On July 27, 2005, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Art Teele walked into the Miami Herald building asking to speak to reporter Jim DeFede, After a phone conversation with DeFede, Teele shot himself. Committed suicide right there in the lobby! Earlier that day, the Miami New Times posted a story about Teele, his pending criminal charges for corruption and some alleged connection to a transvestite prostitute.Scary, humiliating and personally destroying stuff!
As it turns out Teele’s conviction was overturned and he was exonerated two years after his death.
I have no clue why Teele chose to kill himself in the lobby of the Miami Herald or why he chose to make his final call to DeFede, but I can only presume that he wanted to make sure that whatever he wanted to get off his chest before killing himself, would be reported honestly. Jim DeFede was the person he trusted to report the truth.
I first saw Jim DeFede at an ACLU public forum held in 2014 at Books and Books in Coral Gables, FL. He was the moderator for the event. The only reason I was there, was because the topic was sex offender residency restrictions and FAC’s president, Gail Colletta was going to be on the panel, as was former Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who was personally responsible for the Little River “Pocket Park” that effectively banished me from Shorecrest.
By that time, my opinion of news reporters was that they were merely entertainers. I got so used to journalists fear-mongering and sensationalizing sex offender stories on TV, that I didn’t expect much from the forum. I was there to support Gail.
I was pleasantly shocked the event didn’t go in the direction I expected. DeFede, pulling from a stack of photocopied materials (that he clearly read), was confronting the panel and challenging them with facts. By the end of the event, even the opposition, Marc Sarnoff, conceded that the unintended consequences created by the law were a bigger problem than what the law was enacted to solve.
When I learned that Lobbyist Ron Book was going to appear on DeFede’s show, Facing South Florida, I knew that DeFede would come to the interview educated, prepared and uninfluenced by politics or public opinion. It doesn’t take a brilliant journalist to see the residency restrictions don’t make sense, but it takes a virtuous journalist to stand up and report the truth about an understandably unpopular topic. The interview restored my faith in journalism.
I didn’t know or remember the Art Teele connection until I started looking for other issues Jim DeFede tackled during his career. I didn’t know much about Teele at all. But, I certainly know what it’s like to be afraid, ashamed and feel that hopeless. I certainly know why he trusted Jim DeFede to be the mouthpiece to speak his last words.