The notion of Miami as an emerging capital of the Caribbean and Latin America was largely perceived and partly shaped by charismatic former mayor Maurice Ferre, who is seeking the office again in tomorrow's election. The current mayor, Xavier Suarez, doesn't deny Mr. Ferre's former role. He merely scorns it.
The first Cuban-born mayor of this city of exiles, the low-keyed Mr. Suarez is more concerned that the garbage trucks run on time. After two years in office, he has a notebook full of potholes filled, projects launched, and services delivered. Property taxes have been lowered.
Miami's mayoral primary is mainly a quiet contest between two styles of governing. Ferre wants to return to the bully pulpit he held for 12 years before Suarez unseated him.
The quiet comes almost as a relief after the past two mayoral elections, which reached historic pitches of bitterness and ethnic division.
A third major candidate, Arthur Teele, is a black Republican who headed the United States Urban Mass Transit Agency earlier in the Reagan administration. His prospects Tuesday are not rated high.
Most of the campaign is focused on Latin Miami, especially in the Spanish-language media. Latins, mostly Cuban, make up almost half of Miami's registered voters. The other half of the electorate is split between blacks and Anglo whites.
Although black voters are getting some campaign attention, the election is very nearly invisible in the major local media that reach the Anglo community.
If Mayor Suarez had heeded his advisers, he might have skated easily to reelection. If he had done some fund-raising a few months earlier, both his supporters and foes agree, Ferre probably would have stayed out of the race.
One adviser, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, says that Suarez resisted all such entreaties, responding, ``I want to concentrate on being mayor. If that's what it takes, then I don't want to do it.''
Says Rick Sisser, a local political consultant: ``He may win his way, but he sure has made it a lot tougher.''
Ferre, in the past, has run well among blacks and Anglo whites, and he pulls about 30 percent of the Latin vote. He lost in 1984 when the black vote turned strongly against him over his firing of a popular black city manager. This year the former mayor is hoping that black voters have forgiven or forgotten that episode.
It is considered possible that Suarez, who in his first term as mayor has made few enemies, could get an outright majority in tomorrow's balloting. But political oddsmakers give Ferre a good shot at forcing a runoff.