After seven (seems like 17) different forums and debates in the last couple of weeks, Ladra feels likes she gets the gist of the 11 mayoral candidates because, well, they sound like broken records. Granted, most voters only go to one or two forums and hear the carefully prepared "messages" with soundbites and buzz words once or twice. For good reason. When you hear it seven or eight times, it sounds as practiced and canned as it likely is. There has been a little adjustment depending on the audience and the questions, but you guys need to change up the chat some more in these last few days to keep it exciting, maybe drum up more voter interest? It can't hurt! Ladra can predict what you are going to say right before you say it and was particularly on the other day at the luncheon at 94th Aero Squadron (in which the candidates are photographed to the left), keeping several new friends at her table in stitches predicting the next lines. "Watch. Now he's [Khavari] going to talk about his eight, no, nine books." And, then, "Here he [Llorente] says, 'It ought to be called Metrofail.'" And then, "Because he [Bradley] knows 'where all the bones are buried.'"
There are at least two more forums (three if you count a "meet and greet" in Miami Springs Thursday) before the ballot box closes. Since Ladra may not be able to sit at your table, for example, at the Chamber South breakfast Wednesday morning (or because you do not want to have to get up so ridiculously early), let me offer my director's commentary now.
* Roosevelt Bradley will start by boasting that he is (but he is most certainly NOT) the only experienced administrator on the ballot. Not that that is a good thing. Why is he pumping that? And he just has to tell us "where all the bones are buried" already. Better yet, make him dig. If he knows where they are buried, he may have buried some himself. Fellow candidate Farid Khavari is sick of hearing it, too. "What? Are you an undertaker or something," he asked Bradley at the NAACP forum Monday night. Bradley told Ladra Monday that he means where he can make things more efficient. But, then, why didn't he when he was transit director? And he still has to tell us anyway when he loses this race. He will likely say that he is also the only candidate who has created "thousands and thousands" of jobs. In transit? What are they doing? But he might not mention that he was fired from his own position as transit director after alleged fiscal mismanagement -- which could be technical government speak for buried bones. He says it was political and that he always planned to retire in 2008 and run for mayor in 2012. Then why wait til the last minute and not campaign early on?
* Farid Khavari will actually tell you, point blank, that he doesn't even want to be mayor. "I want to fix the economy." Then why is he running? Maybe to sell his books. He started the campaign with eight. But now there are nine. He had time to write one while he campaigns? Maybe because he is so not into it. And he will hold one up and talk about how he is the only candidate who is an economist. "When your house is on fire, you don't call a plumber. You call a fireman. When you're economy is failing, you don't call a lawyer, a politician or a fireman. You call an economist."He also wants to make Miami-Dade a "world economic model" and win the Nobel Prize. He's a smart man who would do better without his Iranian accent and crazy hair (sad fact) and will likely bring up solar energy and his dream of a county-owned bank with low interest rates to loan money to all the people in this county who need it. Let's just hope this last idea doesn't give Hialeah Mayor and fellow candidate Julio Robaina -- a freelance loan officer, of sorts, with sky-high interest rates and friends you wouldn't wanna cross -- an itch to have him whacked, er, I mean sued or something.
* Jeffrey Lampert doesn't say very much. "I'm not taking one penny from anybody. I'm not going to be with the special interests," says the county fire department employee who took an administrative leave from his job in logistics to run for mayor in his very first stab at public office ever against someone who will end up being his boss, who could be the one who is a former firefighter who has the fire union endorsement. Uh-huh. Lampert says he is running because he sees a disconnect (the candidates love that word) between the people and the government and blah blah blah. Uh-huh. And he loaned himself $3,000 for the race even though he lists his net worth at $13,500 and has more debt than that and he knows he is not going to be in the runoff? Uhhhh-huh. Someone should ask Lampert who put him up to this. Okay, Ladra will. When I see him again. He hasn't shown up to the last two events. But he doesn't have to worry about being beholden to any interests. He's not going to be anywhere near the 29th floor and he is either going to get promoted after June 28 or he will be transferred to a very cold office in the corner of some far away northwest swampland facility... depending on the answer to the aforementioned question (which must be asked).
* Wilbur Bell might be a brilliant businessman who has made millions, but he is a bit of a dud as a public speaker and is not gaining much traction in this race. "I'm in it to win it" has never meant less. He can't sell it easy if he doesn't even believe it himself. So one has to wonder if he's so smart to make all that cheddar, then who is he helping? Or hurting? Luther Campbell came right out and said Robaina put him in the race. Bell said he doesn't need anyone's money, but there could be other reasons. Maybe he is loaning himself $26,000 for the race and not taking contributions to get out the black vote? He says the county should be run like a business and he has 41 years experience as a businessman to do it. But he is in the real estate business and has sat on the Redland Community Council since 2006. Hmmmmm... Ladra wonders if it is he zoning board that in April of 2010 granted a zoning change request for the 160-acre Kendall Commons development on the edge of the UDB, which is owned by Robaina and his business partners.
