Thursday, August 5, 2010

Invisible candidates for Congress?

Several times, Congressional candidate Joe Garcia (Dem) has singled out State Rep. David Rivera (Rep) as his only opponent in the race to replace U.S. House Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (District 25), who wants to be Senator.

While the Republican primary campaign has taken a nasty turn with accusations (mostly undocumented or backed up and aimed at Rivera) about abuse of power, misstating controversial business alliances, taking money from special interests and a 16-year-old domestic violence case that was dismissed after the alleged victim -- who, again, told Ladra herself that it was not the politician in question -- the Democratic frontrunner has repeatedly ignored Paul Crespo (Rep) and Marili Cancio (Rep) as potential opponents in November. He did it months ago at a DFAM meeting in Coral Gables and again Monday night when he spoke for only a few minutes at the Kendall Federation of Homeowners Association's candidate forum.

"My opponent is going to raise more money," he said, not naming names.

One woman raised her hand and interrupted the Obama appointment to the department of energy, who resigned to run for the seat he lost two years ago.

"Excuse me. Who is your opponent? Because I thought there were two other Republicans in the race," said Roxana Chavarriaga, a Broward woman supporting Cancio. Garcia said he believes that he will be facing David Rivera come November.

Chavarriaga later told Ladra she was growing tired of the "lack of respect for the other two candidates." She is not alone in her complaint. Cancio thanked her on her facebook page:"Thank you to my supporter at the KFHA meeting that caled out Joe Garcia, who along with many others is taking the GOP primary for granted. Cancio Can 2010 has the common people on her side and will continue to campaign to win the primary in the next three weeks."

But it's not a GOP thing. Local Dems have come under fire for silently (sorta) supporting Sandra Ruiz against Johnny Farias, in the race for state house district 112, Congressional candidate Kendrick Meek against Maurice Ferre (a fact that the Ferre campaign has made bitter reference to on several ocassions) and the very Garcia, against Luis Meurice, in the District 25 run.

Ric Herrero, executive director of the Miami-Dade Dems, said at a recent Latin American Democratic Club meeting in South Miami that the party had the same resources available to every Democrat candidate and that it was every member's right to support whomever. But, he did concede that there was more support for some candidates because they were seen as the most viable against the Republican name on the ballot and they want to win as many seats as possible. That's the same thing JC Hernandez, head of the local Republicans, and Javi Correoso, a party loyalist, Rivera staffer and now campaign manager, says about Rivera vs. Garcia.

Just one more way the two different parties are the same and one more reason why Ladra is registered independent (less campaign hate mail is another really good reason).

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Tale of Two Seats (so far)

Candidates in two Miami-Dade County Commission races have been spewing, sometimes reading, their rehearsed speeches in front of groups all over: Chamber South, (last week), Kendall Federation of Homeowners Association (Monday), and Christ Congregational Church in Palmetto Bay (Tuesday and for the District 8 candidates). Not everyone goes to all of them but Ladra (who has to) can tell you the candidates sound like broken records -- all of them.

Still, in the two races we've watched (districts 8 and 10), there really hasn't been much said.

While there are stark differences in personality and style between incumbent statesman Javier Souto, 71, and export company employee and single mom Miriam Mimi Planas, 43, in district 10, neither said much that was new at the KFHA meeting, where there were more campaign volunteers and consultants than candidates. Planas (who scores points with a frequent flyer proposal for transit toll payers) keeps harping on the Marlins stadium deal and acting like a cheerleader for term limits (we suppose those are issues, along with the budget, that challengers need to use). Souto, who has been in office for almost two decades, said he stood by his record (huh?) and almost refused to answer one question about the money for the Marlins stadium, telling the man in the audience to check the minutes of the meetings. (Perhaps he couldn't remember, which would have been a better answer.). He was also stiff and seemed uncomfortable and he did not even attend the Chamber forum. Whereas Planas is lively and social and funny and moves around (she has a friend who is a stand up comic and we wonder if she got tips) as she tries to connect with everyone in the audience.

The candidates in the district 10 race, to replace an exiting Katy Sorenson, are much more alike. They themselves say -- over and over again -- how cordial the campaigns have been and how much they respect and admire each other.

"We feel more like co-candidates than opponents," said banker Obdulio Piedra, a Pinecrest resident and former chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Hispanic Business Group.

