Police arrived Wednesday to one of the monthly senior parties thrown for the residents of Hialeah Housing Authority facilities after someone called in a "disturbance". But it wasn't a fistfight between two viejitos over the Marlins MVP or a hair-pulling meleé de abuelas over the last piece of cake.
No, the police were called to eject two candidates in the upcoming election: former councilman and former HHA director Alex Morales -- who was fired by fomer mayor Julio Robaina after he refused to break the rules for him -- and former Hialeah cop turned HHA intake specialist (he processes new applications) Danny Bolaños, son of the former longtime police chief. Two other candidates on the November ballot -- incumbent councilmen Jose Caragol and Pablito "Huh" Hernandez, who are being backed by HHA Director Julio Ponce -- were left to chat with the housing residents (read: absentee voters) in the dining room Villa Aida, 20 West 6th St., and even allowed to walk around and roam the hallways freely, as photographed here.
Neither Bolaños nor Morales had any campaign materials to hand out. They were just saying hello. While Ladra knows that they were there for votes, so were Caragol and Hernandez, and the rules don't say they couldn't attend the party, only that they cannot campaign there. In addition, there were another 10 or so HHA employee colleagues of Bolaños there that were not made to leave.
"I went there to say hello to friends who have seen me grow up since 2003 when I came to housing," Bolaños told me Thursday. "I did not tell anyone that I was a political candidate. The policy says you can't solicit. I wasn't soliciting. I was saying hello." Bolaños has been to dozens of other parties -- until 2009 when he first ran for office (lost to Councilwoman Katherine Cue and Robaina's absentee ballot machinery). "That's when Julio Ponce forbid me from going."
On Wednesday, they were told they were not allowed to be there, per HHA policy. But Morales said they intentionally bent the rules in order to violate his and Bolaños rights.
"I wrote the policy and it says you can't campaign door-to-door or solicit door-to-door for funeral packages, for HMOs, for anything," Morales said. "But at those parties, everyone went. We just don't allow the distribution of literature." The Professor reminded Ladra about a 2008 visit to one of the housing buildings by former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart when he was campaigning for re-election against Morales friend and ally Raul Martinez, the former Hialeah mayor now running to get his old job back. "Lincoln showed up unannounced with mariachis and I adjusted the program," Morales said. "I stood next to him. I smiled. I introduced him. I gave him the microphone. I asked him not to distribute cards, 'But you are welcome to go table to table and say hi to everybody.'"
The most interesting thing about the whole incident, to Ladra anyway, were the photographs shown to me by one of the viejitas who snapped away as Morales said hi to people he has known for decades: Hovering over him the entire time, like a giant intimidating shadow, was HHA adult activities director Adriel Sanchez, who was physically pushing him and trying to block him from greeting residents.
"I was assaulted and battered," Morales said. "He was pushing me, he was grabbing me by the arm. I repeatedly told him stop touching me. You are battering me and I am going call the police." He didn't have to. Someone, and we suspect it may be HHA Director Ponce, called police and had him and Bolaños escorted out. He is not going to press charges for battery, though, he may pursue a violation of his constitional rights. Both Morales and Bolaños -- and this could show they are still solidly on the same slate supporting each other -- have consulted an attorney. "We may take action that way," Morales said. "You cannot allow free speech for one group of individuals and not to another group of individuals."
But Adriel Sanchez sounded like a familiar name to Ladra. And it is. We wrote about him in June. Adriel Miguel Sanchez, chairman of the Citizens to Reclaim Miami-Dade Government PAC, which is curiously out of Tampa, and Ladra wrote about him in June when she was tabulating the millions [badly] spent on Robaina's failed bid for county mayor. That PAC raised and spent more than $1.12 million, mostly funneled to other PACs for Robaina, including The [Non]Accountability Project, Citizens First and Citizens for Clarity -- which used some of those funds for attack radio ads against then-candidate Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez -- according to campaign finance reports. Curiously, no funds from Citizens to Reclaim Miami-Dade Govenment went to Truth for Our Community PAC, which is chaired by his boss, Ponce (another quid pro quo botella as director with a $125,000 salary and a $900-a month car allowance, despite having only a high school diploma and zero experience in the field). But the final report from the Reclaim PAC, "disbanded" on Sept. 8, is not due until Oct. 11.
Ladra can't help but wonder if Sanchez's $31,500-a-year HHA job is another one of those botella positions (read: political quid pro quo) given to people who help the powers that be with their political aspirations and campaigns? Or was his name simply used by Ponce and Robaina to front another of more than eight or nine PACs that were working for the former mayor and real estate mogul. The Citizens to Reclaim Miami-Dade Government PAC was formed on December 20, two months after Sanchez was hired Oct. 4, 2010
I called Sanchez to find out if he was the chicken or the egg, and he put me on hold. "Hang on a second," after I introduced myself and he told me his title and confirmed he was hired in October. After a few minutes, a woman came on the phone. "Can I help you?" I said I was speaking with Mr. Sanchez and he had put me on hold but said he would be right back. I was then connected to his voice mail.
Sanchez, curiously, also has addresses in Las Vegas and Orange County, California, and Ladra can't help but wonder if he has any casino or gambling ties. Jesus Navarro, the maquinita king of Hialeah, gave the Citizens to Reclaim PAC at least $5,000 and the Brunetti family, who own Hialeah Park racetrack, gave more than $50,000 to the PAC.
Ladra likes to play with chance a little as much as the next dog and, in fact, has a little wager to propose: How much does anyone want to bet that Robaina is still involved in Hialeah politics?