The mayoral race in Coral Gables has been hard to watch, kind of like a scary movie that makes you wince and cover your eyes from time to time. The dramatic battle between two old friends turned foes apparently has a mysterious twist where all these players from the national political circles get involved behind the scenes. Some people have publicly wrought their hands over the nightmare scenario: incumbent mayor Don Slesnick and his former-friend-turned-vicious-opponent opponent Tom Korge -- who has taken to compare Slesnick to recalled county mayor Carlos Alvarez (in an opportunistic stab to grab some of that voter outrage) split the votes among their shared circles and leave the spoils to James Cason, former chief of the U.S. Interest section in Cuba, who really has no place in this race next to two men who have made Coral Gables their lives.
Ladra has learned through three different parties -- they all have vested interests, of course, but their information is consistent, nonetheless -- that two separate polls conducted months apart show that Slesnick has always kept a solid lead in the 40-some percentile. Both polls show Cason keeping a 20-some percent support -- no loss, no gain -- which may indicate only solid support from the same group of Cuban GOP voters he had on Day 1. Korge went up slightly from under 10 percent to just over 10 percent, but still below Cason, which surprised Ladra. At least Korge, who has lived in the Gables for 21 years, has been active, chairing the planning and zoning committee since forever and once chairing the pension board as well (though that doesn't bode well). Ladra thought he would do better in these polls, but he's also had a harder time raising money for his campaign since Slesnick decided to throw his hat back in. More than two thirds of the $150,000 in contributions were made last year. In the same time he's been able to collect about $43,000, the incumbent got busy to make up for lost time and took in almost $194,000 as of last week's reports. He's going to need some of that for TV, apparently, after Ladra saw his positively Don "positive Gables" commercial during David Letterman last week (great placement!).
Ladra has had many differences of opinion with Slesnick, who had actually written editors to try to get her fired or reassigned when she worked at the daily covering the city commission (it's not his fault, he doesn't understand unbiased reporting). But we have to say that we hope he is re-elected one last time (and we mean one last time, Don). The alternatives are just too uncertain.
Let's do Cason first because he's easier. He's unqualified. Period. He made a fine U.S. diplomat (arguably) but that gives him no experience at the local level, evidenced by some of the things he says which make it look like he's still thinking in federal terms. We don't care that his campaign manager Jorge de Cardenas was convicted in 1997 of obstruction for his role as bagman to former city manager Cesar Odio in a corruption sting, but is widely considered a hero for not ratting out friends and, in fact, warning them about the investigation. But his cell block council election strategies have definitely raised some eyebrows in tony Gables. We think it's just another sign of Cason's arrogance. Here is a guy who he buy a Gables house from a real estate broker in 2009 for $870,000 (on the fixed income of a retiree), not attend any commission meetings or work on any boards, and get elected because of his anti-Castro background? Is this 1983? Some people have openly worried that Tom Korge and Slesnick split the vote so evenly that Cason steals it. Ladra thought that might be a possibility, but that was before we heard about the polls and Korge turned the campaign into high gear, comparing the mayor to recalled county mayor Carlos Alvarez and getting a push from none other than former president Bill Clinton (more on that later). Korge should know that kind of thing might backfire in the Gables.
We are going to go with the polls and give this win to Slesnick, not because we want to mind you, but because we have to. Like many people in the Gables who don't know the name Tom Korge but might know the name of his brother, Ladra wonders how much influence brother Chris Korge -- who plays with the big boys on the national Democratic scene -- will wield over the Gables dais. It was obviously not Tom but Chris -- a major fundraiser who served as national finance chair for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign -- who got Bill Clinton to do a robocall for his brother Sunday afternoon. Christopher Korge is apparently helping his brother raise funds, too, making Tom Korge's financial reports one of the most time-consuming and interesting. Chris Korge, who did not respond to email requests to contact me, has really invested at least $5,000 and probably more, though he takes some pains to hide it. Several of his Newslink and retail concession companies have donated, other Korge companies have donated, and so have a number of members of the Kayal family, relatives we assume because of common addresses, of Ray Kayal, the registered agent of all Christopher Korge's companies (report is online at http://www.coralgables.com/CGWeb/documents/city_clerk_docs/TomKorge.pdf). He also is likely the reason why Tom Korge got contributions from some high profile sources like $500 donations from former U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek, 49th chairman of the Democratic National Committee Terence "Terry" McAuliffe, who served also as co chair of Bill Clinton's 1996 re-elecction campaign and chair ofthe 2008 Hillary campaign, and Barry Goldmeier, who was one of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink's point people in South Florida (and is now working for mayoral candidate Carlos Gimenez). Or non-profile people like Megan Mirza, who lives in Bloomfield Hills MI and gave $30,000 to Democrat Party PACs and candidates (she sent Korge $200) and Najla Tounous, an attorney with Houston's Small Business Administration (who gave $500 from her family and who I suspect Chris Korge will someday help get elected), DC political consultant Jonathan Mantz (gave $500) and Rajiv Fernando, a marketing consultant in Chicago, who has given at least $2,400 to the Clintons himself and fundraised as well. It's just a little weird to see all these big Democratic Party players in this little Gables race. Korge is also using Prestigious Strategies in Alexandria, VA, -- a major consulting and campaign firm used by Democrats -- for some of his printing and mailing and local campaign Democratic Party vendor Jeff Garcia of Palm Media.
So now we give the solid win to Slesnick because we know Gables voters don't know what to make of all this big behind the scenes maneuverings and usually they do not like it. The big heavy Democratic Party hand in this race will turn some voters completely off and make them vote against Korge. So will the opportunistic use of not one but two mailers that compare Slesnick to recalled county mayor Carlos Alvarez. One says "Just like former Mayor Carlos Alvarez," over and over again. "Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick has gambled with our money and we lost." The ads have playing cards with the photos of both Alvarez and Slesnick and the headline "Two of a kind."
Others will simply think him rude and greedy because he jumped in front of Kerdyk in line. He should have ran for commissioner and let Kerdyk run for mayor. Slesnick could have gone on his cruise. (More on that later).