"We are lucky in District 8 to have so many good candidates," said Annette Taddeo, who has owned a translation business for 15 years and lost her first bid for elected office when she ran for Congress against Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2008.

"I would have a hard time voting for one of us," said Albert Harum-Alvarez, who owns a software and computer consulting business and has been an active PTA member and community activist for more than 10 years.

(In private, though, they all say much less nice things about each other. Ladra knows. They say them to her).

Mayor Eugene Flinn, however, publicly hit Annette Taddeo with a zinger on Monday night when she was a no-show at the KFHA forum (she later said she had three other events and could not make it). "I know there are other things you can be doing," Flinn said, thanking the public for attending and even his opponents -- well, almost all of them. "I'm thankful for those who respected you enough to show up tonight," he told the audience.


Flinn did not fire the same kind of cannon at former Homestead Mayor Lynda Bell or Rabbi Danny Marmorstein, neither of who showed up at the church forum Tuesday. Marmorstein had supporter Ira Gordon go and read the same sermon, er, I mean opening remarks, from Monday night's forum. (Gordon was a lot less animated.) (And I guess Flinn knows who his real competition is.)

But there are very few clear cut differences other than the distinction banker Obdulio Piedra (who is backed by the LBA) made Tuesday night about being open to moving the UDB if and when the time comes. (Itals are mine, but it's how Ladra heard it). "I see no foreseeable reason to change the urban boundary line, but we also have to understand" how it affects our economy, Piedra said. "If the time did come when we need to do it... we take all the lessons from the past."

You gotta admire his honesty.

The other candidates, save for Lynda Bell, whose view was not heard Tuesday -- are all against moving the UDB, which is the westernmost boundary for development on the edge of the Everglades. (Taddeo maybe got the most dramatic about it: "When we no longer need to save our precious resource, water, in our Everglades. When we no longer need to save the little animals... that is when we move the line." Though Marmostein gets a supporting role nomination for holding up what we can only assume is a crumpled $20 bill as he reminds people that Election Day is on the anniversary of Hurricane Andrew's passing through much of the district 18 years ago and talks about "our current Andrew crisis." TV writers can get some material here!).

Other than that, it is almost like an echo chamber in this race. All six candidates are for term limits; all think more budget cuts can be made at the top rather than the bottom; all want to save the Airforce base in Homestead; all want the county to work with the school system to improve education; all say Jackson Health is a priority, all embrace green initiatives and most, if not all, support a hybrid commission with some seats elected at large.

All of them say the county still needs a professional day-to-day manager, no matter what the title is, but questioned the salaries at the top. "Why do we have a manager that makes twice as much as the chief of staff of the President of the United States," Taddeo asked.

Okay. There are some unique pitches:
  • Piedra suggests that all unincorporated areas are given a certain amount of time to either incorporate or annex into adjacent municipalities, letting smaller governments take care of services like zoning, giving the county more time to deal with the larger issues of transportation, the airport and seaport, health care and economic development. He also thinks the five housing agencies and different economic development agencies in the county could be consolidated. "Where is the money going? How many jobs have been created?"
  • Flinn proposes a 3-year plan for the budget. "It's going to take that long," he said. "There's a lot of shoes that need to be dropped. A lot of town meetings need to be held."
  • Taddeo wants to cut the international travel junkets and program she said is duplicated with another government office in Coral Gables and says her contacts in DC can help bring more federal funds to the county.
  • Albert Harum-Alvarez, who spent something like seven years building a green house in Continental Park where he gets $20 FPL bills, proposes a "building department concierge" service where developers who want to build in infill areas that need projects (areas he says have been neglected because it is easier to build elsewhere) are given red carpet treatment.
  • Bell says she helped get six parks built in Homestead in two years "on time and on budget" and wants to do the same thing at the county.
  • Marmorstein, who in addition to being the founding rabbi of Kendall synagogue Ahavat Olam (Hebrew for "Love of the World") runs his family's "multimillion dollar real estate business," drives a 1998 Toyota Camry with 157,000 miles on it. "If something works, I believe in using it. If not, recycle." But his education was in music and he has a conducting degree from UM. A musician in LA in the 70s (can we say hippie candidate?), Danny For Miami sang with The Carpenters. "Ironicaly, now being a rabbi, the only album I recorded with them was their Christmas album."
"You folks in District 8 have a tough decision to make," said WLRN's Ted Eldridge, who moderated the forum Tuesday. (It was recorded for later airing).

