Slavin's letters came to Finkel's attention during his eight-year stint at Miami New Times as managing editor. Even though he's worked at City Pages for the last three years, Finkel still recalls Slavin's ravin'. "I remember his handwriting, his exclamation points. Every sentence ended with an exclamation point," Finkel says.
Miami New Times editor Jim Mullin regards the letters section as one of the most widely read features of his paper each week, serving as a kind of community bulletin board that gives readers a sense of ownership in the paper. He recalls Slavin's letters flooding his offices. "There was a time several years ago when Harvey was writing so often that I had to put the brakes on," Mullin says, adding that Slavin called him once and demanded to know why the paper wasn't publishing his letters.
"He was just livid. He seemed to have some kind of territorial imperative," Mullin remarks.
One of Slavin's best-known sentiments is his antagonism toward New Times restaurant critic Jen Karetnick, whose reviews he has followed from the 1987 debut of Miami New Times to the founding of New Times BrowardPalm Beach in 1997 to the present. Through the years Slavin has branded Karetnick and her reviews "devious," "sleazy," "cheap," "rancid," "small-minded," "pedantic," "drivel," and "ass-kissing."
Slavin claims his inky war with Karetnick began in early 1994, when she criticized the service and food at Escopazzo, an Italian restaurant on South Beach owned by a friend of his, which had just received a four-star review from the Sun-Sentinel. "She trashed it, so I started writing letters. I started watching," Slavin says.
"At first I considered it a joke," recalls Karetnick, who was amused enough with Slavin's monthly letters to incorporate his pet name for her, Kvetchnick, in her e-mail address. Karetnick even decided to address a year-end roundup column ("Another Year Devoured," Miami New Times, January 2, 1997) in part to Slavin and a letter he wrote implying that the critic gave nothing but negative reviews.
Karetnick pored over her reviews from 1996 and discovered that she gave equal space to praise and punishment. She proceeded to feature her monthly faves and chided Slavin for his inaccurate perceptions. "But I'm ready to move on," she wrote at the end of the piece. "How about you, Harvey?"
Slavin wasn't. Instead, he sent his own, decidedly less good-natured response a few weeks later, calling Karetnick's column, "a cheap attempt to take a shot at me... [through] shoddy, low journalism of half-truths used by scumbag politicians and their spin-doctors.... Bury the hatchet? Yeah -- between your shoulder blades!"
Karetnick remembers that letter and another, more sinister one that was never published: "He became venomous. He left me a message on my voice mail that was so rude and frightening." After Slavin crossed the line, Mullin says he stepped in, telling the serial letter writer that his opinions would not appear in the newspaper for a while.
"Ever since then I sort of have considered him dangerous," Karetnick says.
When asked about the incident, Slavin shrugs his shoulders and guffaws. "That was a long time ago," he says. "I would never take physical action against somebody. I don't want to hurt her. I've never met her. I'm sure she's a nice person."
So is Slavin. At least that's what Mike Liebman says. Liebman, Slavin's former roommate and his friend for more than 15 years, says the two met through their children, and after both men divorced, they shared a duplex in Cherry Grove, a South Miami-Dade suburb, for about a year. The now-61-year-old Liebman witnessed Slavin's morning ritual firsthand. "One moment you may witness the venom of the pen," he recalls. "The next you may see a very kind and sensitive person that's buying someone lunch or concerned about someone who's ill or crying at a sad movie.
"He has many faces. Probably most people don't see all of them because he may be very verbal, but he's also very private when it comes to his personal life. It's hard to get to know the real Harvey Slavin," Liebman says.
The two men still talk on the phone every day and share a meal about once a week. Liebman believes that Slavin's proficiency with the pen and his political knowledge constitute nothing short of a gift. But he also speculates that Slavin carries around a good amount of anger and passes it along to those he writes about and to the publications he faxes. Slavin's brand of zealotry draws readers, but the attention isn't what drives him. His motives are always personal.