The high-priced consultants and image brokers, communicators and veteran political advisers to our new mayor Carlos Gimenez certainly helped him win that narrow victory last week against the one-time front runner with three times the bankroll. But, in the end, despite what some 1A stories may say, the win came down to Hialeah's own team of rabid Robaina refugees who hammered away day in and day out at the discrepancies and dishonesty of their homegrown candidate.
In an election won by fewer than 4,200 votes, they became the tiny margin that mattered. And Ladra takes her hat off to these very real and modern Independence Day heroes.
Using social media on steroids and hounding traditional news outlets with information they often researched on their own, they turned traditional word-of-[bad]mouth into an art as they pressed their point that the city's former mayor, Julio Robaina, was not someone who could be trusted with the county government (neither its public money nor its public workforce), which became the biggest distinction when the candidates started sounding the same on policy issues like taxes and budget cuts and reform.
This tiny margin that mattered is an unlikely cast of characters that includes retired Police Chief Rolando Bolaños, who discovered facebook and used it as "my own newspaper" to post history lessons about Robaina's connections and conflicts of interest; Eric Johnson, a mad-as-Hell firefighter who made it his personal mission to burn down Robaina's political aspirations, one public record at a time; former Councilman (and current council candidate) Alex Morales, who took the time after he was fired by Robaina as director of the Hialeah Housing Authority to put together a dossier on his questionable activities for authorities, reporters, anyone who wanted a good read; the most popular politician ever from Hialeah, former Mayor (and current shoe-in mayoral candidate) Raul Martinez, who came out of hiding and went on Cuban AM radio to try to try to balance out the pro-Robaina slant on most stations; the fearless woman in white, union president Barbara Hernandez, speaking on behalf of scared-stiff city employees who Robaina always sacrificed -- cutting pay and benefits instead of raising taxes -- because they could not vote for him before, but who are county residents who remembered to not vote for him when they got the chance in a county race; the cops who broke rank with the administration that, at least publicly, supported Robaina; Fire Union Prez Mario Pico, who became the Gimenez campaign point man for anyone who wanted to help in Hialeah and who motivated his troops and recruited his own army of a family for a volunteer door-to-door educational campaign to try to stop absentee ballot fraud by assuring elderly voters of their rights; even the impostor "Claudia Fernandez" posing as Robaina's first wife on facebook, and posting a hilarious photographic Who's Who of the former mayor's inner circle that really ought to be published as a coffee table book.
Gimenez himself said his "Hialeah support team" was "obviously" crucial to his campaign.
"They helped me a lot with manpower, with signs," Gimenez told Ladra between photo ops at the victory party Tuesday night. "They had some information about my opponent that obviously helped paint a better picture of who he is because they knew him better than I did," Gimenez said. "He did some things over there that I wouldn't have done."
Moments earlier, the former city of Miami firefighter and chief had locked in a grateful and emotional embrace with Hialeah Fire's VP Johnson, the ATV-riding redneck who breathed, ate and slept his obsession to obliterate Robaina's lead and, really, candidacy for anything ever again. For Johnson, it was the end of a more than yearlong effort that was as much about keeping Robaina out of the county coffers as it was payback. Not for him -- he'll tell you a million times because he forgot if you are one of the people he's told this a million times to -- but for the single mothers who lost their homes and the babies who slept in cars because of deep salary cuts imposed unfairly on the lowest paid workers by his former boss. He says this with such conviction each time and fast blinks back tears in his macho man eyes that you know he's not only reliving the truth, but has given these colleagues whatever help he can. For his crusade, he has cashed in every single favor he's ever had. But his role, from Ladra's viewpoint, was pivotal. In addition to being one of Ladra's alleged "handlers," Johnson must have had his hands all over Jim Defede and Enrique Flor and Jay Weaver and Laura Isensee and Frank Alvarado and every other reporter and blogger that he hounded with information and documents he went to the trouble of getting and copying himself. You know, reporters are thinned out these days. He can take credit for most if not all of the "negative" (read: the ugly truth) stories that came out about Robaina's misdeeds in the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and all the television channels. But he doesn't ever. He told Ladra recently that he never wanted credit, just success. Which he got.
"They say democracy dies in the shadow of darkness and we just turned the lights on," Johnson said, though I am sure he ended it with "baby" or "boo-yah" or something cocky like that as redneck firefighters who feel vindicated might say.
More than simply turning on that light switch, however, these Hialeah heroes followed Robaina's campaign with a magnified spotlight, spreading questions and concerns like wildfire over dry Everglades in a controlled blaze.
Robaina knows that these thorns in his side could very well account for every single one of the 4,108 votes he was defeated by last week, only months after he was elected with a five point lead. If he had lost by those same five points, or 10 points as polls suggested, it might not have hurt as much as it likely still stings today that his machinery couldn't beat the tiny margin that mattered.
I know one former police chief, one pissed-off firefighter, one lady in white and a couple of others who might smile when they read that.