Christ Congregation Pastor Steve Hudder said it was the first time the church had a forum for the commission race, probably because the congregation has supported Sorenson for the last 16 years. But it was important to know who was vying to replace her, he told Ladra.

"This congregation is very politically engaged, a lot of the members are," Hudder said, even though there were less than a dozen there to hear the candidates. "We have people working for various campaigns and they appreciate the opportunity to have their candidates heard."

His wife Diane said she could tell a lot about the candidates from "who actually focused on the questions" and that it was very helpful. But she was only able to narrow it down to three possibles for her vote.

Jim Ketzel, a retired comptroller from FIU, said he was "delighted" to hear first hand from the different hopefuls and that he had narrowed it down to two: Flinn or Taddeo.

"I'm going to have to do more research," said Ketzel, who provided the question on if the candidates would move and when they might move the UDB line and whose wife Cindy took more notes than Ladra.

"We're going to go home now and sit down and go over them and compare our opinions. Let's see if we can agree on who to vote for or if we are going to support two different people."

There is yet another forum (this one hosted by a bevy of local Democrat Party clubs of different ethnic and national denominations) Thursday night in Pinecrest. (Can we get a debate somewhere instead? What happened to those?) Ladra is not holding her breath for anything different even if only because this is a table-top, expo-like "tradeshow" (their word, not mine. Truth is better than fiction) for Democrats only at the Bet Shira Congregation, 7500 SW 120th St. With this long list of candidates, it is hard to know how much we can learn in the 7 to 9 p.m. scheduled time. Invitees include US Senate candidates Kendrick Meek, Jeff Green and Maurice Ferre, US House hopefuls Joe Garcia and Luis Meurice, gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, CFO wannabe Lorraine Ausley, Attorney General candidates Dan Gelber and Dave Aronberg, Secretary of Agriculture candidate Scott Maddox, Florida House candidates Luis R. Garcia, Sandra Ruiz, Johnny Farias Millie Herrera, Robert Blanco, Jeff Solomon, Lisa Lesperance, Dwight Bullard, and Katie A. Edwards. While the county commission race is non partisan, noted Democrats Eugene Flinn and Annette Taddeo (District 8 race) and Jean Monastime (District 2) have also been asked to come. One candidate for community council, Patricia Davis.

"Tables will be set up for the candidates who will bring their 'wares,' campaign materials, volunteer sign-up sheets, signs, and the like," said the facebook event invitation from the Democratic Power Club in conjunction with the Coral Gables Area Democratic Club, Democrats of South Dade, Haitian American Democratic Club, Latin American Democratic Club
and the Ron Brown South Dade Democratic Caucus.

ers will mill around, visiting candidate tables at their leisure, allowing for more personal conversations," the invitation reads.

And Ladra will mill around, eavesdropping on those conversations for your benefit, dear readers.

Candidate could be off the ballot

Doral Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz was busy putting up campaign signs Wednesday, only hours after a Miami-Dade county court judge ruled the candidate for state rep (District 112) be removed from the Aug. 24 ballot because she failed to comply with the state's "resign to run" law.

That's because the judge also granted a stay until her attorneys have an opportunity to appeal the decision. They were set to file that appeal with the 3rd Disctrict Court of Appeals today (even as her primary election opponent made calls to leading local Dems trying to snatch endorsements as the only Dem on the ballot).

The ruling from Judge Jerald Bagley about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning came after more than half day of testimony last Friday in the lawsuit against Ruiz (Dem) filed by two opponents in the race, Johnny Farias (Dem) and Jeanette Nuñez (Rep). Their attorneys -- William Peña Wells and J.C. Planas, respectively -- argued that Ruiz had violated the statute, which requires candidates who are already electeds to resign from any seat where there could be overlap, because she did not file the document by the qualifying day deadline. Ruiz attorneys Joe Geller and Ben Kuehne argue that she was not required to resign because she is termed-out and another council member will be elected at the same time that voters elect a state rep, and will be in that seat.

It's a technicality, for sure. And Ladra believes that Ruiz is such a strong candidate that the opponents took advantage of the semantics here to interpret the law in a way that was not the intended purpose, which is to prevent a "back-door" opening for sitting elected candidates to fall back on if they lose a race to another office. Which is not the case here, obviously.

