What? It can happen! Ladra saw it with her own very eyes.
Eight council candidates were at the Hialeah Association of Commerce and Neighbors for the group's 30th anniversary dinner Saturday night -- including the four Back to the Future slate mates who mugged for the camera with incumbent Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz. And Ladra really, really wishes that the Dark Prince had been there to see if he would smile for me next to the official Notary Public for the First Hialeah Bank of Julito. And then I would want to be in the room when Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez sees it and spontaneously combusts (she may anyway when she hears about the wonderful things her colleague said about her opponent). But it would be difficult for former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, who wants his old job back, to show up at an event organized by Modesto Perez, who keeps in his back pocket a folded newspaper clipping and court document about his lawsuit against the city after he was, he says, wrongfully arrested following a fight at an Eckerd Drugs with someone who supposedly said something about his wife. Perez said Hialeah police violated his constitutional rights -- but lost and the city, under Martinez, filed $87,000 in liens against his properties for their legal costs. Perez is backing former State Sen. Rudy "The Ghost" Garcia, who was there. But even if Martinez had come, Ladra is sure that Casals-Muñoz who still have stolen the show. The crowd was pretty much anti-incumbent so it took gumption for her to be there. And she was -- once again -- friendly and confident and chatty and chistosa even, at one point agreeing with the man introducing her by saying "Seguro Que Yes." Ladra almost peed in her pants. What a sense of humor! She should give the other members of the council some media training and etiquette lessons. She was funny, answered questions courteously, joked that she would not call the police if I followed her around, or that she would call Chief Rolando Bolaños, who was there with his son Danny Bolaños, who is running against her. They were very eerily nice to each other. Ladra was a little leary, of course. I am maybe too jaded, as someone much more important than I told me recently. But it was a breath of fresh air -- especially after the last few days I've had -- to be treated fairly and professionally by someone who knows that I have already backed an opponent and been critical of her past alliances and actions. Nobody can tell me she hasn't changed because it has happened before my very eyes. She was the only incumbent to go to the firefighters' union's screening and was the only council member to ask any questions at all -- even if they were insufficient and seemed like superficial solicitations made to look like a real challenge. And, more imortantly, to be given answers to legitimate questions in these As Hialeah Churns races. So I told her so. Thumbs up, Viv.
"We are all residents of the city and the day after the election, we still have to live together in this city," said Casals-Muñoz, who was not offended and did not feel harassed when I went up and very obviously started to eavesdrop on a conversation she was having with Bolaños. "This is a democratic process. I've known Danny for many years." Man, she sounds good! In fact, she sounds like the cat that ate the canary -- and is purring and licking her fur in satisfaction. Not like the mouse that is trapped and made to squeal to squirm her way out. Ladra can't help but think she knows something the rest of us do not, but overall me cae bien. And that feels weird. I hate to say this but Casals-Muñoz might not be so bad. Or maybe she freed herself from under a spell or something. Ladra first saw her talking to Garcia, the only mayoral candidate there -- finally, somewhere in the public eye, after getting some slack for staying away from the fray at City Hall (more on that down further). But both say they are not running together. "She was just saying hello," Garcia said. Casals-Muñoz told us on camera last month that she was not with anyone and concentrating on her own campaign. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0Od0vBRkEA) Then she went and greeted each of the Back to the Future four and had some kind words for former Councilwoman Cindy Miel. She joked around with former Councilman Alex "The Professor" Morales, who was in some of his advanced classes at Hialeah High School. When the professor called a certain councilman "special ed" again, Ladra told him maybe that is what people thought of him. "I could say a lot of things about Alex but I wouldn't say that," Casals-Muñoz quipped. "It's a two-way street, baby," Morales shot back. Ooooh, did they just admit they have a lot of dirt on each other? I don't want to be disrespectful but Ladra was happier than a dog in a pile of bones to watch these two laugh it up.
There were a couple of glaring exceptions to the happy fest. "Daring" