arthur_teele_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

MIAMI — Seven years after he fatally shot himself in the head in the lobby of the Miami Herald building in downtown Miami amidst a corruption scandal, some Miamians continue to hold fond memories of lawyer and politician Arthur E. Teele Jr.

A high point of this year’s anniversary of Teele’s July 27, 2005, death was a remembrance organized by longtime children’s dance instructor Florence Litthcut Nichols, a Teele family friend.

Teele “could take a patch of grass and turn it into a beautiful park," said Gregory King, who started working for Teele when he was 16, during the prayer vigil held July 27 at Charles R. Hadley Park, 1350 N.W. 50th St., Miami.

"This event is about the spirit and heart of Art Teele. It's not about the large number of people attending," said King, remarking on the small number of people who attended the event.

Teele, 59, was a decorated military veteran who was born in Washington, D.C., but moved at an early age to Florida with his parents. He was a unique politician, an African-American Republican who shared many of the beliefs of mostly Democratic black Miami and relentlessly pursued an agenda focusing on the betterment of the community.

When Teele came to Miami in the 1980s, he had already gained a national reputation, having served under President Ronald Reagan as assistant secretary for transportation and later as administrator of the then Urban Mass Transit Administration.

Locally, he was elected to the Miami-Dade County Commission and then to the Miami City Commission.

He became embroiled in scandal that ultimately led to his removal from office and conviction on corruption charges that was overturned after his death.

Teele took his life a day before the Miami New Times was going to publish a story based on the raw transcript of a police investigation into Teele.

The transcript included uncorroborated and highly damaging allegations that included claims of homosexuality, mistresses and drugs. Reports at the time suggested he knew of the story, which was posted in advance on the paper’s website. He went to the lobby of the Herald and, while speaking on the phone to then Herald reporter Jim Defede, who was at his desk in the City Room, Teele shot himself and died instantly.

"I just thought it would be robbery to not recognize the work and the contributions that he made to Dade County, the state and country,” Nichols said during the vigil. “Also, I thought about all the support he gave to my organizations over the years."

She attributed the low turnout to lack of time to give the community notice. “It was actually a couple of days earlier that I said I was going to put something together to honor him. So the word didn't get out to everyone,” Nichols said.”I saw people in the street and the word just got out by word of mouth. A lot of people knew about it but it was such a short notice that people had other commitments.”

She said she wanted to focus on the “positive things” about Teele and what he did to make the community a better place. She cited his efforts to promote culture and the arts, adding, "He wanted to  make sure the children in the area would get free lunches during the summer. He knew that would happen if there was a park in the area."

Nichols, founder and executive director of the Inner City Children's Touring Dance Company and Artz-N-Hood, said Teele was a great supporter and was instrumental in getting the children in the dance company to visit Africa and Spain.

The Rev. James Bush III, who has served in the Florida House of Representatives and was a candidate in Tuesday’s election, said he believes that Teele was “brought” to Miami to represent the black community. "Although he was a Republican, he was black, first. And I believe he was assigned and anointed for the job. He was our brother then, and he is our brother now."

Neil Stiver agreed. “I'm from (Coconut) Grove and when we had a problem, we went to him, even though he wasn't our district commissioner. I knew that when we didn't have money for different events, we could go to Commissioner Teele and he would help us. He was a b-a-a-a-d boy and we miss him. I can say that there will never be another like him because he set the bar so high," Stiver said.

Teele's widow, Stephanie Kerr Teele, said she was touched by the love shown to the memory of her late husband. Just knowing that some people remembered the good he tried to do for the community meant a lot to her.

Others attending the prayer vigil included state Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami;  Miami City Commissioner Michele Spence-Jones; the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II, a former Miami city commissioner; arts activists and educator Gene and Wallace Tinnie; Native American leader Catherine Hummingbird; businessman N. Patrick Range; and business consultant Elaine Black.

Veronica Lamar, a member of the board of the Inner City Touring Dance Company, and Grammy award nominee gospel singer Johnny Sanders, served as mistress and master of ceremonies.

At the end of the hour-long prayer vigil, members of the audience went into the park garden and released balloons in Teele's memory.

“Stephanie needed to know that people still remembered. She needed to feel our love and appreciation,” Nichols said. 

Bea L. Hines may be reached at bea.hines@gmail.com

Photo: Arthur Teele