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")
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.
"Voters 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.