Monday, January 24, 2011

Another Julio Robaina hints at run

Former State Rep. Julio Robaina (Rep., District 116) hinted Tuesday evening he could run for Miami-Dade County Commission.

And he did it on facebook.

Robaina posted a status update about 7 p.m. telling his 3,361 friends that he had met with a group of residents who wanted him to run. That's campaign code for "what do you all think?" He got a pretty good show of support: 60 thumbs up and 35 comments by midnight that were pretty much all encouragement.

Well, 34. Robaina (who termed out last year after he lost a Senate race against Miguel Diaz de la Portilla) himself clarified it would be in the seat now held by Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who has been publicly debated as a potential candidate for the mayor's race and who told a group of Kendall homeowners last week he was taking it into serious consideration.

If he jumps, Gimenez would be going up against, among lesser-known candidates, another former State Rep. Marcelo Llorente and the other Julio Robaina, the mayor of Hialeah, who announced earlier this month he would run for the countywide title.

Who might go up against the other Julio Robaina for the District 7 seat, which includes South Miami, Coral Gables, Pinecrest, Key Biscayne and parts of Miami. (Hint: Look at the sitting electeds there). Ladra expects it to be a crowded race, but very interesting.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Shores Councilman Goes for Mayor

Looks like Miami Shores Councilman Prospero Guillermo Herrera is starting his strategy to go to the Miami-Dade County Commission.

Herrera announced on facebook this morning that he would run in the council elections this spring. But we know it's just another stepping stone.

Last summer, after Ladra saw him at several high-profile fundraisers and meet-and-greets outside his little town, we figured he was preparing a run for a higher seat. We asked him at the RPOF Victory office grand opening in West Kendall and he said he was looking at the Miami-Dade County Commission seat in his district -- now occupied by Sally Heyman.

But first, he told us, he hopes to make mayor in the April elections in Miami Shores, where the top vote getter among the council members elected is named mayor. Then he hopes to run for county commission in Heyman's seat -- who was re-elected with no opposition last year.

We think Prospero (which is the best political name Ladra has ever heard, btw) has very good prospects of representing his area at the county level.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A tale of two contrasting recalls

Maybe the two separate recall efforts in Miami-Dade are marked by two main differences: Money and margin of error.

Norman Braman, who spoke to a group of business leaders at the Biltmore Hotel about his recall effort against Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, is pretty certain he can withstand any challenge to the validity of the 107,000 or so petitions approved by the county clerk last month.

While the mayor's team is reportedly going over the petitions to look for a loophole or challenge, they will have a hard time: Only about 52,000 of those, or less than half, have to pass muster.

But the millionaire car dealer has less confidence that another group's recall of Miami-Dade Commissioner Natacha Seijas will stay on the ballot. Maybe because they need at least 3,571 of their 4,370 or so petitions to clear inspection.

"They just didn't get enough and sure signatures," Braman said, after mentioning earlier that the process should be changed to make it less burdensome and expensive.

"I paid for a valid process. I had 14 people working full time only on that, making sure that al the Is were dotted and all the Ts were crossed," Braman said. "I don't think Vanessa [Brito, the Miami Voice PAC chair] had the ability to do all that. But I wish her luck, I really do."

Lawyers for Seijas have gone to court to challenge the petition process undertaken by the Miami Voice PAC saying they found what are potentially far too many invalid signatures for the group to have met their required threshold of 4 percent of the registered voters in District 13.

Said Braman: "If they lose, they lose on the process."

Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi is representing the Miami Voice PAC pro-bono and moved to block the review of the process and testimony from petitioners earlier this week. But Circuit Judge Amy Steele Donner set a Feb. 7 hearing and told Seijas attorneys' to send the subpoenas.

One of two public notaries responsible for 85 percent of the petitions will be questioned Friday.

Braman gets equal time with LABA

Norman Braman, the man behind the effort to oust Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez from office, faced had a tough crowd at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables Wednesday night where he spoke to more than 100 business owners and executives at a Latin American Business Association meeting.

