There could have been three names on the ballot for the commission seat in District 7.
Voters in South Miami and Coral Gables who think that on May 24 they may choose a new commissioner to replace Carlos Gimenez, who resigned last month to run for mayor, may have been ripped off -- and could have to hold their horses: Another would-be pony who wants to run has filed a lawsuit to stop the race.
Attorney Ricardo Corona, better known for his late night call-in legal advice TV show and public legal battles with mortgage loan predators, says the one-day qualifying period did not provide hopefuls enough notice. He got to the Miami-Dade Elections Department just in time on the last qualifying day -- the only qualifying day -- by 4:58 p.m. Most of the documents he turned into the county are stamped with that time -- two minutes before the bell. But he had his 2009 tax return in lieu of his financial disclosure form and was told it had to be the 2010 (guess he filed for an extension). So they gave him a financial disclosure form to fill out there in the lobby. When he turned it in, it was stamped 5:22 p.m. Too late, he was told. Are you kidding? Even though he was given a form to fill out and filled it out by hand in front of county staff right there in the lobby of the elections department and had turned everything else in on time? The loyalty oath, the "statement of candidate" and a copy of his driver's license to establish residency, are all stamped before 5 p.m.
"They gave me the form to fill out and stood there and watched me fill it out without telling me it would be too late," said Corona, whose packed firm near the airport serves immigrants, homeowners, uninsured workers who pay what they can when they can on a sliding scale.
"It doesn't seem logical."
It doesn't seem logical to Ladra either, because they must have given him the form at about 5:01 or 5:02 p.m., right? But she's just a watchdog.
Corona, being an attorney, sued to get on the ballot with former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez and former State Rep. Julio Robaina (REP, District 117), which Ladra thought would be a no-brainer, what with all that stamping of documents. But the court seems more concerned with the shortness of the qualifying period.
"I don't like the way it was done," said Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge William Thomas, when he denied Corona's motion to add his name to the ballot. "I don't like the way the commission conducted the notice aspect of this. I don't like the way the commission set the deadline for this. I think that it was messy. I think it creates an issue, at least in my mind, as to whether or not it put people who were considering running for office on proper notice."
A provision in the Florida statutes indicates a minimum of five days for a qualifying period in county elections, and most elections adhere to that. Okay, sure, this is not most elections. The law does mention special circumstances -- and a recall and two-month election cycle could fit that criteria. Still, there might have been time to give another day or two before the ballot had to be produced (Ladra has asked about that window and has yet to hear back). Guess commissioners could not give themselves time to consider that when they had no discussion on it last month and voted on the 29-hour qualifying period in less than three minutes.
But Ladra says none of that matters. Even if it was proper notice and even if commissioners had carefully considered it for more than 150 seconds and even if Gimenez had not wavered until the last minute on whether he would run (after former mayor Alex Penelas' name came up as a possible contender), it cannot matter. Because Ricky Corona was at that elections window with documents that were stamped before the deadline.
Surely, it was not an intentional snub. Most of the people at the county elections department are real professionals who go out of their way to make the process clear to candidates and transparent to voters. But while Ladra has yet to receive answers about the window of time and when the ballot had to be produced, I am sure that this was a mistake made on the side of caution. However, the time the documents were received is clearly stamped as 4:58. If it took longer than two minutes to process the paperwork, that is not the point. The question of where the line is drawn is easily answered. At the window. With the time stamp. If the first stamp is 5:01 p.m., you are late. If the first stamp is 4:59, you are not.
Seems pretty clear cut.
And it is really not about this one candidate, even though Ladra likes the streetwise activist attorney more than the established politicians currently battling it out (Note to reader: I provided some media consulting for Ricky, whose family and mine mingled at the Big Five when I was 10 or something, for a big mortgage fraud lawsuit he had in 2009, but have not talked to him since and believe he was not entirely happy with my professional services or advice.). It is really about the process and about the voters. Ladra thinks the process has been violated and the voters have been deprived of their rights. Their rights to have good candidates.
There has to be a better choice than the one currently facing voters in District 7: "Mayor Loco" vs. "the other Julio Robaina." Suarez, whose 1997 Miami mayoral win was overturned after the Miami Herald uncovered voter fraud in a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative series, earned that unlucky nickname with wild eyed tirades and late-night knock-knocks on a critical consituent's door in a bathrobe. But he's still managed to collect almost $120,000 in campaign contributions, including some from lobbyists like Ron Book, Dusty Melton, Brian May, Steve Marin (who gave at leat $1,500 through his family and firm) and Miguel de Grandy (whose family and firm, again, gave a total of $2,000) as well as almost every big lawfirm in town. Robaina, on the other hand, is a two-time former state rep. (REP, District 117) and South Miami mayor with not much to show for it -- one of the reasons he may have lost last year's bid for state senate. In the same amount of time (except maybe 10 days more for X), he has not been able to raise more than $6,500-- including a $500 contribution from the electricians' union and a $400 gift to himself. Doesn't he believe enough in himself to contribute the maximum $500?
Holding back the election in this seat to ensure that the electoral process has not been violated would not be such a bad thing. After all, maybe other candidates might throw their hats in the ring. This is a good winnable race for fresh blood and qualified candidates who are outside the political establishment and don't come with baggage. Everyone knows Coral Gables Commissioner Ralph Cabrera once eyed the seat. While he's in his third term, and his horse came in third place in the last city election last month, he can still sell himself as somewhat of an outsider. The City Beautiful's former mayor Don Slesnick, who said he only ran for office again because the alternatives were unacceptable, could do a double-take. Chamber South Director Mary Scott Russell, who also served as South Miami mayor, is also a welcome possibility.
Or Ricky Corona, whose activist attorney roots and anti-establishment rep is exactly what voters seem to want, could be a nice change of pace in this race.
Ladra says let the pony run.