Maurice Ferré becomes first Puerto Rican to lead a major U.S. mainland city

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/maurice-ferre-elected-mayor-of-miami-first-puerto-rican-mayor

On November 8, 1973, Maurice Ferré is elected Mayor of Miami, Florida. In addition to becoming the first Puerto Rican to lead a major city in the mainland United States and the first Hispanic Mayor of Miami, Ferré is credited from transforming Maimi from a tourist town into an international city.

The Ferré Family was one of the wealthiest in Puerto Rico, and Ferré’s relatives included prominent politicians, novelists, and industrialists. Ferré served briefly in the Florida House of Representatives before being elected Mayor in 1973. He would hold the position until 1985, serving six two-year terms. Despite being a “weak mayor”—the Mayor of Miami was just one of five commissioners and did not have the power to unilaterally make appointments—Ferré transformed the city. He immediately set about challenging the “non-group,” a cabal of white businessmen who had effectively run the city for the last several decades, and integrating a city that was still largely segregated. With the help of two allies on the city’s governing commission—the black civil rights leader Rev. Theodore Gibson and Manolo Reboso, the city’s first Cuban-born elected official—Ferré appointed the first black city attorney, the first black city manager, and the first two black police chiefs. He and that attorney, George Knox, convinced the federal government to sue the city for discrimination, forcing the desegregation of the police and fire departments.

Known for his cosmopolitanism, Ferré sought to make Miami a global city rather than merely another East Coast beach town. “I had a clear vision that Miami really needed to look south,” he later told the Miami Herald. During his time as mayor, he expanded the city’s port, lured domestic and foreign banks to a newly-christened financial center, and welcomed the immigrants who poured in from Cuba. Among numerous other new developments, Ferré secured the site of AmericanAirlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat, for the city. His focus on building affordable housing and developing urban areas is credited with revitalizing much of the city and preventing suburban sprawl from consuming the Everglades. In many ways, his dream of an international hub and his infrastructure programs created Miami as it is known today.

Ferré’s tenure came to an end due to a trend he helped encourage: Cuban-American participation in city governance. After he was replaced by the city’s first Cuban-American mayor, Ferré held a number of posts in the public and private sectors and ran for senate unsuccessfully in 2010. Upon his death in September of 2019, both allies and bitter political rivals acknowledged his contributions to the city. His obituary in the Herald, whose board had once included members of the “non-group” he sought to destroy, referred to him as “the father of modern-day Miami.”