A poll commissioned by a new candidate in the Hialeah city council race gives former Mayor Raul Martinez quite a comfortable lead over anybody else. No big surprise there. As the city's mayor for almost three decades, Martinez is king of name recognition, the top brand. No big surprise either that the lead is 16 points over former State Sen. Rudy Garcia (Rep. District 40).
The surprise element came in the tiny two-point gap between Garcia and intern mayor Carlos Hernandez, who Ladra -- and the rest of the world, but they don't admit it as readily -- expected to do far worse than 20 percent to Garcia's 22 and Martinez's 38. Even though they naturally split the Republican vote -- which is why Martinez hopes Carlos stays in it -- Carlos was not expected to do so well in the wake of his mentor's giant fall and the financial fallout now.
Dario Moreno questioned 300 voters last week in the poll for Frank Lago, chief of staff to Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño who just lost a bid for the state rep seat vacated by new county commissioner Esteban Bovo to cigar czar Jose Oliva (Rep. District 110). He did not want to disclose the results and said Lago -- who apparently did well enough to want to throw his name into the ballot for council -- will release them on Monday (another sign he did well). But a source close to the candidate confirmed tips from others -- apparently Lago is so proud of his placing he's been parading the poll around -- that Martinez was, indeed, leading in a big way. "Double digits," one seasoned campaigner said. "Twenty points," said another Hialeah political veteran.
Lago told Ladra that Council President Isis "Gavel Girl" Garcia-Martinez polled the highest among incumbents, which also was reported by one of the operatives. Later, I was told that Gavel Girl Garcia -- who already publicly supported Lago's candidacy -- beat former Councilwoman Cindy Miel (who will likely run against her to reprise their greatest hits) by 20 points in the poll. No word if Lago was pitted against Gavel Girl, but he likely won't challenge her. He reportedly got better numbers, howeer, when run against either council member Vivian Cassols-Muñoz or Paul Hernandez, the appointee serving out Hernandez's term through November. Lago and his fans say his showing is the residual result of his state rep run, where he did well in Hialeah (he lost by less than 700 votes) and gained name recognition.
The good news for Lago is he can run for practically any seat -- as long as it's not against former Councilman and housing director Alex Morales, who seems to have scored highest of any candidate, including the incumbents, on name recognition. He did serve the city for 11 years before he was run out of town (he does live in the city again and more on that later) by former mayor Julio Robaina, who Morales worked dozens of unpaid hours to help defeat in the county mayoral race ('cause Karma is another word for Ladra). But that was more than a decade ago, which is nothing but bad news for the incumbents.
The good news for Martinez is two-fold: Don't mess up and you're in the runoff for sure. And you could even be so lucky as to face Hernandez there. Most political observers agree that Raul will wipe the floor with Carlos while he could face a costlier, closer runoff against Garcia.
Good news for Carlitos is he could actually get into a runoff with Martinez and keep a little of what dignity he has left -- at least before he is obliterated in the head-to-head or saved by an act of God. Those really are the only options.
There's not much good news here for Garcia. Sure, he is number two as expected, but with a wide gap and with candidate number-three-with-the-bully-pulpit closer than anyone imagined, practically breathing down his neck. Still, it's a bit premature for his peak and Garcia has to go up from here. He hasn't campaigned in more than a decade and has not been on TV or in the newspapers or on the radio -- as Martinez and Hernandez are constantly -- in almost as long. So these numbers are going to be skewered against him.
That might be why he isn't putting much faith in the Lago poll and won't do one of his own at least until after qualification ends Sept. 9. "It makes no sense now."
But Martinez isn't going to rest on his alleged laurels, either, and seemed unimpressed with his lead. "Polls are a picture of a specific time and any elected official that guides the campaign just by polling is not very bright. You use the poll and cross reference it to look for strengths or weaknesses."
There is a lot of time for that, three months seems like years from here (it will seem like seconds once we are there). And Ladra predicts that Garcia's numbers will go up. Though whether it will be enough is the remaining question. Many political observers say Garcia is the only candidate out there that could beat Martinez. But he needs to roll up his sleeves and get ready to work hard because these are the streets of Hialeah, not the halls of Tallahassee, and hard work is something I've been repeatedly told Garcia -- a 26-year professional legislator who ran unopposed since 2000 and reportedly has some cushy figurehead (read: "no-show") job with his family's carpet business -- may not be entirely familiar with.
For the newlywed dad to 11-month-old twins and only real challenger to Martinez's return to his rightful throne, losing about 10 pounds knocking on doors, this might be a crash course.