Best of Mobil's Jipzee Cab

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Arisis Velasquez Restrepo and William E. Smith 11

December 25, 2012   Aris, Bill,  Aris's older sister Mervy and niece Carolina in Neiva, Colombia at the Pacande Hotel.

Arisis Velasquez and William E. Smith 10

December 24,2012  Arisis and Bill with Arisis's mother in Neiva, Colombia.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Arisis Velasquez Restrepo and William E. Smith 7.

April 1, 2012 Aris and Bill travel through two locks of the Panama Canal together.

Arisis Velasquez Restrepo and William E. Smith 6.

March 28, 2012 Aris and Bill share a paella meal at the Siete Mares Restaurant in Panama City, Panama.

Arisis Velasquez Restrepo and William E. Smith 5.

March 27, 2012 Aris and Bill at the Cafe Pomodoro Restaurant in Panama City, Panama for a surprise engagement dinner.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Arisis Velasquez Restrepo and William E. Smith 4.

March 30, 2012 Aris and Bill together Panama City, Panama,

Arisis Velasquez Restrepo and William E. Smith 3.

February 17, 2011 Aris and Bill visit the famous Bogota Museo D'Oro together.

Arisis Velasquez Restrepo and William E. Smith 2.

February 13, 2011 Aris and Bill at the Bogota home of Aris's sister Mervy.

Arisis Velasquez Restrepo and William E. Smith 1.

February 12, 2011 Aris and Bill in a Bogota Deli Eatery about one block away from the main cathedral.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Polly" Guitar Video

Thursday, July 20, 2006

An Open Letter to Gregory King

To: Gregory King
From: Mobil Smith
Re: “The Conch that Roared”

July 16, 2005

Ah….I’m the key guy you never got to interview when you were researching your book “The Conch That Roared”. When googling myself last Saturday morning on Dogpile I discovered references to your book. Before the sun went down I had ordered my own personal copy from which I received via a slow moving Airborne delivery yesterday.

It’s a great read and captures the essence of what went on. Having dealt with enough newspaper reporters in my lifetime I am aware that it is nearly impossible to get everything in a story right (and I actually heard Dan Rather say that one night on Larry King). You have an excellent overview of much of what happened which no one else has.
I don’t know if you would have written the story differently if I had been interviewed or had been a draft reader because quite frankly accurately describing events sometimes doesn’t lend itself to making as interesting a portrayal as you have written.
I’ve always thought that maybe I should write my recollection of the event down.. for perhaps the 25 th anniversary for publication in the Key West Citizen. But since you, by publication of your book eight years ago, are now the “de facto” historian of the event it would be silly for me to do that.
I am going to share my thoughts with you in case you ever revise your book or write a future article about it or are giving speeches on the subject. I think you are going to learn some new information from this missive.
Back in April of 1982 I was given plenty of credit for being at the epicenter of the plot and as a rather shy, private person myself have had more than my fair share of “fifteen minutes” from this event so my motives in telling you this are merely to insure that going forth you at least were given accurate information.

I only have a couple of things which I question the accuracy of and most of those are caused by problems with your timeline. Some are possibly related to what I will kindly call inaccuracies of recollection on the part of others. For example Ed Swift (who is an important figure and dear friend in my life) has never told his version of events the same way twice (this is because Ed is first and foremost a “rah rah” guy who likes to tailor his speeches to whomever is in his immediate audience). I’ve heard him relate the event four or five times, each time it takes different twists and turns based on who is there.

The REAL Timeline

Ed Swift and I made the decision by phone at 8:30 AM on MONDAY morning April 19 to retain David Paul Horan and sue the US Government. By 9:00 AM after a phone call from me Dave was working on this problem for the Greater Key West Chamber of Commerce, Inc. David was not hired after one of Mayor Wardlow’s nonexistent “brainstorming sessions.” Additional parties to this case came aboard later.

