extremely sad... being very young and young at heart, this was one of the most difficult days of my life.

I was in the balcony of your large church and witnessed a full involvement in the passing ceremony of your most celebrated life. My heart still aches from the memory of this today upon recollection.

You were so important to people from all walks of life and of all colors and religions. The span of flowers and people who loved you was tremendous.

We again have lost a beautiful spirit in Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, August 20, 2008, more than 40 years after your death.
You would be proud to know she was both a woman and an African American. She too lived with integrity and strove for integrity.

Our Presidential election is very soon and we had a woman in the Democratic primary and an African American man who hopefully will win and become the first black President of the United States and also a Democrat.

But you know all this and have welcomed Stephanie with open arms to be a part of a much greater plan you, I am sure are greatly involved in.... peace, equality, love and integrity, and may the greatest of all be love.

Please assist Rep. Jones in her support for our American horses... please help us experience more support for H.R. 503/S.311 and H.R.6598 to end the slaughter of American horses for human consumption by foreign owned slaughter companies. May you all work as God's angels to help grant safety and peaceful life, to one of His most beautiful creations.

I miss and love all of you of kindred spirits... may you remain with us and give us strength with God's help and in His name.

ewell said...

When Mayor Robert King High was running for Governor I was working as a desk clerk for the old Stanton Hotel on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach. On a weekend day I believe a Saturday Mayor High and two other men walked into the lobby and requested to watch the TV to see a political ad ran by his campaign. I couldn't see the ad myself as the Mayor and his friends gethered to the front of the TV. In just a few minutes the Mayor of Miami so small in stature walked to the front desk and extended his hand to me and said, "Thanks" and they quickly left. I voted for him because he I believe really cared about people and honesty in government. While small in height he was a giant in public service. We need someone like him today.

Chanelle Rose said...

My name is Chanelle Rose and I am currently completing my manuscript on Miami's civil rights movement. One of my chapters features Mayor Robert King High. I've found some newspaper clippings and other material, but I'd love to interview some of the individuals who worked with High. I currently teach African American history at Rowan University in southern New Jersey. Please email me at rosec@rowan.edu. Thank you!

LRod said...

I remember fondly Robert King High. I was becoming politically aware at the time and it didn't take any genius to see the decency of the man. I remember well the Claude Kirk years, living them out after I moved from Hollywood to Jacksonville.

Those were the days of the Dade/Broward County Democrats and the Pork Chop Democrats of North Florida. Most of those were left over Dixiecrats who hadn't quite made the transition. They got free Interstate, we got a turnpike. They're largely why Florida is screwed up today.

By the way, mentioning local TV, et all, does anyone else remember Clure Mosher doing sportscasts? Seems to me he had a regular sponsor, General Tires. I remember he left Miami for a while and then came back, and I believe, died rather young—well, before his time. He was a little on the controversial side, as I recall.

LRod
ZJX, ORD, ZAU retired

P.S. now living in Volusia County.

1812RSD said...

Clure Mosher did sports for WCKT Channel Seven. He was known for antics he pulled on air. He job a job is NYC. I don't think he came back but I am not sure. I think he died tragically in the early 60 s.