A judge on Monday told Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Lester Sola to keep the winner of Tuesday's District 7 election a secret for up to a week -- until he can hear arguments from a local TV attorney activist who sued when he tried but was not able to qualify for the race.
That's victory #2 for Ricardo Corona. The first was last week when the county lost its move to make his lawsuit a federal case. (Tsk, tsk. Our taxpayer dollars at work fighting activists who want to become participants.) And defeat #1 for former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, who was removed from office in his last election win after widespread ballot tampering was found -- though he was never formally charged with a crime (Happy, X fans?) -- and the only candidate who asked the judge, through his attorney daughter, not to give Corona's lawsuit a full hearing.
"Halting the election now would disenfranchise 8,000 voters who have already voted, the thousands who have contributed to campaigns of the qualified candidates," said Olga Vieira, adding that it could result in five additional elections (but if she is counting elections scheduled for 2012, which are scheduled anyway, that is disingenuous). So is saying that 17 people qualified in the same time period because candidates for mayor and commissioner in District 13 had weeks to prepare, since those seats were vacated by recall vote and the District 7 seat was filled the day before qualifying started.
But don't blame the Suarez clan for their last-minute Hail Mary attempt to railroad this election over Corona's rights. X has raised and spent about a quarter of a million dollars to take over the seat vacated by Carlos Gimenez, who resigned to run for mayor. He has to work for that now or how would it look? Since he lost to Gimenez in a regular cycle election, Ladra bets he counts on low turnout, lots of special interest money for promotion and post-recall voter discontent -- as well as confusion over the good Robaina (South Miami) and the bad Robaina (Hialeah) -- to get him in. So it's no wonder he doesn't want to delay, despite questions about due process: The more time people have... the less well he will do.
Miami Dade Circuit Court Judge William Thomas set the case for June 1. But, with all due respect to the court, that won't address the issues in time, should the plaintiff win, to put the District 7 candidates on the June 28 runoff ballot. Which might enrage voters, or certainly affect their voting trends, if it is an unnecessary cost. An earlier date -- like Tuesday or Wednesday -- might allow for a qualifying period that ends Friday and puts the names on the ballot. And Ladra thinks the county can move that up a bit in order to get a new ballot for June 28, if that is, indeed, what the judge decides, and save at least a little money. We will call her commissioner tomorrow. And you can call your commissioner too.
But first, the background: TV attorney Ricardo Corona sued to stop the election based on a 29-hour qualification period he says is insufficiant and violates his rights to due process. Ladra thinks his rights were violated, alright, but when he was told he didn't qualify because of the last time stamp on the last document submitted. Most of the documents Corona filed were stamped at 4:58 p.m., two minutes before the bell. One form he was made to fill out in the lobby was stamped 5:22 p.m. (and just why wasn't his 2009 IRS return good enough on April 14 when the form for "last year" wasn't due until April 19?). Too late, he was told. So he filed a lawsuit last month to force his name onto the ballot, which is what Ladra thinks should have happened. Instead, the judge said he had issues with the qualifying period and Corona refiled based on that. Apparently, the judge feels there may be some merit to attorney William Petros' arguments that the qualifying period was insufficient for anyone except the two candidates who are already experienced politicos already prepping to run for the seat in 2012.
"Wouldn't it be funny if folks spent all that money and effort on a recall election and for their investment, they don't get significant change? This was a golden opportunity for change," Petros said to reporters outside on the courthouse steps, adding that the recall showed a voter discontent with the status quo and a system that protected insiders. "That's precisely the point. He hasn't been involved and that's what the people want."
Unlike Suarez, who fought Corona's motion with his daughter and son, Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, by his side, former State Rep. Julio Robaina, the other candidate allowed to qualify, has publicly repeated that he has no problem with holding up the results or even having a new election, if it ensure that everyone gets fair access to the process. Everyone means anyone, because if Corona wins and gets this vote count thrown out, a new qualifying period could bring about new candidates in the District 7 race.
That's more good news from Monday's ruling and well worth the only bad news, really: That Ladra can't see South Miami Robaina beat the X Factor right off the bat. But don't they say good things come to those who wait?