Light, polite applause was rare and mostly when Braman acknowledge that Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, who announced he would run for county mayor, was in the room and at the end of his speech, when he quoted Jose Marti. Even Marili Cancio, one of the original recall and a failed hopeful for the Republican box in the U.S. house race won by David Rivera, acknowledged that the crowd was not too receptive. "I was the one who started the clapping every time," she said.

Braman made the visit to the group for equal facetime (Alvarez was there in November) and went over the reasons why he had sought the recall: the tax hike, administrative salaries over $200,000, mismanagement at JMH, the Marlins stadium deal and the proposed port tunnel topped those. "I could go on and on," he said, and did, adding misinvestment of federal monies and foreclosure rates.

Then he went over a list of accomplishments the mayor had been cited for and one-by-one ridiculed them or diminished them. Electronic voting machines? "I applaud the mayor for that. I give him full credit," Braman said. "I expect them to work on March 15."

He talked about other resources and obscure initiatives and asked people who used or benefited from them to raise their hands. "One person. Oh, two."

The sarcasm was met with silence.

"I have mixed emotions," Raul Garcia told Ladra later, echoing many others who spoke on condition they not be quoted.

Barbara Howard, a government consultant who sits on the LABA board and does not support the mayor's recall, was the only person who asked a question publicly -- and her tone might have been mistaken for almost hostile.

"Was it not possible to wait until his term was up? He cannot run again," Howard said. "Is it worth what it's going to cost the county."

Braman had estimated the special election will cost the county $5 million. But he added that the mayor's term does not end for another two years. "That's two more budgets. I don't think we can afford to more budgets.

"And $5 million is a very inexpensive price to pay for a change in government," Braman said.

LABA Vice Chairman Rick Rodriguez Piña confirmed to Ladra that much of the group was still on the fence about the mayoral recall. "They're undecided," he said, although he thinks it will pass because the people who signed the petition will be more motivated to vote than those who didn't.

"This is a good group. It is a business organization. These are people who are impacted by this initiative," Rodriguez Piña said. "We heard Mayor Alvarez. It's important for our community to hear Mr. Braman's position. Now let us make our own decision."

LABA will likely have Robaina and Marcelo Lorens, another mayoral candidate, speak at the next meeting, Rodriguez Piña said.

"We want to educate our business community and let them hear from the candidates."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gift to recall PAC may be illegal

Almost half of the money raised by the Miami Voice PAC in their effort to recall Miami-Dade Commissioner Natacha Seijas might be an illegal contribution.

As published earlier in this blog, the PAC -- which filed petitions last month to put Seijas on the same ballot as Mayor Carlos Alvarez -- reported almost $13,000 in contributions as of Dec. 31, including $5,000 from Myami Marketing, the firm owned by the PAC founder and chairwoman.

Because she admitted to Ladra that she made that contribution in proxy for a client, she may have committed a crime.

According to Florida Statutes, it is a first degree misdemeanor to knowingly and intentionally make a donation to a candidate or a PAC with somebody else's money. When someone does it twice, it becomes a felony, said Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Joseph Centorino, who heads the public corruption unit.

"It totally subverts the entire purpose of public disclosure laws if someone makes a contribution on behalf of someone else," Centorino said, using the term "laundering" and speaking only in general terms. He did say he would welcome information on anything like that. (Done.)

PAC Chairwoman Vanessa Brito -- who owns Myami Marketing and reactivated the corporation in Florida records on Dec. 15, two days before making the contribution -- would not return our calls. And two messages left with the PAC attorney, Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, have not been answered.

But last week, Brito said she got the funds from a "client" who gave it to her for the recall effort (read: funnel). She would not disclose who that client was and said it was the true donor's "prerogative" to disclose that. (Well, apparently, not according to Florida statutes.)

So, I'm asking publicly, since she won't tell: Will the real contributor to the Miami Voice PAC please stand up?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Give Us The Facts, Recall PAC

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we gotta hear Miami-Dade Commissioner Natacha Seijas out.

(For relevance of this photo, keep reading).

