Saturday, July 11, 2009
Miguel DeGrandy: Grand Artist of Redistricting From The Shadows By Geniusofdespair
"We are being punished for exercising our rights and for having the guts to be uppity spics and stand up and fight for the Hispanic community." - Miguel DeGrandy
It is almost 17 years since Karen Branch wrote the following article on Lobbyist Miguel DeGrandy for the Miami Herald. "I like to take on very controversial things -- things that not the whole world may agree on," says De Grandy, who will continue his battles in the House, since he has no opposition in his bid for re-election. "The fight is what really motivates me. You want to win, and you want to be the best. You don't prove you're the best when you're in the shadows."
DADE LAWMAKER HAD KEY REDISTRICTING ROLE
KAREN BRANCH Herald Capital Bureau - 7/30/92
Four years ago, as Miguel De Grandy tromped door-to-door through Miami and Coral Gables in quest of a state House seat, most people seemed more interested in his pedigree than his politics: "Aren't you Miguel De Grandy's grandson?"
Yes, he said.
Miguel De Grandy, the famed tenor of Cuban opera, was his grandfather.
And yes, he said, Miguel De Grandy, an actor known from Madrid to Miami, is his father.
The family name didn't hurt. The first-time campaigner lost by a single vote in 1988, then was elected to the House in a landslide the next year. But today, it's state Rep. De Grandy who commands center stage.
He has done it by picking tough fights.
That's standard fare for a criminal defense lawyer who, "like a pit bull, never gives up until it's over," according to ex-law partner Barry Halpern. It's typical of a man who tirelessly -- and successfully -- wooed a woman engaged to marry someone else in four months.
This year's battle, the one earning him statewide prominence: He latched on to the tedious once-a-decade process of redrawing congressional and legislative seats, and wouldn't let go.
The spoils: Dade's new congressional map includes two seats designed to elect Hispanics. He drew it. Then three federal judges, persuaded by his fiery challenge of the Legislature's new state House map, gave him free rein to draw a new one. The map known as the De Grandy plan would boost Dade Hispanic - majority seats to 11 from seven.
Democrats persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to stick with nine Hispanic seats for now. De Grandy will lead the battle before the high court, which is expected to decide next year whether the De Grandy plan will be the final one.
The impact wielded by one 33-year-old upstart from the minority party may shock the big shots. But not his big sister.
"Since he was a kid, if you let him talk, he'll convince you of absolutely anything," says Julie De Grandy, a Madrid- based playwright. "I got spanked left and right, but I don't think my brother received a blow in his life. He can talk his way out of anything."
His family says it's the performer in his blood.
From comfortable beginnings in Havana to not-so-comfortable exile, De Grandy grew up watching his parents make a living before an audience. Sometimes he'd join them onstage.
Dade County Auditorium, 1969: "He wore a black tuxedo with a ruffled shirt, and he imitated Tom Jones," says his mother, actress Bertha Sandoval, stifling a giggle. "Miguel was very sexy when he was 11."
But swiveling his hips didn't pay well. Nor did scrubbing floors at Woolworth's. So at age 15, mop in hand, De Grandy decided on a career that offered little applause, no mops, and a lot more money.
"He worked in Woolworth's, and I in a factory that made purses, and we used to talk about how this is no way to make a living the rest of our lives," said Carlos Concepcion, De Grandy's childhood friend and former law partner. "We talked about law school."
Presto. From D to A student overnight, his sister says. By age 22, he was a prosecutor in the Dade State Attorney's office.
He was hired as the office groaned under caseloads begotten by riots, the Mariel boatlift and unprecedented drug- smuggling. As a result, he was assigned cases rarely entrusted to rookies: bank robbery, rape, murder.
"He benefited from the crime wave," said chief assistant state attorney John Hogan. "He was an exceptionally fast
He caught Harvey Shenberg's eye. In 1983, Shenberg and Halpern hired De Grandy as their partner in a criminal defense firm. Three years later, De Grandy went off on his own; Shenberg later became a county judge.
In March, as De Grandy basked in headlines touting his redistricting role, his name was linked with Shenberg's. Undesirably so.
Shenberg, indicted in the judicial corruption scandal known as Operation Court Broom, agreed with De Grandy to trade court appointments for cash kickbacks, prosecutors alleged in a court motion.
They didn't say whether De Grandy paid off Shenberg or whether Shenberg even discussed the alleged scheme with him.
Prosecutors won't say any more now than they did then.
De Grandy says that's because there is nothing to discuss: "I haven't been involved in any misconduct there."
He didn't let it get in the way of his redistricting campaign.
Since 1989, when he began sifting through two boxes of case files on redistricting battles, few things have occupied more of his time. The political demands began affecting other areas of his life.
His marriage broke up. So did his partnership.
This year, he and his law partners decided De Grandy's name would come off the door, and he would work with them on a case- by-case basis. They found a partner who could devote the hours that Tallahassee had eaten away from De Grandy's schedule.
"That came about because of the demands of political life," says Concepcion. "We needed to have a partner who is involved in litigation all of the time."
That left him with a modest life. He lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Fontainebleau Park and drives a 5-year-old Toyota with 50,000 miles on it. In his last financial disclosure form, he listed a net worth of $37,300. He says that's down to about $20,000, since he transferred his share of a home to his ex- wife.
De Grandy's divorce from Kathy Cruz was final in March after a 16-month separation.
"Politics had a lot to do with it," he says. "Between my responsibilities trying to bring up an up-and-coming firm and the Legislature, I didn't devote the time she deserved."
He was taking out a loan when he met Cruz, then a banker. He asked her out.
No, she said, I'm engaged.
He asked again.
"There was something about him that attracted me to him: persistence with sincerity," says Cruz, who broke off her engagement and married De Grandy within a year. "He's very sincere, even if that sincerity sometimes hurt. He was always up front with me, even in leaving, wanting the divorce."
The sincere tone of De Grandy's arguments has been perhaps his most effective weapon in the redistricting battle.
On the House chamber or in federal court, it is his soft- spoken baritone -- deepened by some 30 cigarettes he smokes each day -- that is most persuasive. At times, his tone is more dramatic.
One of this year's most memorable De Grandy arguments: "We are being punished for exercising our rights and for having the guts to be uppity spics and stand up and fight for the Hispanic community."
Some of his fellow Cuban-American legislators criticized him for using the ethnic slur. De Grandy said it was their ploy to get free media. Some say De Grandy was the one seeking publicity.
"When someone makes statements of that nature in the House of Representatives, it's because it's going to be quoted in the paper," says Hialeah Rep. Luis Rojas. "You're doing a profile on him, so whatever he did to get publicity has worked."
His accomplishments, both in publicity and pushing his maps through the courts, have proved De Grandy's strategies work. His techniques go far beyond legal research.
True to his artistic roots, he rehearses his debates down to the arch of an eyebrow. "He's a performer," his sister says. "He practices in front of the mirror like all of us do."
And for inspiration, he read Sun Tzu's The Art of War.
"I like to take on very controversial things -- things that not the whole world may agree on," says De Grandy, who will continue his battles in the House, since he has no opposition in his bid for re-election. "The fight is what really motivates me. You want to win, and you want to be the best. You don't prove you're the best when you're in the shadows."