Rick Easton representing The Pier House called for and hosted a luncheon meeting in a private dining room of his hotel at 12:00 PM noon that same day. Present at the meeting were Rick, Joe Liszka, V.P. and Partner in Key West Aloe, Jim Kopenhoefer, representing the Key West Ambassador Motor Inn and the Key West Hotel Motel Association, Andy Newman, son of Stuart Newman who provided staff service for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council and myself. There may have been others but since you didn’t mention this meeting no one else may have remembered it (e.g. Virginia Panico may have been there but I don’t remember for sure).
The essence of the meeting was this..: We were not going to have another “Boatlift” happen to our tourist economy. Here were the outcomes of this meeting:

Stuart Newman’s Agency was asked to work on this problem (since the TDC was paying him already).
Monies from an “emergency fund” called the “Southernmost Advertising Fund” controlled by the Chamber (it had about $9,000 in it which could be distributed under Jim Kopenhoefer’s sole signature) were to be made available for the effort if needed (Only “Kopi”, myself and the immediate past Treasurer of the Chamber Jean Collins of what was then Boulevard Bank (Last I knew Barnett Bank) knew this fund even existed).
Each of us would go back and draft resolutions protesting the Border Patrol’s checkpoint, conduct and actions.
The idea of border passes as well as calling ourselves “The Conch Republic” was presented and approved as a PR “gimmick”. .

We did not discuss secession.

I went back from this meeting to the Chamber where my office manager John Howard asked me what had occurred. I flippantly and boisterously said to him, “We’re going to secede.. we’re going to pull down the US flag.. raise the “Conch Flag” ..blow up the bridges to the mainland!”

I brought John into my office and told him what really happened at lunch. He commented that we could probably sell a lot of border passes along with our flags at the Chamber. He also warned me, “You know ‘Keats’ is out there.. she’s going to blab what you just said in the lobby all over town..” (for John relied on her himself as a good source of gossip).
I replied, “Fine...we need a good rumor around here. Don’t say anything more to her about it.”
“Keats” who was volunteering at the Chamber that day was Susan Taylor, the wife of Dick Taylor, John Magliola’s partner at the FM radio station.

TUESDAY, April 20 was a maze of over the phone newspaper and radio interviews and privately getting eighteen Chamber Board members to agree to the resolution against the Border Patrol we had prepared.. The plotters or planners or “brainstormers” did not meet on Tuesday as your book says.

WEDNESDAY morning, April 21..I received a phone call from John Magliola about 9:30 AM . He said, (in his deep booming James Earl Jones like voice) “Are you going to do this thing or not?” He’d been sitting on information he’d heard from Susan Taylor for 30 + hours and wanted to get his radio station in on the ground floor.
I replied. “What thing?”
“You know.. Take down the flag.. .secede.. raise up the Conch Flag.”.
“I was joking..” I protested.
“Come over to my office.. I’m having a little meeting here.” John told me.
So I drove over to John’s office on Southard Street. When I arrived John was there with Townsend Kieffer who at the time was doing “freelance pr” for Marriott’s Casa Marina Resort and Dennis Bitner. We met in the commercial studio as you have written. Why THEY were there I’m not sure but I suspect it was because John was trying to get confirmation about what I had said from someone else. It’s possible that Townsend who had permanently moved to Key West about six weeks before was trying to get John Magliola to use his services for writing ad copy. Bitner was like the guy on the Seinfeld Episode who Elaine gave the tic tacs to so she could hear him coming up behind her. Constantly alert to what went on in the Key West Community he was always showing up at meetings. He'd been appointed to the TDC because he'd successfully organized the gay vote for Wilhemina Harvey.
“Bill.. this is a great idea.. we have to do it!” Kieffer said to me. In the next ten minutes the three convinced me we should pull this pr stunt.

Let me interject here that this was not my idea originally (and it certainly was not Stuart Newman’s as your book suggests.) The “Patrick Henry” of the Conch Republic is a fellow named Tom Bragassa.
Tom Bragassa was President of the Marathon Jaycees back in 1974 when he first proposed it.. and he was quite outspoken about it at the time. In 1974 the State of Florida’s Cabinet placed the whole Florida Keys officially on the status of “Critical State Concern” which virtually brought a halt to all major commercial and residential development for the remainder of the decade.
Tom Bragassa’s family owned a drugstore in Marathon called Bragassa’s Key Pharmacy which was hurt by the moratorium on development. As far as I can tell from the internet it no longer exists.

