If every Hialeah City Council meeting from now until November is going to turn into a political showdown between incumbent candidates and their climbing competition, well, you know where you'll find Ladra every other Tuesday. This free entertainment is too good to pass up.
Besides, I'd hate to miss it when former councilman, current candidate and Professor-At-Large Alex Morales is thrown out of council chambers. Or arrested.
Yeah, yeah, former mayor Raul Martinez, who is normally the most colorful and quotable guy in the room, any room, took a few jabs at acting alcaldito Carlos Hernandez, who always looks like the cat that ate the canary. The Prince of Darkness asked some questions and raised concerns about a housing project refinancing deal and the $16 million credit line, but it was clearly the professor's domain Tuesday as he turned council chambers into his classroom.
Morales went to the podium at least three times to illustrate how much more he knows about the city's operations, procedures, policies, laws and finances than any of the sitting council members or the strong mayor. He was ready to trip the mayor up on the pension item that would prohibit elected officials to draw pensions while in office while former employees who are elected, like Hernandez -- a onetime cop who draws a $50,000 or so pension -- would not be affected. Or maybe they could be. "It's complicated," City Attorney William Groddnick said, unable to make a summary distinction at the public meeting that was clear to me. Martinez, who is the obvious target of this move, would likely not be affected either, according to a legal opinion from an outside counsel. "I haven't issued an opinion yet but it may not apply retroactively," Groddnick said, apparently conspiring with el alcaldito to drag this out as long as possible. After all, the words "pension reform" -- even when it's pretend pension reform -- is good campaign chatter. Except that Hernandez, as usual, doesn't really know what he's talking about. He once said that his pension was different from Martinez's because he contributed into his. But that's not true. The 7 percent that was taken out of Hernandez's police officer paycheck went to an annuity that was paid to him when he retired. Morales was trying to get Hernandez to make that mistake again so he could embarass him at the public meeting, but Groddnick, who pointed to a 28-year-old policy that was rewritten in 1998, kept answering the questions for him. This seems like a new strategy and Ladra likes it because Groddnick talks openly while Hernandez sits there with a canary-toothed smile, resting his chin on the tip of his index finger.
"Do you think you're going to trap me into something? You're leading me with 100 questions. Get to the point," Groddnick said, adding a little sarcastic emphasis to "Let's be transparent."
Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez -- who did not use the gavel once so I wonder if we should rename her -- had to weigh in, as usual, with her little jab: "And your emails couldn't be more transparent," she told Morales, leaving everyone to wonder what she is talking about and Ladra to make yet another public records request, this time to see what nuggets of knowledge the professor has been imparting on the council against their will. At Tuesday's meeting, the lesson seemed to be about equality -- at least as far as the pension policy. "What's good for the goose is good for the gander," said Morales, who has told Ladra that one of the first things he will do if elected is undo the law he sponsored when he was a councilman that gave the electeds in Hialeah better pension benefits. "It was a mistake," he said, and he said that even before Groddnick started using the ordinance to defend the acting alcaldito's obviously targetted swipe at Martinez, who he once endorsed as a candidate for Congress. The city attorney said Hernandez's move was in line with a 28-year "safety net" policy that he said was undone with a 1998 law (read: mistake).
"I wrote that," Morales said.
"No, I wrote that," a territorial Groddnick said.
"I told you how to write it," Morales countered.
"I wrote the ordinance," Groddnick repeated, apparently enjoying the debte. Maybe he should run for office.
"You wrote it for me. Under my direction," the professor reminded him and I don't think I've ever seen two government guys go at it with such gusto to claim authorship of a "mistake."
Hernandez broke it up and finally came to the defense of his mouthpiece.
"I'll put up with your cheap theatrics and waste three to five minutes... but let's talk about transparency," Hernandez said, and then publicly challenged Morales' residency, saying that not only did he live in Miami Lakes but that he lived in Broward before that and had not lived in Hialeah in 10 years. "You have a very beautiful home in Royal Oaks," the mayor said, and we can't help but wonder if that is first hand knowledge because he drove by to stake it out or something he read in that unreal ragblog that only responds now to these posts.
Morales, who has admitted to moving back to the city specifically so he could run for office, said he was registered to vote at his West 29th Street apartment, where he has been living for more than a year, and reminded the council that he announced his new address to them at a public meeting last year. "You've seen me there. You have me surveilled," he told Hernandez. "You are welcome to drop by and sit outside. I'm not letting you inside." He also called the mayor's bluff about the homestead exemption, which Morales does not claim on his house. The professor then gave el alcaldito a big "F" in research because he had found another Alex Morales and had not bothered to check employee records to find out that his legal first name is Sean. (Morales was director of the Hialeah Housing Authority until former mayor Julio Robaina fired him).
"Well, then your paperwork doesn't have your legal name," Hernandez shot back, calling his residency claim an "insult to the community" and a fraud. "Nobody believes that you live in that one-bedroom apartment and that once a week your wife visits you for fun night," he said.
And just like that he reminded us why Hialeah -- where Councilman Jose Caragol once campaigned with an oral sex slogan -- has an X-rating when it comes to politics.
But the other significance of that is that el acting alcaldito, despite telling folks he doesn't read Political Cortadito, not only follows Ladra but misquotes her. I used "date night" not "fun night," which as has already been established, is every other Tuesday. I was still gloating inwardly when Gavelgirl, who I hope returns to her little hammer habit, told Morales they had "read all about it on Political Cortadito." (Well, we just want to give a shout out to Gavelgirl and any other council members/closet Political Cortadito readers here today. Hello everybody!).
And while it's a shameless, classless statement that involves an obviously patient and highly tolerant woman who has no blame in the professor's planned return to politics, Ladra has to say it's fair play. After all, critics of Hernandez had already started to use the name "Nancy-the-Stripper" (referring to Hernandez's wife) to leave comments on websites and blogs. And what's good for the goose, right professor? See? Ladra learns fast.
That's another reason not to miss these council meetings: Because they have turned into accelerated classes on political posturing. And we have a lot to study before the big test in November.