Born to be mayor, it still took train whistles to get him to run, win in Miami Springs

Credit train whistles for propelling John Cavalier Jr., into an eight-term run as mayor of Miami Springs. He was motivated not by family obligation — his dad had served three terms as mayor in the 1960s — but rather the roar of a railroad.

Cavalier, who died on Aug. 30 at 78 of complications from pneumonia, was first elected mayor in 1979. He entered the political arena when plans to expand Miami International Airport led to the relocation of a Florida East Coast Railroad train yard in Miami Springs.

Cavalier, known for his soft voice and sartorial eloquence — always a formal jacket and tie at every public appearance — raised some steam when he confronted airport leaders. “I want to be on this side of the canal and not be able to hear it, see it or smell it.”

Politics was in his father’s blood, Cavalier told the Miami Herald in 2001, when he stepped down after 16 years in office because of term limits. But he, too, learned to use politics. Cavalier, who owned Cavalier Realty, was prompted by the airport and train issue.

The train yard was eventually separated and screened from the surrounding neighborhood. Cavalier, who graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York, considered it a victory.

He learned a lesson: always stay a step-ahead of the goings-on in the state and county, the Miami Herald reported.

“It’s persistence that wins,” he said in 2001. “When you are on the right side, you just have to keep pushing.”

Cavalier MIA issues meeting

In 2001, Miami Springs Mayor John Cavalier Jr. (left) and Virginia Gardens Mayor Paul Bithorn-(right) discussed Miami International Airport issues at a Miami-Dade Commission meeting.

C.M. Guerrero El Nuevo Herald File

Cavalier was born in Brooklyn to a mechanic and a homemaker. At 7, in 1946, he and his family moved to Miami Springs. If he felt the noise of trains would bother fellow residents, the sound of laughter would be OK.

“Practical jokes were kind of a thing” among city staffers and elected officials, his son, Jack Cavalier said. “Not gross disgusting ones like on [MTV’s] ‘Jackass,’ but simple jokes.” He recalls a story from city hall that still makes him laugh.

Seems Miami Springs’ then-public works director Roland Rivero and then-recreation director Ray Lopez had presented two items at a council meeting that needed to be put out to bid before the city could purchase new equipment. The proposed items were a pitching machine for the softball field and a lawn mower. The manufacturers were Jugs Sports and De Bra, respectively.

“My Dad, after hearing what sounded like ‘jugs and the bra,’ looked over at his glasses at Roland and Ray and inquired, ‘Is this a joke?’”

His son laughs. “He was a great father and husband and really cared about the city.” Propriety, the mayor felt, was important.

Curtiss mansion plaque

In this Aug. 26, 1998, file photo, John Stadnik (left), then president of the Historic Preservation Board of Miami Springs, and Miami Springs Mayor John Cavalier, shared a historical designation plaque at the Curtiss Mansion in Miami Springs.

Patrick Farrell Miami Herald File

“He kept everyone on the level and inspired me to do the same,” said Jack Cavalier, an accountant. “I would never get in trouble as a young guy growing up in Miami Springs because I knew somebody would see everything I did. I still live my life like he’s watching. He helped me keep my nose clean.”

Jo Ellen Morgan-Phillips, then president of Miami Springs Chamber of Commerce, served with Cavalier from 1981 to 1987. In 2001, she told the Miami Herald: “The name ‘Cavalier’ will always be synonymous with Miami Springs. Like his father, John was born to be mayor of Miami Springs. The community would not have been the wonderful place it is today without all his efforts and dedication. He helped put us on the map.”

Cavalier’s survivors also include his wife of 55 years, Joan, his daughter Christine, and grandsons Rocco and Dante.

A Mass will be held at noon Sept. 16 at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church, 4020 Curtiss Pkwy., Miami Springs.

Donations in Cavalier’s honor can go to Miami Transplant Institute or Schiff Center for Liver Diseases.