I know. I know. My friends’ mouths drop open, too, and my stomach is turning. But this does not mean I do not support a recall effort against the woman portrayed as the wicked witch of the Northwest. I will vehemently defend the voters’ right to recall any elected official deemed deserving of the dishonor.

Just maybe not this recall effort.

Not unless the founders and leaders of the Miami Voice PAC that filed the petitions for the commissioner’s recall – paid political campaign operatives who do not live in District 13, not citizen activists as they claim to be – come clean, or clear rather, about their hidden agenda, hidden campaign money and what is reportedly a huge number of serious and not-so-serious petition problems.

Not until they practice what they preach.

The PAC lost its bid Tuesday to block a lawsuit that challenges the petition process that put Seijas on the recall ballot. She will have her day in court. But why would the PAC want to deny her that if everything was done above board? At first, they argued the lawsuit was a delay tactic because it was to Seijas’ disadvantage (and, therefore, their advantage) to be on the same ballot as Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, the target of a separate recall effort funded by millionaire auto dealer Norman Braman.

But now that’s a moot point. The county commission has already approved two recalls in one ballot. There is nothing to lose from a review that can take place while the Miami Voice PAC continues to campaign. Well, nothing to lose but a tiny piece of democracy.

PAC members clearly and far too adamantly do not want anyone to look at the petitions more closely or review the process, which may have been rushed in order to meet the deadline to get the two recalls on the same ballot. That’s smart, strategically speaking. Except that MAYBE, in the zeal to make it happen, corners were cut and shortcuts were taken and all the legal requirements were not met. I commend the chutzpah and the hard work of right-minded volunteers to try to meet that deadline. But, if someone -- anyone, I don't care who -- raises issues or concerns about the process, and shows cause, then it behooves us to get them clarified.

And there is cause. A circuit judge agreed on Tuesday, ruling against a PAC motion to suppress the deposition of petition takers (again, what do they fear these people might say? Now, I want to hear from them more.) and setting a hearing for the arguments Feb. 7.

We are not talking about a little “typo on a form,” as PAC founder and chairwoman Vanessa Brito said to the press outside the downtown courthouse. Seijas attorneys’ Stephen Cody and Kendall Coffey, well-respected members of the 305 legal community, say there are hundreds upon hundreds of questionable petitions. Perhaps as many as half of the 4,216 signatures could be invalid, Cody said. At least enough so that the PAC does not meet its required threshold to represent 4 percent of the elected voters.

“Once is an oversight. Over 120 times smells of conspiracy to commit election fraud,” Cody told me. And he was referring solely to the 121 signatures collected by a Marsellous Eaford that Cody will argue were not collected personally by her, also as required by law.

"Whoever spelled out that name on those certificates, spelled Marsellous with a C. And you may forget a lot of things, but the first thing you learn in kindergarten is how to spell your name," Cody said, adding that the misspelled certificates are written in five or six different handwritings.

In another instance, Cody alleges that about half of the 600 petitions collected by former Miami Lakes Councilman George Lopez (who would not comment on his role when I called him) were written out in a different handwriting than his. Miami Voice got a lot of support in Miami Lakes, which is square in Seijas' district, including pro-bono representation from the town Mayor Michael Pizzi, who spearheaded a failed 2006 recall against Seijas.

Pizzi, who was seen at events with the PAC leadership in the town collecting signatures, seemed to distance himself from the group when we spoke. "I am not part of the Miami Voice recall effort. I am assisting them as an attorney," Pizzi told me, adding that he had not had time to review all the petitions, but had gone over some.

"From what I've seen, I'm not aware of, I have no idea about anything inappropriate."

Maybe he isn’t as sure of his client's innocence as he was when he jumped in too quickly without looking and is now doing the backstroke. Some say it’s more nefarious than that. Rumors that he is behind the $5,000 donated to the PAC by the chairwoman’s own firm, Myami Marketing, even caused a buzz at town hall last week, online versions getting printed and handed over to the town manager to look into.

When Ladra asked him, Pizzi said Brito “volunteered” to help him get some Spanish media outlets at a check redistribution event. “But I did not know she wrote a press release, I did not approve a press release and she absolutely was not paid for it,” Pizzi told Ladra.

