Maybe it's because Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and rapper-turned-political-columnist Luther Campbell, the most colorful of the county mayoral candidates, were no shows, but the forum Monday night presented by DFAM at some union building in Allapattah was a real snoozefest.
Don't take it from me. Ask anyone who was there. Better yet, ask those who left early, in the midst of the monologues. Like Ernesto "Flaco" Peña and his wife Leann Perez, who said they had gone to get a feel for the candidates and weren't tremendously impressed by anyone -- but were certainly turned off by one or two. Most notably, they said, they didn't learn anything new. "I can't believe we took an hour away from the kids," Perez said.
Even some of the candidates were bored, especially since a third of the 60 people in the audience were campaign operatives or press. About 20 were local card-carrying electricians we suspect were summoned when the place still looked empty. After the meeting Ladra asked former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez if that look on his face during the forum reflected the feeling in my gut that this was a colossal waste of time. "Absolutely," said Gimenez (photographed here with former State Rep. Marcelo Llorente). Gimenez had closed by telling the small group that it was "impossible to sum up 36 years of public service in 90 seconds" and urged them to go to his website.
It wasn't anyone's fault, really. This kind of format, eight candidates passing a microphone along the line, one by one answering the same lame question as the Miami Herald's Matt Haggman pulled names out of a hat to determine the order. Each chanted their slogans when it came their turn. Economist Farid Khavari, who lost a mayoral race last year: "I'm not running for mayor. I'm running to fix the economy." Eddie Lewis, who lost a race for property appraiser: "I'm a John Doe. I'm the people's choice." Jose "Pepe" Cancio, a businessman who has served as interim commissioner: "I'm the only candidate who has served as vice president of the Florida Concrete and Products Accociation." County employee Jeffrey Lambert: "I'm not taking one dollar from anyone. I'm not a rich person... but I am not going to owe anyone anything."
They had 90 seconds to answer questions that were emailed in advance to DFAM's Barbara Walters that offered nothing new from what has been repeated over and over again. Except for the transit issues. That was new. Not really exciting, but new to this race, anyway. And because it accounted for two of the five questions (the usual suspects: term limits, Jackson and the projected budget shortfall), we have to wonder if the last minute entry of former Miami-Dade Transit Director Roosevelt Bradley (second from the right, in the photo above, with Gabrielle Redfern, Marcelo Llorente and Eddie Lewis) has brought this on. Not that it would come from his camp. Bradley was fired in 2007 after allegations of widespread mismanagement and lack of financial controls and someone might be wanting to remind voters or draw a connection to his tenure -- although he boasts of meeting budgets every year -- and the yanking of $180 million in transit monies that the federal government earmarked for us and then said, "Whoa! What the heck are we doing throwing this money out?"
Still, Bradly said one of the best lines of the night when each of the candidates were asked how they would address a projected shortfall in the county budget. "I know where all the bones are buried," Bradley said, adding that he would cut take-home cars and cellphones. But are those all the "bones" and did Bradley mean "bones" as in squandered resources and opportunities for savings or did he mean it like "where all the bodies are buried," which could refer to incriminating information he may have. Either way, he now has to give up the bones. Whether he is elected or not (and Ladra will predict right now he comes out under county employee Jeffrey Lambert), he has to tell us where those bones are and what the heck he is talking about. We can't let him go home in shame again knowing where the bones are buried. Right?
Which reminds me to go back to Robaina. Walters told Ladra that she had called him and emailed him repeatedly and never got a response. Cancio joked about it after all the candidates lined up for a group photo on stage. "Where is Mayor Robaina?" Some of the campaign staff of other candidates joked that, unlike the LBA, this was not seen as a friendly group for him. One quipped that perhaps he was trying to become the million dollar man and was out stumping for more contributions to add to his $611,000 campaign bank.
Ladra will have to call Robaina and ask, but at a decent hour.