Coral Gables Commission candidate Gonzalo Sanabria was not too happy to see Ladra Tuesday night at his Miracle Mile fundraiser. Neither was political consultant Keith Donner, who said outside Randazzo's Little Italy (owned by Bill Clinton pal and Democratic Party fundraiser Jim Ferrero) that he is not working for Sanabria.
That's why The Accountability Project -- an "electioneering" committee (read: PAC) he founded in August -- produced two mass mail pieces, one in favor of Sanabria and another smearing front runner Brad Rosenblatt, still a favorite despite the negative attacks and bad media attention. (Ladra says it is between Rosenblatt and Quesada and Sanabria comes in a solid third).
Ladra was late (she wasn't invited and got tipped off about the event, but, okay, she's always late) and didn't get to see Donner mingle with Sanabria y supporters. But he was only there peripherally at the invitation of his friend and client Commissioner Ralph Cabrera (who might have been happy to see Ladra if his 2009 campaign manager hadn't run away when he introduced them). We do believe that Cabrera's sudden public endorsment of Sanabria on Sunday -- the same day he agreed to record those robocalls for Sanabria and join the Tuesday night host committee -- gave Donner a good reason (read: cover) to go to the fete. Otherwise he would have skipped it because he is not working on Sanabria's team.
His client might, however, be the Coral Gables FOP, which endorsed Sanabria and may be on the PACs contributors list when it is filed next week. If the FOP paid for the mailers, it's really semantics, isn't it? And smug, no? Because, wouldn't a man as smart and wily as Donner know that is what we mean? Couldn't he easily say "Yes, the Project's new project is to push Sanabria on behalf of our client, the FOP. And there is absolutely nothing wrong or inappropriate about bringing to light serious issues that another candidate has taken great pains to hide." That's accountability. That's leading by example. That's something that might have made a bigger difference in the vote count come this Tuesday. (More on that later). But I am sure I will be surprised here with a twist later, because I cannot imagine that I am the only one that gets this. I am not as smart and wily as these political golfcart drivers.
"I'm not smart," said Donner, who nonetheless had the acumen to pick his own company, 50 Blue, to do mail and ad pieces for more than $20,000 of the $48,000 spent last year by the PAC. (New reports with the first quarter's transactions should be filed by Monday). "I'm astounded that people will hire me," he added. See? You are smart.
Donner and I first met more than 10 years ago, when I covered the Gables for our city daily and he led the annexation effort in High Pines, where he still lives. He answered my emails and photos then. He posed for a photo or two on Tuesday, pero maybe yo me aproveche because he couldn't really politely blow me off in front of all those contributors standing feet away. He waited half a block as Ladra walked with him and Cabrera to Seasons 52 where they were to have drinks. In retrospect, Ladra should have definitely taken up Cabrera's invitation to join them, even if I had a virgin something and paid it myself -- especially since hearing there may have been a public tense few moments between the commissioner and the brother of another candidate. (More on that later, I certainly hope). But Donner would have probably said he suddenly remembered he had to be somewhere. He was visibly not too happy that I had shown up unannounced and seemed terribly uncomfortable with my questions, which he answered vaguely or not at all, when he wasn't poking fun at my sneakers. "Are those bowling shoes?" Does anybody know if that is some kind of sarcastic dark humor or obscure movie reference? Because, really, they don't look like bowling shoes.
Asked if he hired Vanessa Brito, a separate PACker who led the recall of former county commissioner Natacha Seijas, to lead the Project's smear campaign against mayoral candidate Carlos Gimenez, Donner -- who worked on founding Palmetto Bay Mayor Eugene Flinn's district 8 county commission bid last November (lost to Lynda Bell), a candidate Brito also stumped for -- stalled. "It says so on the press release," he finally uttered. I told him I had to confirm it because word on the street was that Brito had deniedlready making the comments. He stopped walking away for a few seconds and turned back. "She did?" He would not say how much the PAC was paying her. "I'm not going to answer any of your questions," Donner said, you know, being his accountable self. Can't wait to see that report. He practically begged us to stop asking. "This is getting sad," he said, I guess thinking that Ladra might be shaken into leaving him alone so that he thinks we're cool. You know, this is a already really sad.
