Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina is feeling no love from the other 10 candidates in the race to replace recalled Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez.
At a forum Monday night presented by the NAAC, Robaina -- who arrived late -- got called "so close to" being a crook by Eddie Lewis, who ran for property appraiser in 2009 but lost. He was also jeered at and got some elbowing on his Marlins stadium answer from Luther "Luke" Campbell and former Miami-Dade Commissioner Carlos Gimenez. Everybody was basically looking at him when he didn't raise his hand after Defede asked who thought it was a good deal.
More than 200 people turned out to the New Birth Baptist Church on Northwest 22nd Avenue for the forum, what seems like the largest turnout to any gathering so far. Notably absent were candidates Marcelo Llorente, Jose "Pepe" Cancio and Jeffrey Lampert. Ladra was surprised to find Robaina, who has skipped several other forums, to come to this group, which she thought was not his people. However, maybe his team was there early scoping it out (Ladra spotted campaign manager Ana Carbonell scanning the crowd), and they texted him that he should get his chubby cheeks over there pronto.
He probably should have skipped it. Things started getting good when Campbell said, for the third time, that the other three blacks in the race were puppet candidates. When pressed for details, Campbell said nobody ever questioned him about that at any other forum until they got to the black community. But that part wasn't true, and he admitted that when he was reminded (with a short growl) that Ladra asked him twice about it. He always dodged an answer with me. But Monday he said that both former transit director Roosevelt Bradley and Perrine businessman and community council member Wilbur Bell were being backed by Robaina. And that caused quite a stir.
"I am the only African American here right now that is not bought and paid for by one of these other candidates," Campbell said to hoots and whispers. Later, moderator and News4 Reporter Jim Defede asked him to get more specific. "Robaina bought off Bradley. I don't think Mr. Gimenez would do it, so Bell was bought off by Mr. Robaina also. I don't think Mr. Lewis was bought of. He's a nice man," Campbell said.
"Mr. Robaina has a lot of money, he would buy off everyone out here but me," Uncle Luke said, adding that the three men, while making good candidates for other reasons, will only detract from front runners in this race.
"If they were not bought off, drop out and leave the race," Campbell said.
Robaina immediately balked, but did not really say anything. Watch: "I cannot argue any more with Mr. Campbell. These men and this lady try to help everyone in this community... we need to keep to the level and talk about the issues. That's what we got to be talking about. It's not about who bought off who."
Uh, yeah, it might be.
Bradley stood up to speak, he was so upset. "Mr. Campbell, I run a clean campaign. I have steel titanium in my back. I don't hae to be paid off," which Ladra is not sure what that means. He called Campbell a "trainee playing games" and said "This is serious. This is not a joke." Later, he told Ladra that he had always planned to resign in 2008 and campaign for mayor in 2012. But he didn't jump into the race until the last minute, so he had not been campaigning. And he balked at any comment about him possibly coming in fourth or less than that, saying he wanted Ladra to come back and talk to him about that at 11 p.m. March 24 (an invitation we, of course, accepted).
Bell was also visibly offended by Uncle Luke's accusation. "I am a multi-millionaire. I don't need no money from nobody," the candidate who wants to be mayor said. He took the opportunity to criticize any groups who only screened or invited candidates who raised a lot of money (read: Robaina, Gimenez, Llorente and Cancio). "They need to take that out of politics," Bell said, then he turned to Campbell. "I don't need the payoff from anybody and I'm really disappointed in you Mr. Campbell."
Bell and Campbell continued to spit words at each other. We couldn't hear in the back, but Defede had to intervene and ask them to stop.
Defede later asked Gimenez a direct question about Robaina and whether he was campaigning on the fact that Robaina could not be trusted. Ladra wanted to bark, "Well, duh!" But Gimenez did it in a classier way. "There are a lot of question about Julio Robaina. About his dealings with people under investigation and lending money ... illegal gaming in the city of Hialeah. There are a lot of questions I have concerns about," he said with Robaina right next to him, kind of squirming in his seat a little. Gimenez said the media raised the questions, not him. (Though Ladra is sure that his campaign staff helped the media whenever possible). "My personal finances are not based on the kind of things his personal finances are," Gimenez finished.
Again, Robaina deflected. He's good at that. And said things that sound big, but if you look closely, and read between the lines, say nothing at all. He never addressed the public trust issue. And made it seem as if this were not something voters care about. "It is about what is important to each and every one of you -- unemployment, transit department," he said, sort of pandering to the crowd. "Mr. Gimenez has wanted not to talk about those things."
He reminded everybody that he had not been charged with a crime and that nobody in his family had been charged. "The gentleman who committed that crime is spending 10 years in jail because I cooperated with authorities," Robaina bragged, adding that he had sued on behalf of his and several families "to bring justice for a $48 Ponzi scheme."
Many people, however, think an arrest is pending, and that authorities are either crossing all their Ts or waiting until after May 25 so nobody says they interfered with an eletion. To which Ladra asks, isn't that sort of interfering with an election by not doing what you would normally do?