* Gabrielle Redfern doesn't really want to be the "first female mayor of Miami Dade County" -- but it sure sounds good, don't it? She really wants to fix public transportation (more on that later). She either has already or should think about motivational speaking because the little firecracker has come out from behind in a big way, wowing crowds, gaining key HOA endorsements and waking up the front runners when every once in a while she basically wipes the floor with them. I can tell that some of them are impressed -- and surprised. "This is government. It is not cardio vascular surgery," she said. She doesn't mince words and calls things as she sees them and sticks to unpopular positions (redistricting and countywide seats) because she really believes in them and can tell you why without blinking. Ladra likes that even if she adamantly disagrees with her arguments. She will likely talk about how she pored over budgets and found $3.5 million stuck in an enterprise fund in her Miami Beach just sitting there and the commission moved it to the general fund, saving taxpayers a 2/10th of a millage hike. She also boasts that she came up with the bike sharing program on Miami Beach. And she does change her tune: While campaigning, she has noticed a stark difference in county buildings when they are in poor neighborhoods and not so poor neighborhoods. "There are two Miami-Dade Counties here and there should not be."
* Luther "Luke" Campbell -- whose billboards shout "I'm Dead Serious -- Are you?" -- is actually one of the most honest candidates Ladra has heard speak in, well, forever. He is not as practiced as the others and his answers to questions seem more unpracticed. He is probably the one who changes up his chat the most. But he does have some staples: His constant hitting on the dual system at Jackson Memorial Hospital -- he says insured patients are siphoned off to one of the University of Miami hospitals while the uninsured stay at the county-funded facility -- should be something that is looked at beyond this election. So is the open transparency he advocates for and having every document and every transaction posted online -- like the Open Wellington example he often gives. He also likes to portray himself as the only true outsider and the only viable African American candidate (calling the others plants). "If you don't give as a community activist, you should not be sitting here," he said at one event or another about his work to preserve historic landmarks in the black community and provide opportunities for inner city youth. "I am not a political insider. I don't have any friends downtown." And he is right. But Luke makes friends easy.
* Eddie Lewis says he is the only true outsider. Ladra agrees. But he is way outside. "I'm on a fixed income," he said at the forum at the Bank United Center, the first to have all 11 candidates (they had only invited 6 but after Redfern insisted, they made room for everyone). "I'm not in anybody's pocket. I'm barely in my own pocket," he said Monday at the NAACP forum at New Birth Baptist Church. You know, it may look bad to be a candidate whose net worth has grown more than 800 percent to $8 million while in office in "the second largest city in the county" (which you will also hear, but not from Lewis). But it may also look bad to seem broke and penniless while bidding to run a $7.3 billion budget. "We need someone with common sense," he keeps saying. Ladra hopes the voters have some and tell this guy to go get a real job.
* Jose "Pepe" Cancio is obsessed with timelines. He will tell you he is the only one who has been the CEO of a business for 23 years and that he has been married to the same woman for 46 years and that he only wants the mayor's job for 18 months until the next general election. He might also mention that he has served twice as commissioner in appointments to finish off terms because that will give him a chance to bring up the glass door he installed at his county hall office. Get it? Glass door = transparency? Yeah, we know that's a false security blanket, but we are not sure Cancio knows -- he is so proud of that glass door -- that we don't want to break it to him. His English is not really so hard to understand so make the effort because he says some very smart things. He didn't run successful cement and trucking businesses for more than two decades for nothing. He also believes the county should be run like a business and talks about helping small businesses with less regulations and shorter permit waits. He is one of a few candidates who actually answers the questions asked and has done his homework. Don't be fooled by the gray hairs on the 71-year-old's head. Papi Chulo -- as Uncle Luke dubbed him once and as Cancio himself has embraced -- is sharp as a tack. And the most elegant, not only in his excellent choice of suits but also in the honorable and chivalrous way he always gives Redfern the mic and insisted she join other candidates onstage at the Downtown Bay Forum (photograph here). He always jokes about Robaina when Robaina doesn't show up ala "Where is Mayor Robaina?" with his eyebrows raised -- and Ladra thinks he enjoys being a thorn in the Hialeah mayor's side But he got every candidate, including Robaina, to sign an accord that keeps them honest with each other and in which they agree to meet as a group once a month with whoever is elected to discuss important issues and problems. Told you he was smart. Cancio has set the standard high, where it should be, and all future candidates to come should mirror his behavior and attitude.
