Saturday, September 22, 2007
Critic Robert Fulford wrote of legendary civic preservationist Jane Jacobs that she “came down firmly on the side of spontaneous inventiveness of individuals, as against abstract plans imposed by governments and corporations.” With certain alterations, the same could be said of author and journalist Trisha Posner, who penned the popular Health Watch column in Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine.
Posner was fired for expressing her opinion on a YouTube video about regulations affecting her South Beach neighborhood. Like many rejuvenated communities in the United States, Posner’s historic south Fifth Street has become the Tribeca of Miami, a fashionable, trendy nightspot with a maelstrom of growth in hotels, restaurants and boutiques that have out-priced many long-term residents.
Local activist Frank Del Vecchio asked Posner if she would appear in the eight-minute Close the Loophole video, directed by Emmy award-winning documentarian Robyn Symon, to state her belief that a loophole that allows popular local restaurants such as Prime One Twelve and Devito South Beach to exist in her residential neighborhood should be amended to limit the amount of seats in the establishments in proportion to their number of rooms. Her segment began, “Hi, I’m Trisha Posner. I’m a journalist and columnist for Ocean Drive magazine. I am married to Gerald Posner, the author.” Within a few hours after her appearance, she was fired by Ocean Drive publisher Jerry Powers.
Posner was aghast and bewildered. Attractive and comely, as a health columnist she is an unlikely candidate as a civic instigator; but those qualities belie Posner’s buffalo stance on doing what she feels is right for her community. “I hate being in the public eye and I prefer to be low key,” Posner told Wikinews in an interview. “To do the video I was nervous. Only in person do I feel comfortable.” Wikinews reporter David Shankbone recently spoke with Posner.
DS: What were the circumstances surrounding your dismissal?
- TP: In South Beach and in Miami there are neighborhood associations like South of Fifth Neighborhood Association, which [Posner’s husband] Gerald is President of, and they all try to work together to make living in the neighborhood synergized with the nightlife and the restaurants. This issue involved another, Frank Del Vecchio, President of 301 Ocean Drive condominium association. Frank asked me to be part of a video against a loophole where restaurants can have so many seats that they effectively become a nightclub. On the video there are five others besides me. An entertainer, a school teacher…and then I’m sitting there on a bench. At about 4:40 we wrapped up and I left. When I got home there was a phone message from [editor-in-chief] Glenn Albin saying, ‘Trisha, Trisha, Jerry is running around the place…’ and I thought it was a joke. I started laughing. Gerald said he didn’t think it was a joke, but I had not done anything. Then I received an anonymous e-mail: Jerry Powers had got a phone call from a hotel person that said ‘one of your representatives from the magazine is down here bad mouthing nightlife, hotels, etc.’ The magazine’s publicist panicked and called Powers, who then runs all the way down to City Hall and asks ex-Mayor Neisen Kasdin to let him speak before the City Council. He says that Trisha was not for him, and that Ocean Drive is for entertainment and hotels in South Beach. Then he said I was fired as he left.
DS: Did you receive a call from Jerry Powers?
- TP: I never heard from Jerry Powers; he never phoned me, e-mailed. I still have never heard from him. I phoned the office the next day, and [Managing Editor] Eric Newill tells me my services would no longer be required. I had one piece ready, and one piece in the issue. The saddest thing is that I lost my friendship with Eric. Eric was my friend before he was my editor. He is friends with Jerry Powers. Eric wrote me an e-mail that it had played out too publicly and that he wished me good luck in my future endeavors. What kind of friendship is that?
DS: Had you informed the magazine of your appearance beforehand?
- TP: Eric knew I was doing a video, and I did it in my friend’s hotel. I don’t remember if I told them what it was for. But the video wasn’t a secret. In the future I will ask permission. But it’s childish. I can’t believe Jerry Powers took this and made it an issue. Nobody would have known about it, and now I’m all over the place. He made Trisha Posner a star. I can’t go anywhere without people saying, ‘Yay, good for you!’ And they still have not paid me for my last piece. I sent them another e-mail on the 17th. They owe me $1,000. They have not written back to me, they have not phoned me. Why are they being so childish?
