As expected, the endorsement from the Unity Coalition for the Miami city election in District 2 went to Kate Callahan -- who pays the group's political director, Vanessa Brito, $4,500 a month to manage her campaign against incumbent Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.
What was not expected is that the organization took it back four hours later.
As Ladra predicted, Callahan scored the recommendation after last week's screening before the LGBT group, which also interviewed Donna Milo and Michelle Niemeyer (Sarnoff said he was neither invited nor notified). And while he may not have announced it, UC President Herb Sosa did tell Milo in an email sent at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday that a decision had been made: "After much discussion and review of credentials & positions on issues of importance to UC|CU, we felt that both yourself and Ms. Niemeyer were extremely impressive and we would be proud to have represent our city and its needs, but it was determined that Kate Callahan was the overall choice for our recommendation, due to the fact that she will be a full-time commissioner, seemed most in line with our organizations positions on issues of concern as well as offered to host various LGBT community workshops once elected," Sosa wrote (at least he is a fan of long sentences).
That did not ring right to Milo, a Republican transgender lesbian who lost a congressional bid last year against U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Dem/District 20). Milo told Ladra it was a done deal by the time she got to the screening Sept. 1. "I feel it was predetermined. They had their minds made up," she said, adding that she was later told there were some arguments within the group. "Obviously, it was crooked.: While Brito abstained from the vote, the campaign consultant and chairwoman of the Miami Voice recall PAC -- which may be warming its engines (more on that later) -- did collect the questionnaires and contact the candidates. Brito (read: Callahan) had access to all the questionnaires before the screening. Milo and her campaign manager, Emiliano Antunez, had issues with her involvement and influence. Last year, other November candidates and supporters felt UC's recommendation of the Brito longshot slate -- wannabes she worked for and/or with -- was inappropriate if not downright fishy. Nobody can deny that it is at the very least a perceived conflict of interest. Not even Sosa -- eventually.
While he told Ladra Tuesday that it was an insult to even suggest anything might be perceived as unethical. But an hour after I called him on the phone to follow up on the endorsement, he sent another email to Milo and every other candidate in this year's elections, as well as the UC board members, saying that the organization would not endorse anyone and, in effect, rescinding the Callahan recommendation. "Due to unfortunate, misleading and irresponsible actions beyond our control by some in the media and the community, Unity Coalition/Coalicion Unida will not be issuing political recommendations in any local race for November 2011 elections," he wrote, using all caps, but it was just too loud so I changed it. The rest is as is: "We value our process, take the highest of respect & care to ensure total transaprency [sic] and professionalism in our political recommendations since 2002, but unfortunately this year our process was violated and compromised by misinformation put out prematurely and irresponsibly by others, and therefore we feel we have no choice but to NOT ISSUE ANY POLITICAL RECOMMENDATIONS for the 2011 elections at this time. Thank you for your time and attention. We wish all the candidates in the City of Miami, Miami Beach, Hialeah, Miami Lakes & beyond - the best of luck."
Just what does "our process was violated and compromised by misinformation put out prematurely and irresponsibly" mean, may I ask? Maybe it is code for "our tainted process was exposed just in time and with a great deal of legitimate context and therefore we have no choice but to not issue any political favors for our friend because it's too obvious and might be difficult to defend or deflect from." And if Ladra is among the "some in the media" that made this happen, well, then, wag my tail. Because that second email was sent out at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, an hour after Ladra questioned Sosa about the obvious and blatant conflict of interest in a telephone conversation that he recorded after I gave him permission, as required by law, because I have no reason to object. He was not happy when we were done, I guess. Hence the email subject line: "UPDATE on UC|CU Political Endorsements for 2011 - THERE WILL BE NONE!" And it was 35 minutes after I sent Sosa an email asking why he had said that Brito had not been to a UC meeting in six months and had not been at the screening when she announces it on her facebook profile page and posts a mobile photo of her candidate client talking to the board.
Ladra, 1. Sosa, 0.
But I still want copies of the UC's last three annual 990s (forms non-profits are required to file with the IRS and produce copies of upon request). Ladra has questions about the expenses and proceeds (if there were any left) from a Haiti earthquake relief fashion show in Miami Beach last year that Brito organized. But since Sosa, who seems afraid of what we might find, flat out refused to provide them, I will have to make the public records request via the IRS in D.C. and that could take weeks. "Our records are clear. We have audits. I'm not going to share them with you. It's none of your concern," Sosa told me, but maybe he changed his mind about that also, like the endorsement.
Because it is my concern, Herb. This community needs organizations like UC to vet candidates and make recommendations based on the group's criteria and agenda, and I hope that UC will resume that tradition -- after it creates a cleaner process that is not violated and compromised by conflict of interest, real or perceived. And those organizations must be transparent and accountable to the community. So I hope that you change your mind and provide me with copies, as required by law, so that any perceived problems can be cleared up.
In the meantime, he did say he would not provide them to me. He was very specific. "I'm not giving you anything." So if anyone else would care to do the honors and get the public documents for Ladra, we would wag harder. Sosa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 786-271-6982.