Former mayoral candidate and musical empresario Luther Campbell can rap until he is blue in the face and say that he didn't ask for a job for his friend and campaign ally in return for his endorsement of county mayoral run-off candidate Julio Robaina, who just a few weeks ago was an "overlord" who bought the other black candidates in the race to steal votes from him.
Because, sorta like the video of the county commission meeting when Robaina supported the Marlins deal negates everything he says about opposing it, the six-part video series of Uncle Luke's greatest hits belies his words. In it, he gives Miami New Times Editor and his boss Chuck Strouse and NT reporter Francisco Alvarado, who is suspected by some of writing Uncle Luke's blog, the play-by-play on how he reached his decision to endorse Robaina, after he had allegedly been on board to endorse former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez.
Campbell, who Armando Campaneria's photographed here with some blogger at the first Miami Foundation debate at UM (where he coddled and was coy and refused to tell me which candidates were bought out by whom), says now that the media is playing this wrong. That he talked to both men about many things and that he did not make the final decision on a promise of a job but a promise that his trusted people would be consulted with on things of importance to the community, which might not be illegal but is just as bad in Ladra's limited view. Shouldn't the new mayor be open to the valuable input of anyone who has something real to offer?
Yet, that is not what Campbell says on the video tape. While he does talk about other issues -- the CRAs, their track records with the black community -- Campbell is very specific about getting someone "in there." If that doesn't mean a job, I don't know what does.
These are his words, a total play by play. Let's review again.
"I said, 'Hey look, I got guys that were part of my campaign -- qualified guys, this ain't no nepotism deal going on -- qualified guys that we need to have in there that would make me feel better," Campbell said he told both candidates, comparing Robaina to Barack Obama and his crony, School Board Operations Director Pierre Rutledge, a one-time Miami Commission candidate, to Hillary Clinton (as in a cabinet position). "That would make me feel better," he repeated. He asked both to have a conversation with Rutledge.
"Gimenez was a little wavery," Campbell continues, explaining what folks refer to a "dealbreaker" on tape. "Robaina [was] 'Okay, Pierre. How you doing? What's happening? Okay, this is the role you'll play in my administration. And Luke, this is the role you are playing in my administration. You will be a guy that is in there. He is going to answer to me. He is not going to answer to nobody else. And he is going to be involved in urban development."
Such specifics certainly show more than just a willingness to meet with Rutledge and perhaps others as well, because that would be appropriate, to consider their credentials and whether their input would be helpful in the administration. Such details indicate a certain level of absoluteness. Perhaps this conversation is the one that took place over steaks and wine at Don Shula's in Miami Lakes the eve before the endorsement. But wait, there's more.
"I told them both, 'Look, personally, I feel like I am the best guy for the job. But it is not about me. It is about the people. It is about us getting something done. And this is the only way I'm going to feel good to stand on the podium and feel like I'm going... [he doesn't finish the sentence] like we are taking this and getting it done," he says, yet again, obviously, restating how the offer was made. "One, I felt he was a little hesitant," Campbell said, again, on tape. A little hesitant to what? To hear out some longtime activist on CRA issues, even though he disagrees with you on the program and its efficiency with funding? (Not like CRAs have ever been found to be favor mills for special interests). Um, Ladra doubts Gimenez would not hear out someone like Rutledge, with his credentials. She has found Gimenez to be a very receptive and accessible future mayor, open to talk about things he doesn't want to talk about even. To promise you a position for someone you trust in his new administration? Probably more than a little hesitant, actually. But he was being diplomatic because you are politically naive, Luke. As evidenced by the fact that you admit to this quid pro quo -- for which Robaina is quite famous -- several times. Read on, because there is more.
"The other one was 'Hey, this is where he'll work and this is what he'll do,'" Luke added, referring to Robaina, who he says gave details about the duties of the new whatever-title-he-was-thinking (and Rutledge and Campbell can pretty much forget any position now, even if Robaina does win, which he can't if he is arrested on bribery as he should be).
