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17202: (Hermantin) Miami-Herald-The trials of an active local lawyer (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Sun, Nov. 09, 2003

The trials of an active local lawyer

Michelle Austin practiced corporate law at Holland & Knight before becoming
general counsel for Planet Automotive, a holding company for 70 car
dealerships in seven states.

That's not her only transportation-related endeavor. Austin was part of the
ad hoc committee that, after months of study, proposed that Miami
International Airport be managed by an aviation authority. Last week, huffy
Miami-Dade commissioners had some bad news.

Q: When did you know that your hard work was going down in flames?

A: I gave up totally when the chairwoman [Barbara Carey-Shuler] started to
talk about the ordinance in the past tense. She said that ''my intent was to
do something that would benefit the community.'' That's when I knew it was
really over.

Q: What did you say when you addressed the commission?

A: The crux of my message was that I was a nonpartisan type. I was new to
the discussion and that, as such, I was unbiased. I became involved and
learned from a variety of people who made presentations and from the
material I read.

I ended up feeling that [an airport authority] would be best. It would be a
public-private partnership that would make the airport more efficient with
supervision from a board devoted to the airport.

Some of [the commissioners] were defensive. Some believed that if we wanted
an authority it must mean that the commission is less than competent. We
tried to convey that the issue wasn't about them, but about what may be best
for the airport.

Q: Did working on the ad hoc committee whet your appetite for politics?

A: Well, no. I'm clearly not a politician. I have always wanted to
participate in my community, to represent Haitian Americans here.

My focus is more family, and I would not devote the kind of time to public
service that would be required.

I'm former vice president of the Haitian Lawyers Association. I'm involved
in immigration issues. I draft complaints, but I don't see myself as a state
rep or a mayor. I'm more grass roots.

Q: Were you born in Haiti?

A: I was born in Port au Prince. I grew up in New York City. . . .

I was a language major at Manhattanville College. I wanted to be as Haitian
as possible, so French was my major. I did take Spanish as well. I grew up
in a home where we spoke French and Creole. But to be able to write in
French and converse in French I had to really learn it. I knew that I wanted
to be able to read all the authors that people who grow up in Haiti read. I
was 6.

My mother was a teacher, she would quote different writers, Racine, Moliere.
I felt that I had to read those books in order for me to be part of that

There are things that, to be American, you must know, and things that you
must know to be Haitian. I wanted that experience. I can go to Haiti and
speak like the natives. No one questions it.

I feel as if I'm bicultural. When I'm in the United States, I want to be
American. But when I'm in Haiti, I like to be able to fit in. I wouldn't
want to speak English poorly, I don't want to speak French poorly.

Q: Miss New York?

A: Clearly Miami is ideal for me. It's where Caribbean and Latin American
countries meet. That definitely matters to me.

I love it here. Sure, in New York you can hear jazz at the Blue Note. But
I'll sacrifice variety for quality of life.

Herald Editorial Board member Nancy Ancrum prepared this report.


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