* Marcelo Llorente will tell you he went to Belen and says he can bring home more money from Tallahassee and from Washington because of his experience (eight years) as a state representative, though Ladra never heard of him until he started this campaign in 2009, "with every intent of running for office in 2012." Get over it already. You are not that cute. (Okay, yes he is.) He touts himself as a fiscal conservative. "People want government to live within its means. Not even live within its means, to do without," he said at one forum. Llorente (the cute one on the right in this photo) is the only one who has proposed a separate millage or tax rate or penny tax for operations at Jackson. He makes great points about transit and the long commute to West Kendall, where he lives -- he may say two or three or more times that he lives in West Kendall -- and he will call Metrorail "Metrofail" as if he coined that term yesterday. Oh, maybe he heard it yesterday. Ladra heard it when he was in diapers. He will say he is running because he was "frustrated with the disconnect" between government and the community. Like there's no disconnect between voters and Tallahassee? Which is where he has been, remember?, for the last decade or so. How connected is he to this community?
* Carlos Gimenez, who resigned as county commissioner to run, will talk about his record as a consistent vote against the regime of the recalled Carlos Alvarez. He has to. He knows why we are all here instead of doing this next year. He will cite his no votes on the tax hike, the Marlins' stadium and the union deals. He will talk about how he rose the ranks to fire chief in the city of Miami and was tapped to become city manager at the city's worst financial time. He will say how he led it out of those oversight days with low bond ratings and left the city in good financial shape to run for county office. He'll say that he plans to make a 50 percent cut in his own pay and benefits. "You have to lead by example," Gimenez might say. He wants to cut the number of departments from 60 to 25 (though this means nothing because if they are bigger departments with the same funding put together or more, what difference is that? What needs to be changed is the funding.) He might mention how the mayor will have about a month or so to prepare a budget and how he is the only one, with county budget experience, who can do that well. He will also be "top salesperson for the county and Miami in Latin America." He will say all of this with a shrug and a half a smile because he seems uncomfortable having to talk about any of this. He just wants to get back to work already. "I like to under promise and over deliver," he likes to say.
*Julio Robaina has missed more forums than he has attended and tries to use a lot of words that tap into voter sentiment, like recall and reform, without really saying much. And often saying things he can't back up. In fact, he has frequently said he was against the Marlins stadium deal when he spoke at the commission meeting in favor of it. He said on radio that he would fire 1,000 county workers on Day 1, but has not analysis of where they would come from and how that might affect services. He will likely say he is strong mayor of "the second largest city in the county" and that he has reduced taxes without slashing services. But he won't mention that police stations close at 5 p.m. now and that parks close early and city pools are available about half the time. He might mention that he is tough with the unions, but he might not say that two recent decisions against the city could cost Hialeah upwards of $6 million. He will talk about the recall election and how he is for reform (even though his track record does not support that) and seems to be hedging on the wave of that voter discontent. He says he is a fiscal conservative and wants to make it so "it's the government that is working for the people, not the people working for the government." See? Sounds good. Means nothing. What he won't talk about, hardly anyway, are the allegations about a federal investigation into his freelance loaning activities in connection with a convicted Ponzi schemer and/or business ties with real estate developers on the edge of the UDB and/or tens of thousands in campaign contributions from local businessmen that were once indicted on racketeering charges in 2004 (Charges were dropped later, which means what? Exactly.) and/or other contributions linked to the owners and operators of thousands of illegal maquinitas, or gaming machines, that he has championed. Time and again, Robaina "the bad" simply doesn't answer the question, like on Monday at the NAACP forum when Jim Defede asked him about headlines and possible issues made of whether or not he could be trusted. "Mr. Gimenez has wanted not to talk about" the issues, he said, accusing his main threat and turning himself into a victim. "Nobody in my family has committed a crime. And the gentleman that did commit a crime is spending 10 years in jail while we are part of a lawsuit to bring justice to the victims of a $48-million Ponzi scheme." (Lots of people think Robaina is heading in that same direction and maybe that's why he doesn't show up to a lot of these forums -- in case the authorities are waiting there to bring him in.)
So that's Ladra's general take -- the good, the bad, the whatever -- and maybe some of it is not going to be 100 percent on target. But as a somewhat educated voter who has heard the candidates over and over again, this is the perception of you.
Good luck this morning and this evening and tomorrow and throw Ladra a bone (not the buried kind) with some new jokes and some new moves.