Former City of Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré Receives FIU Honorary Degree

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Former Mayor Maurice Ferré received an Honorary Doctor of Public Service at the Summer 2012 Commencement Exercises on August 13, 2012. The Puerto Rican-born public servant is a former six-term mayor of the City of Miami and the first Hispanic mayor of a major American city, serving from 1973-1985. He currently is the chair of the Miami Dade County Expressway Authority and serves on the Florida Transportation Commission. As mayor, Ferré provided leadership and vision when Miami took its place as one of the world’s most vibrant, eclectic and diverse international cities. Throughout his years in office, he focused on economic development, job creation and a visionary approach to improving South Florida’s transportation and public infrastructure, as well as on transforming the area into a center for inter-American trade, banking and commerce. He remains active in business, commentary on current affairs, teaching and in public service. In 2006, he explored issues concerning Puerto Rico, its identity and political status in his book ¿Hacia Dónde Va Puerto Rico? (Where is Puerto Rico Headed?). His career has been marked by a style of public service that encourages people of widely different views and philosophies to work together in the name of the common good and progress. Ferré himself embarked on that journey early on, first as a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1966-1967 and then as a commissioner and later mayor of the City of Miami and, years later, as vice chairman of the Dade County Board of Commissioners.

Response of Maurice Ferré upon Receiving the FIU Honorary Doctor of Public Service

Is Miami a new experience as an American city? The dominant question about Miami is not about its ever changing character as a metropolis or value to the USA, but whether Miami’s, past, present and future, is more about style than it is about substance. In the Ionic style of Greek classical architecture, the Ionic column has flutes in stone that emulate the original reeds that were tied together to make a structural column. Here is a case of substance becoming a style. But, style can also morph into substance. Can Miami’s style also add to the substance of Miami? And what is that substance? Miami intellectuals, historians, social scientists, and journalists have attempted to define Miami, without yet a clear conclusion. What is Miami?

Culture is a multidimensional condition that is ever evolving. Miami is a community of people that in less than a century and a quarter has had five distinct profiles. First as a wilderness in the inhospitable, semi tropics that was incorporated as a city in 1898, because Henry Flagler wanted to bring his railroad, the Florida East Coast, to Miami. Then, Miami became a place to be tamed by speculators and dreamers, that dredged and filled, drained the Everglades, dyked the River of Grass, built bridges and causeways that connected the new dreamed cities of Miami, Miami Beach and Coral Gables. Thirdly, after boom, bust and the Second World War, the Art Deco world of the Tides, then the Saxony Hotel morphed into Ben Novak’s/Morris Lapidus’s Fontainebleau Hotel. The next Miami began with Fidel Castro’s takeover of Havana. Who can question the impact of the Cuban Exile community over the last half century on Miami? The fifth Miami has evolved over the past three decades, first the caribbeanization, then the internationalization, and now the cosmopolitanization of Miami. From Art Deco, in South Beach, to MiMo; from multinational Coral Gables and Brickell Avenue, to Art Basel and Midtown Miami: Miami is a gateway and marketplace of the Americas. The present and future of Miami is increasingly tied to Miami International Airport and the Port of Miami as vehicles for economic advancement. But, it is Miami’s distinct cross-cultural ties and people that make Miami unique in the Americas.

Miami today is the only example of a global city in the U.S.A. that is an amalgam of two major cultures, the Anglo Saxon/American with the Hispanic/Latin American/Caribbean. Can something substantive come from such a narrative? This remains to be seen, but I believe so. Miami is a new American Frontier.

One last observation on Miami. Miami’s founding was due to geography. Miami’s history has, so far, also been due to its geography and many changing circumstances. Who and what we are going to be are not due to the leadership of any Miamian in particular. There are no Robert Moses, Richard Daley, Fiorello La Guardia, and Napoleon III with his Baron Haussmann, in Miami’s past. I am saying specifically, that although there were many players, dreamers, erudite constitutionalists, bosses, planners, managers, visionaries entrepreneurs, politicians, lobbyists and opportunist, there has been no significant political or civic leadership that determined, fixed or changed Miami’s final direction and character, in its five lives to date. It’s all been circumstantial, in José Ortega y Gasset’s definition of circumstance. Circumstances make guiding cities a challenge. Great cities are mostly guided by well-established roots and institutions that are organic to the city that help foster a ‘genius loci’, spirit of place. Spirit of place and style are mostly linked. Fortunately, we have important and outstanding institutions in Miami, FIU being at the top.

When I graduated from the University of Miami in 1957, FIU was little more than a dream; when I was elected Representative from Florida District 112 in 1966 and Commissioner of the City of Miami in 1967, FIU was still little more than a dream. It was not until I was elected Mayor of Miami for the first time in 1973 that the dream became a reality. As you look at this university today, you realize that FIU has grown to prominence at the same time that Miami was becoming the unique city that it is. I believe FIU and Miami are today synonymous.

I am deeply honored by this recognition of Florida International University, its distinguished President Mark Rosenberg, faculty, such as Tony Maingot and John Stack, FIU's Faculty Senate, and the Board of Trustees. I am particularly touched that I receive this Honoris Causa at the new FIU School of International and Public Affairs. Isn’t that what the new, and, I think, future Miami is all about: International and Public Affairs?

My wife Mercedes and I are prototypical Miamians, who have lived here, and partaken of Miami for sixty years. We have been blessed with good fortune and an opportunity to be part of these changes over half a century. Here, all six of our children and eleven out of thirteen grandchildren were born, educated and formed. The Ferré’s are part of Miami’s history. My father, José A. Ferré, saw that Miami’s future was as an adjunct, a bridge to the Caribbean and Latin America. His vision was my vision. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to help accelerate Miami’s history, as Mayor of Miami and as a Metro Dade Commissioner.

I am also pleased that my friend Professor Anthony Maingot, a distinguished FIU scholar, initiated this great honor for me. We all look forward to Tony’s new book about Miami. One cannot properly understand tomorrows Miami, unless one sees it through the lens of the Caribbean. Thank you Tony.

Last, but most important, my thanks to Mercedes, my parents and family who had a clear vision of the future substance of Miami and to our children and grandchildren, who will have the pleasure of living and adding to both the style and substance of Miami, USA. Thank you all.