Monday, April 18, 2011

MIA fire union in Kate's camp?

It's not official yet, but the Miami Firefighter's union -- which has publicly aired its issues with city commissioner Marc Sarnoff -- are most likely going to support one of his challengers, the polished and polite and professional Kate Callahan in the district 2 race.

The endorsement is not out, but Robert Suarez, president of Miami Association of Fire Fighters spent Friday with her with her at St. Thomas University's symposium on ethics and law. They definitely looked like they were there together. Suarez has not returned several calls for comment.

Ladra wondered if Suarez, in this photo on Callahan's right (panelist Merritt Stierheim on the left), has spent as much time with the other candidates. Forget Sarnoff. The firefighters don't trust the commissioner they endorsed in 2007. Suarez was quoted in the Daily Business Review as saying that the union members have a "distaste" for Sarnoff because he has "undermined" their rights (read: benefits). But what about Donna Milo, a community activist and former planning advisory board vice chair who ran for Congress last year? Or William Armbrister, whoever that is? Her campaign manager, Emiliano Antuñez, said they have not heard from the group at all. Or Michelle Niemeyer, who serves on the Coconut Grove Village Council with Callahan? (Bet Council members and friends had a busy last week with fundraisers for both Niemeyer -- at News Lounge -- and Callahan, at some secret spot). Neimeyer told Ladra that she had not met Suarez and had not been approached by the union about her candidacy. But she is waiting. "I met with a senior board member a long time ago and he told me they have an official process to vet candidates." Had she been sent questions or an email asking for an appointment. "Not at this point," she said Monday morning.

Not that there is anything wrong with Suarez hanging out with a candidate all day. It's good that the firefighters' union is getting to know the candidates. In fact, I might say it's better that they do that before they make the official endorsement. Now, Bobby just has to spend a day with Milo and a day with Niemeyer. We won't make you spend a day with Sarnoff because that would be cruel and unusual punishment and there's no point, really. The point is transparency and equal access and a fair process. We know that Sarnoff is not going to be considered. But if you are going to pretend to consider everyone else, you need to give equal face time.

Suarez did not return three calls for comment. Ladra also sent him an email and left a message for Executive Assistant Freddy Delgado, who is in Tallahassee today to lobby against bills that seek to change the way firefighters collect pension and pension-like funds. (Note to candidates: The fire union endorsement might not be one of the "golden" nods since they are seen generally as being self-serving and fighting Sarnoff solely because of his votes against their benefits).

Callahan also did not return a call to her campaign office Monday. But Ladra spoke with her briefly at ethics symposium about her candidacy and her campaign. I didn't ask her about Suarez because, frankly, this was before it started and I had not yet seen them together. She said she has been an activist for years and has seen the people's discontent grow.

"It's clear we've been poorly represented throughout the district," Callahan said. "There's this arrogance in City Hall. I looked at the corruption in the city, the fact that we are being audited, and I think I can do a better job."

Callahan touted her master's in public administration and repeated three times that she teaches ethics at Barry University before I asked her to specify and she admitted she teaches medical and health care ethics (she is also a health care consultant and "expert witness" (read: paid) for both plaintiffs and defendants in medical ethics cases). It's better than nothing but don't hype it up as something it's not. That sounds like a campaign staffer's idea: "Don't say bio medical ethics. Just say ethics." Still, 10 years teaching medical ethics to "young attorneys and young dentists" will keep her clean, she said. "I will never disappoint the hundreds of people I teach ethics to by doing something wrong," Callahan said. "I cannot betray their confidence." (And now we put it in writing.)

We had to ask her: How come Ladra keeps hearing that she is Norman Braman's horse? Callahan was very specific with the wording of her answers. "I have not met the man yet," she said, which does not mean she is not his horse. "He's looking forward to meeting me and I'm looking forward to meeting him," she added, which sounds like they have either conversed via telephone and/or email, or she has a go-between. Or maybe two. Callahan's campaign manager is Vanessa Brito, the Miami Vice chair who has been working for Braman and who has admitted to making an undisclosed amount of money through Arizona-based Silver Bullet, who Brito said hired her for data, and who Braman is paying through one or more of his three recall and "reform" PACs. The second connection could be Elena V. Carpenter, the candidate's friend/supporter and publisher at Miami Monthly Magazine as well as president of the Vanessa Brito fan club. She is also a fan of Braman's and the recall and posted recently that Brito deserved a cocktail party for all her efforts on the community's behalf. It was sad, really. But Ladra is wagging her tail because that all provides a more visible map to the connections. Carpenter also gave a $500 maximum contribution to her friend's campaign chest. And, according to our sources, Carpenter is who introduced Callahan to Brito at lunch one day and Callahan was so excited to meet the recall queen that she hired her on the spot. Brito would not comment on this or anything else. "I am never answering questions to you," she told me. She says it's personal. It's not. It's because since I have personal knowledge of her, I ask questions she does not like. Carpenter could not be reached. There was no answer at Miami Monthly this morning and she has not responded to my email. And suddenly I can't find her on facebook. (Maybe she doesn't like my questions either. Oh, well.).

Callahan, naturally, says she is not anybody's stand-in candidate. "I'm my own person," she said, adding that hers is a grassroots campaign and that she has been knocking on doors. She has also raised almost $30,000 as of the not very exciting campaign finance report filed a week ago.

But hiring Brito is going to cast doubt. I mean here is someone who has taught ethics for 10 years and she hires someone whose ethical lapses are well known? She is putting her campaign against a ridiculously well-funded incumbent ($300,000 and counting, but more on that later) in the hands of someone who gave a third party donation to her PAC and admitted it? Someone who was more than 10 days late with a campaign finance report? Someone who lied about gay discrimination during the election and encouraged the name-calling of ousted commissioner Natacha Seijas? Someone whose alliance with a certain non-accountable PAC caused a controversy when she seemed to smear a mayoral candidate days after she praised him (we urge Callahan to talk to people in the Carlos Gimenez campaign). Someone who is being sued in court for something like $11,000 by Miami Gardens Councilman Andre Williams for some work she allegedly never did? (Apparently there might be a settlement in the works, which makes sense now that Brito is awash in Braman cash. More on that later.). Someone who once started to form a PAC called the TaxPayer Coalition as a front to campaign for a candidate? Someone who gets paid under the table by a company hired by Braman to do "data research" on, we suppose, every single election in which Braman wants to have an impact? Why would Callahan, an ethics professor and community activist, hire this gypsy con artist? Could it be because a higher power (read: Braman) is making that happen (read: paying)?

But, really, it doesn't even make business sense because Brito has a terrible campaign track record. Past clients or candidates she promoted for free include losers like Mimi Planas, Scott Galvin, Maurice Ferre, Lisa L'Esperance, Johnny Farias, Millie Herrera, Whilly Bermudez, Katie Edwards. Has anyone she represented ever won? Or can she only do recalls? This does not bode well for Callahan, who otherwise seems to have all the right ingredients that could raise a serious challenge to an incumbent who could be vulnerable.

Because now she may have become vulnerable.

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