Well, maybe not a check cut by the city. I doubt a public records request of the city's expenses last month would turn up a payment. But she was paid by someone for something.

According to campaign finance disclosure records filed earlier this month, Miami Voice raised almost $13,000 as of Dec. 31, including $5,000 from Braman (it is in his best interest to have her on the ballot, too) and another $5,000 from the slightly less affluent Brito, through her Myami Marketing firm, an inactive Florida corporation until reactivated two days before the contribution to the PAC Dec. 17.

In fact, Brito admitted to Ladra that Myami Marketing got the $5,000 from one of her clients, a consulting company, specifically for the campaign. (Is that even legal? Commission on Ethics please?) But she refused to disclose the name of the “client” (which I will just guess maybe she didn’t have before the recall effort because she had no company prior to Dec. 15).

"We have nothing to hide,” Brito said. Well, um, not exactly. You are hiding the identity of the source of funding.

“If my client wants to come forward, that’s their prerogative.”

Really? Isn’t that the definition of special interest? Who is the puppeteer here? How can we follow the money if the trail is hidden behind phony contributors? When she is subpoenaed, will Brito, a medal-worthy question-dodger and spin doctor, continue to sidestep the issue of who is truly funding her “grassroots citizen effort” that included public notaries (the two who approved 85 percent of the petitions will be among those deposed) “up until the wee hours of the night, two and three o’clock in the morning, notarizing forms and petitions.”

Really? Three in the morning? With the petition collectors present, of course!

Brito won’t call me back now. The last time we spoke on the phone she repeatedly refused to disclose the source of her funneled $5,000 gift to the PAC. She also said it was inappropriate for me to ask questions and write about this because I have a personal axe to grind. I never carry an axe. They are too heavy and I have binoculars and a magnifying glass and public records request forms and other tools that I am much better with than an axe.

Here is my full disclosure: Brito and I once worked together when, briefly during a temporary episode of complete lunacy, I dabbled in political media consulting. That ended after several strange "boundary-challenged" incidents for which she had/has a stream of excuses and what I consider a difference in ethical standards that centered mostly around the creation of her first PAC, the TaxPayer Coalition, which would be a front to support the candidates she was working for. (Photo above are the PAC board, Brito and Carlos Alvarez, then campaign manager for state house candidate Johnny Farias, and another Farias volunteer, at a Doral event for the PAC in November 2009).

But, while my doubts on this PAC may be supported by history and inside knowledge, my concern is not personal.

Ladra is not barking because of my professional/personal history with Brito or other PACkers. But they would have me silenced because of it? That’s just as bad as being baited by it, isn’t it?

No, Ladra is barking because she smells something. Maybe someone's bacon?

And here is the best part: If the process was not corrupted, the legal challenge will fail and the recall campaign is that much stronger for its transparency. Yay! But that makes the question louder: Why is the PAC fighting that so hard?

Again, to be clear: I am not saying the commissioner should stay in office, I vehemently defend the right of voters to recall any elected official they deem fit and I also believe the current requirements need reform because they seem too burdensome. But that does not mean a small group of politically-connected insiders with a hidden agenda (I almost want them to succeed so we can see who runs for office and who runs the campaign…) can take little shortcuts in the law here and there so they can make their deadline and get onto a ballot that gives them a political marketing advantage just because we agree with them. The end does not justify the means.

I mean, what if it were the LBA or a new PAC called You're Welcome David Rivera. See? We have to apply the same scrutiny and expectation of transparency across the board. We cannot demand public disclosure from some and not from others. Is this the kind of campaign we can expect from the candidate the PAC will bring forward to replace Seijas? (My guess is that the lucky winner is already hand-picked and in training).

There is no delay tactic. Seijas is already on the ballot. Why doesn’t Miami Voice let the court review the process while they continue to raise funds for the recall campaign (but this time, let us know where the money comes from).

It seems they would not waste resources in this court battle if they did not know already that they don’t have the required 4 percent of the signatures needed.

And they say they are the voice of the people? What people? Prove it.