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Diaz takes first steps to unite Miami

Miami's mayor-elect hit the streets Wednesday, taking his first steps toward reuniting a city his election showed is divided.

From Little Haiti to Little Havana, Diaz, 47, thanked supporters for their votes on Tuesday, when he took 55.3 percent of the vote to defeat former Mayor Maurice Ferre. Diaz also asked for help, telling constituents he would return asking for their participation in efforts to re-energize the city.

But as much as Diaz had a reason to be thankful, he also had cause for concern. Though he captured a decisive 70.5 percent of the Hispanic vote, he got just 32.4 percent of the white and 12.3 percent of the black votes.

Even some big supporters acknowledged that the new mayor has his work cut out for him.

"Probably the saddest part of watching the results is that virtually the entire electorate, including Cuban-Americans, voted along ethnic lines," said City Commissioner Johnny Winton. "That's not good. It simply reinforces the comment that people have made about this community for a long time, that we're not mature enough to reach across ethnic boundaries."

Diaz had played a low-key role in the city's civic life until he was thrust into the spotlight by his role as a representative of Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives. He has 25 years of experience in community causes, working for immigrants and bilingual education and against English-only referendums and discrimination.

"He's always been an activist," said Juan Carlos Espinoza, a political scientist at St. Thomas University. "He's also able to communicate outside the ethnic enclave."

Despite the ethnic divisions exposed by Tuesday's vote, political observers are confident that Diaz, who has never held political office, will use those skills to rally city residents around him.

"I really think if somebody reaches out _ and I think he will reach out _ most people will grab his hand," Winton said. "He won't turn people away. It's part of his challenge to bridge that divide."

On Wednesday, Diaz promised that he was up to the challenge. As if to prove it, he toured a series of neighborhoods, starting with Little Haiti, where he visited marketplaces and a barber shop.

Diaz said his stops around the city were more than just visits. They also were recruiting trips for future discussions the mayor-elect hopes will lead to community consensus on important issues.

Before he is sworn in on Saturday, Diaz plans to meet with city commissioners and City Manager Carlos Gimenez, whom he intends to keep on the job along with police Chief Raul Martinez.

As for those who voted against him, Diaz said, "I will earn their trust."

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