Brito -- who is also on Norman Braman's payroll and could soon be working on a city of Miami commission race for the billionaire car dealer-turned-self-proclaimed-ambassador-of-the-people -- would not return two telephone calls and an email from Ladra requesting clarification and context, but word on the street and on the sell-out Genius of Desperation's self-serving blog is that she has denied making those statements. What the Real Genius, who is slowly but surely losing all credibility, did not point out is that Brito stands by her comments in the Miami Herald and is a protege of pollster Dario Moreno, who is officially working for Sanabria ($2,500 as of Dec. 31). Really, you have to visualize the flow chart. Brito cut her political teeth at FIU's Metropolitan Center think tank, where she worked as a press spokesperson while Moreno, chair of the political science department, was director. They mentor and his student are chummy in an online photo at the Havana Club in 2008. (http://www.miamiurbanlife.com/photo/1256554:Photo:305739?context=user) That year, after he conducted an "independent poll" that showed Lincoln Diaz-Balart way ahead of former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez in the congressional race, financial disclosure forms show that Diaz-Balart paid Moreno $5,000 to work on the campaign. No wonder they are smiling. Moreno and Donner are working together, whether Donner wants to admit it or not, to help Sanabria through the project. Maybe Moreno gave Brito a good word with Donner. Will be looking very closely for money trails Monday.
Among the things we will search for are further monies tied to the county mayoral campaign of Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina (monies likely earmarked for the anti-Gimenez drive). Donner repeated to me Tuesday that he was not working for county mayoral candidate Julio Robaina. But the Project PAC got it's first $10,000 of nearly $100,000 in contributions (more than most of the Gables candidates) from another PAC chaired by Julio Ponce, the director of the Hialeah Housing Authority and a close personal friend and ally of Robaina's. So it's pretty much the same thing as the cops funding Sanabria's campaign through his PAC.
"I don't like working for candidates. It's a lot easier..." Donner said, and he didn't finish but Ladra apologizes because she couldn't help interrupt for clarification, and Donner got impatient. So we will finish that sentence for Donner -- who also formed a few PACs in Miami Beach when he ran a candidate's 2009 campaign there -- in a truly accountable way: "It's a lot easier to hide... behind PACs and EOCs with words like 'truth' or 'voice' or 'accountability' or 'clean-up' in their names and less limits and transparency on how they collect and spend to sway voters with negative attacks, emotional rhetoric and panic buttons that can't be directly connected to a candidate."
Oh, and it's probably easier to steer more than $20,000 worth of campaign pr to your own company, 50 Blue." f the the $48,000 in said Donner, who of course chose his company, 50 blue, to do mail and ad pieces for more than $20,000 of the $48,000 spent last year by the PAC. (New reports with the first quarter's transactions should be filed by Monday).
That is why I don't like PACs and EOCs. I want to. They could be a wonderful democratic tool and citizen alternative for grass roots movements and have been in some cases, as when the Concerned Citizens of Coral Gables PAC basically led the charge to elect an entire new slate in 2001 after the incumbents voted to close Biltmore Way and build a multi-million annex to City Hall. But that avenue can also be abused by special interests, lobbyists with future financial gains at stake and professional political operatives -- not activists or community groups -- to manipulate the process. There is something fishy when a billionaire businessman pours $1 million of "his own money" (uh huh) into three separate PACs to recall a mayor elected by the majority (not me) when it really does not change any of the things that fueled the valid and overdue voter outrage. There is something fishy -- and highly illegal -- when a professional spin doctor and campaign manager funnels a $5,000 donation to her own opportunistic PAC for a third party who wants to remain anonymous (can they spell "laundering"? No, they can't even spell Natacha's name right). There is something fishy when a PAC with an ironically unfit name gets a $10,000 gift from another PAC with a similarly ironic name formed in 2008 by Hialeah insiders who raised more than $300,000 to oppose slot machines in Miami-Dade, not because they were truly opposed to gambling, but as political payback to legislators who did not include Hialeah Race Track in the venues allowed to enjoy the new gambling revenue (the measure passed anyway and the race track was later included).
We asked Sanabria if he had donated to Donner's PAC and he said he had not. He did confirm he had a poll conducted -- by Dario Moreno, of course -- to track front runners (and voters reported getting calls asking them "if the election were today, who would you vote for?" type of questions). But he wouldn't say if he placed first, second or third. Which Ladra knows means he didn't place first or second.
"This is not a press event," Sanabria said to me. Which reminds me to remind candidates and other public persons who think that press conferences, official websites and media releases are the only legitimate ways to gather unbiased information to wake up and have a cortadito!