"I stand by what I did," Ruiz told me early this afternoon in a telephone interview. "I am term limited. Come Nov. 3, there will be a new council member in Doral. C'mon. Common sense tells you that my last day as a council member is Nov. 2.

"I'm not losing this election unless on a technicality on an overlap of a second," Ruiz added. "As they say, 'A stop is a stop.'" But you need to use wisdom in interpreting the law. What can you accomplish in a period of a couple of hours?

"I think it's an abuse of the system to strip the right of the voters to choose," she said of the lawsuit. "If this is the type of tactics they are going to implement, what can we expect from them in Tallahassee?"

She is not the only one who feels that way. Local DEC leaders and loyalists, along with high-profile electeds, think the lawsuit move was ugly.

"This is such a tricky, tacky move," said State Rep. Luis Garcia (D).

"The way to win an election is at the ballot box, not at the courthouse," said Garcia, who confirmed he had received a call from someone in Farias' campaign from the courthouse to announce the verdict - and presumably request Garcia transfer his support from Ruiz.

"I cut them off and said that I was going to wait for the appeal. And, I don't mean to say that I would support a Republican, but it is very hard for me as a Democrat to stomach the actions of Mr. Farias," Garcia told me, adding that other Dems were also disappointed.

"What kind of loyalty can we expect from him? What does he think the Democratic Party is going to like this? It leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths."

But Farias, an electrician, told Ladra several times that he only filed the lawsuit after he heard -- through what means, we don't know -- that Nuñez would file one after the primary if Ruiz (widely seen as the frontrunner) won Aug. 24. Nuñez, VP of exterior affairs for Kendall Regional Medical Center and Aventura Hospital and a former lobbyist for Jackson Health (who also worked for almost a decade as chief legislative aide to Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla), filed her injunction eight days after Farias did in June.

"If she would have won, they would have done this and look at what the outcome would have been," Farias said, adding that his attorney had "specific orders to sit back and let them do what they needed to do."

Ladra thinks almost any judge would not have been so amenable to hearing the arguments more than two months after the alleged violation and perhaps even see through the delay tactic. (Note to legislature: We would do wise by putting a deadline on motions like this).

But Farias said it was not something he wanted to leave to fate.

"That's not a chance I am willing to take. We have to be unselfish. Did we want a democrat in the general election, yes or no? If she had been removed we would have had no democrat in the race. Whats better to have a Democrat or no Democrat?"

Well, that depends on what your definition of a Democrat is. Because at the end of the day, if Farias succeeds in court, he gets a free ride to the November ballot at the 11th hour, depriving voters who are registered as Democrats the right to decide who they want to pit against the Rep primary winner in what most Dems believe is one of the most winnable 2010 seats now held by the other side (Rep. David Rivera, running for Congress).

Farias knows Ruiz is the frontrunner with experience and endorsements from the PBA, UTD, AFL-CIO, Jackson nurses and the Miami Herald and is seen as the most viable candidate against any of the primary Reps in a seat that Dems count on winning this year. This is his best chance at being on the November ballot (Some would say only. I say his best).

Monday, August 2, 2010

Forum tonight in Kendall

The Kendall Federation of Homeowners Association has invited a bunch of candidates to their monthly meeting tonight for an informal forum where their members could get to know them.

Invites went out to candidates for Miami-Dade Commission in districts 8 and 10, School Board districts 6 and 7 and Community Councils 11 and 12. But as of Sunday, KFHA President Miles Moss said only the candidates in the school board district 7 race and the county commission district 10 race had RSVPd. (But there is another forum solely for District 8 candidates Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at Christ Congregational Church 14920 SW 67th Ave.

For tonight's event, Moss said both incumbent Javier Souto and challenger Mimi Planas had confirmed their attendance at the meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Kendall Village Center 8625 SW 124 Ave. But he had not heard from any of the six candidates in the district 8 race to replace Katy Sorenson, who announced she would not seek reelection.

All five of the District 7 School Board race -- Nathasha Alvarez, Eddy Barea, Carlos Curbelo, Libby Perez and Juliana Velez -- told Miles they would come.

He also hopes to discuss some of the charter amendments "if time permits," Miles said.

But we can't see how. An hour has been set aside for the forum and each candidate is getting five minutes to introduce themselves before they take questions from the audience, according to the organizations email.

We are happy that there is this opportunity for voters to have access to the candidates but wonder how much they can really learn. Ladra hopes the hopefuls stick around after to answer questions and rub elbows with their intended masses.