But, wait. There is even more. I know. Ladra couldn't believe it either. But when Luke talks, on tape, about the press release which he now says was produced by some Homestead councilman (which seems odd since the Gimenez team has three people writing and distributing press releases) and how he told the campaign people immediately that it could not go out and that he was still on the fence. "I am not in agreeance with this because there is the detail of Pierre Rutledge that needs to be worked out," is what he said, on tape, that he told the Gimenez people. If that doesn't sound like a shake down, Ladra doesn't know what does.
Luke and Ladra keep playing phone tag. Now his voice mail is full. Rutledge is not taking calls. And Homestead Councilman Jimmie Williams was left a message and sent an email.
When asked about it, Gimenez himself told Ladra twice that Campbell had, indeed, asked him to give Rutledge a job when he is elected. On Tuesday, I asked him publicly at the East Kendall Homeowners Organzation candidate forum in Continental Park four blocks from where I live and made sure to be very specific to address the backstroke by Campbell, who now says he was just making suggestions. "Did he merely suggest that you look at this person," Ladra asked, in front of about 30 people. "Or ask you straight to hire him?" Said Gimenez: "He did ask me to give Mr. Rutledge a position."
This should be an open and shut case and, hours earlier, Miami-Dade State Attorney Kathy Fernandez-Rundle told me she will investigate a complaint filed by perennial candidate Darrin McGillis (who Ladra will have to take more seriously now). People say I am naive and that any arrest won't happen before the election. But I can't believe that. Maybe federal authorities are loathe to interfere in a local election but the local agencies have done it before. Just ask former South Miami Mayor Horace Feliu, who was handcuffed and hauled to jail the night before the 2004 election he lost to Mary Scott Russell. And that was for allegedly accepting an illegal campaign contribution -- a charge he was later found not guilty by a jury of his peers. And it was a sting operation. Authorities invested time and money to trap him.
There is no law enforcement trap here. This was Uncle Luke's naivete and desire to make an impact instead of letting his candidacy fizzle to nada. And it is on tape. All prosecutors have to do, like I told Fernandez-Rundle Tuesday afternoon, is take a sworn statement from Gimenez that he was asked to promise the position, take a sworn statement from Rutledge and Campbell (it's harder to recant when it's perjury), and, maybe, for good measure, talk to people who were at the Miami Lakes Don Shula Steakhouse on the night before the endorsement to Robaina, where the former Hialeah mayor, Campbell, Rutledge, campaign operative Ana Carbonell and former FTAA President Jorge Arrizurieta, a consultant and close friend of former Gov. Jeb Bush and repeat donor to Republican candidates. Arrizurieta, an FIU trustee appointed by Governor Bush to Florida’s Board of Governors (which oversees the state’s eleven public universities) and a member of the Miami-Dade County Public Health Trust, has contributed around $37,000 to various Republican candidates since 2000. They include Marco Rubio, David Rivera, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Clay Shaw, Connie Mack, and Bill McCollum. In fact, let's get sworn affidavits from Carbonell and Arrizurieta as well. And while we are at it, I would question Strouse and Alvarado (can you ask him if he ghost writes for Luke?).
It seems that there was a clear cut violation of law here, if we are to believe the candid, non-practiced video taped interview with Campbell, instead of the Monday morning quarterbacking, "oh my gosh, what did I say?" reaction that seems pre-packaged.
Oye, Kathy (can I call you Kathy in public?), I know you know how much this community needs to know what really happened here. It is very much in the public's best interest to talk to all the parties involved. Inquiring minds want to know. And doing nothing, or too little, will send the message that it's business as usual come election time in Miami-Dade. I know you are busy, what with allegations of absentee ballot fraud and usury as well as the regular day-to-day bread-and-butter crime of this jurisdiction. But this should be a really easy one. A slam dunk, actually.
And Ladra volunteers her services, at no cost, if it can help in any way.
Because she's gonna keep asking questions anyway, stubborn watchdog. This is one bone that won't get buried.