DS: Did you ever have any other problems at the magazine?
- TP: No, I never had an issue and I had the best working relationship with this magazine. I have nothing bad to say about the magazine. I had a fabulous relationship—a unique relationship with my editor. I had never worked so well with an editor of a magazine my entire career. It was so easy, he is so smart, cerebral…it’s unbelievable. But they also got a lot out of me. They got Tina Brown through me. Bill Maher. I have an incredible track record. It was not hard for me to phone people and get them for the magazine. And I never used them for my advantage at all; I never used the magazine to get into restaurants or events. People say you never went to the parties, but I’m over that. I used to be a Studio 54 girl. I just really enjoyed my health column. They allowed me to write in my own voice.
DS: Why do you think Powers fired you?
- TP: It’s all advertising driven, but I’m interviewing people for a new book who have advertised in his magazine. It wasn’t a big deal for anybody. The very next day Miami Magazine picked me up. He had a knee-jerk reaction. He didn’t even phone me. Wouldn’t you think he would phone me and say, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and I would have been like, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize.’ Besides, I was crazy about my editor! Why would I try to hurt him? I hope one day I can work with Eric again.
DS: Has any other employee of Ocean Drive appeared publicly before and been identified as such?
- TP: As far as I know I’m the first one, that’s why I made history. But I wasn’t talking about Ocean Drive. I hadn’t thought that under my name were the words ‘Columnist for Ocean Drive’. I didn’t see anything. Later I had e-mails from Tina Brown, everybody…they were really supportive.
DS: Your husband, author Gerald Posner, wrote a piece in The Huffington Post about your dismissal. Several of the comments to it state that since Ocean Drive is a large glossy magazine dependent upon advertising from the entertainment industry, that you bit the hand that fed you. How do you respond to such criticism?
- TP: That’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard, because it had nothing to do with Ocean Drive. There is another world. I’m not against development; if you listen to my statement I talk about how much I love the nightlife, how I love entertainment. But we all have to learn to live together. I know South Beach is party town, but we can live together. Let’s clean up our shit, take our garbage out, be respectful to our neighbors and also to the entertainment industry.
DS: Some of the comments that were made in HuffPo were that even though it was despicable that you were fired for expressing your opinion on a civic matter, that you should have expected it. Do you think comments like that are par for the course of apathy in the United States today, where people disagree with something, but shrug their shoulders instead?
- TP: I think we live in dangerous times because of corporate America—people are really scared to speak out about anything; it is really dangerous. Freedom of speech. I came to live here in this country because it was for freedom of speech. I love America, and it has everything I could have dreamed of: the most incredible husband, friends, everything. But they are chipping away at it. One company is one company, but it shows how dangerous it is. What happens when the Rupert Murdochs own everything? They are trying to gag us. It is very dangerous. Whether it is the film industry, the music industry, D.C., they are trying to strangle all of us. All these regulations of what we can or can’t do. Does it mean if I have an opinion that I have to be gagged or not say who I am or what I think? What can and can’t I say? Maybe I’m just too black and white. I think we need to just chill out here. It wasn’t about Ocean Drive or Jerry Powers. It was about my home and my friends. I was helping out Frank. It was about the loophole and the Bijou [hotel]. I think what really freaked them out was that the video was professionally done.
DS: Another comment said, “The magazine itself sounds like a total contribution of everything that [is] wrong with America right now. Instead of promoting smart growth and longevity, it prostitutes itself to every new development, even at the cost of other developments (advertisers) who will lose out when this new one opens.” What are your thoughts on the magazine?
- TP: I have an opinion about Ocean Drive. I used to say I don’t know who reads my columns, but I know they look good and I have an excellent following because people would stop me on the street or give me tons of e-mails. I understand what they are saying, but it is South Beach and that magazine works for South Beach. It’s been around for 13/14 years. I think that it’s healthy there is competition coming in. But the demographics for the magazine are people in their mid-twenties and early thirties. I didn’t realize that.
DS: What are your feelings about Jerry Powers?
- TP: This man is a bully, and he wanted to bully me. He is not going to scare me. I’ve been in this business 20 years, and there is only one man who scares me: my husband.