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Upstart outpolls former mayor for Miami's top job

Manny Diaz, a political upstart who represented the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez, defeated former six-term Mayor Maurice Ferre in a runoff Tuesday to lead the city the next four years.

Diaz, who has never held public office, took 55.3 percent of 50,769 votes cast; Ferre, 44.7 percent.

Ferre and Diaz held a runoff after no candidate got a majority in a 10-candidate election Nov. 6, in which current Mayor Joe Carollo finished a close third.

"Forty years ago, my mother and I arrived as poor immigrants to this country," Diaz, 47, told about 500 supporters at his campaign headquarters in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. "Forty years later, I am mayor of this city. God bless America."

In last week's election, Ferre, a Puerto Rican, took 8 percent more votes than Diaz, a Cuban-American. The runoff became a referendum on how Miami's government handled the Elian case. Ferre drew support from a coalition of non-Hispanic whites and blacks. Many Cuban-Americans backed Diaz. Carollo endorsed Diaz on Monday.

Ferre said late Tuesday he managed only 30 to 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote and pointed to that disparity as the main reason for his defeat. "I hope that votes in the future will be based on the best and not on ethnicity," Ferre told about 150 supporters at a Miami hotel.

Ferre, 66, was mayor from 1973 to 1985, when terms were two years.

Diaz, a millionaire with a long history of working on behalf of immigrants, represented Elian's Miami relatives during their unsuccessful battle to keep the Cuban boy in the United States.

The issue fueled sniping between Ferre and Diaz during the week after a first-round campaign that was called one of the cleanest in recent Miami history.

Ferre claimed Diaz's campaign was behind phone calls to Miami radio stations and voters charging that Ferre is anti-Cuban and backs former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for governor. Diaz denied the charge, calling it "politics in the mid 1980s."

In a runoff for Miami Beach mayor, City Commissioner David Dermer beat former state Rep. Elaine Bloom with 53.8 percent of 12,029 votes to Bloom's 46.2 percent.