When I spoke to John Howard in front of Susan Taylor, I was essentially repeating “Bragassa’s rant,” except in his version he blows up “the Long Key Bridge” (now called the “Dante Fascell Bridge).
Tom Sawyer would confirm this if you ask him directly about it. (about Tom Bragassa). If he denies it read what I just wrote about in this section and then tell him I wrote it and he will confirm it for sure.
I would have been happy to give Tom Bragassa credit for the idea at the time but no one ever thought to ask and getting credit for this was not the sort of thing I ever cared about but that is the true story of how this thing evolved. I’ve never communicated directly with Tom Bragassa in my life and as far as I know he has not sought recognition for being the source of the idea but I did know about this in the mid 70’s. and so does Tom Sawyer although Tom Sawyer and I have not discussed this particular subject since 1975.

I said to the three.. “We can’t do this without Ed Swift‘s (because he was my volunteer boss) and Dennis Wardlow’s ok.”
I called Ed up and asked him to come over.. (fortunately his office was across the street.) Then I called Dennis which none of the others wanted to do because of their reputations and the fact that John Magliola as part of his radio show had for weeks been doing daily “short guy” jokes about the Mayor. Dennis listened to me not just because I was the Chamber Exec, but because I was also then Florida Governor Bob Graham’s political point man in Key West. (The real reason I was the Chamber Exec. and not someone else.)… and we’d been good friends for eleven years.
Dennis was at his wit’s end at that point on Wednesday and quickly embraced the idea also.

Ed arrived as we got Dennis on a speaker phone. Ed had some hesitation ..He wanted to make sure we didn’t desecrate the US Flag and was relieved when he heard that Dennis liked the idea. He thought we needed to get Stuart Newman involved right away. He suggested we move the proceedings over to his office (across the street) where he had recently had a phone system installed which could do conference calling. So we told Dennis we’d call him back in five minutes and all of us went across the street to Ed’s office. Ed told his assorted secretaries to take a break and set us all up at desks with individual phones and then managed to get us all on the line together again with Dennis and then Stuart Newman. Ed did most of the talking.. Stuart Newman liked the idea and agreed to work on ‘pr’ing the event for Friday.
At this point we all committed to going through with the event. It was never contingent on our judicial efforts taking place the following day in Miami. In other words if the Border Patrol had removed the roadblock and got down on their knees in court on Thursday and begged our forgiveness we still would have had a mock secession on Friday April 23, 1982 because we all realized then what a golden PR opportunity had fallen into our laps.
The plotters who were labeled the “Founding Fathers never met as a group after that although we all individually worked to bring our own spheres to bear on the event. So in actuality the only time all seven founding fathers were talking together and planning and fleshing the idea out at the same time was on a conference call! Not very glamorous is it..
The key people doing most of the leadership from that point became Ed and Dennis Wardlow who coordinated their efforts along with John Magliola’s radio station which began running spots for the Friday event within an hour of the end of our conference call. Stuart Newman saw to it that there was plenty of media coverage in town for the event.

All this stuff about Hizonner scheduling brainstorming sessions and his conversation with Stuart Newman the day after the roadblock is a bunch of bull but I’m not going to fuss any more about it because Dennis Wardlow stuck his neck out to make this work and I will always be grateful to him for doing that.

You might be interested in this story. Admiral MacKenzie wasn’t really in charge in Key West. He was the “highest ranking officer” serving there. The Admiral was head of the Joint Caribbean Taskforce, a military planning group, also subsequently called the “Joint Caribbean Command which just happened to have its headquarters office there (these people ultimately oversaw the invasion of Grenada). The real guy in charge of the Key West Area was Captain Lewis, USN Commanding Officer of the Key West Naval Air Station at Boca Chica. Captain Lewis told me in the weeks following the event at a Military Affairs Committee Meeting (I was Exec. Sec. of that too.) that if we “had actually taken down the American Flag he was under orders from the Defense Department on the morning of Friday, 23 April to declare Martial Law and seize the City of Key West”.

I hope you will find the above information useful for any future writings or presentations you make on this subject.

Best Wishes,

Mobil Smith

Labels: , , , ,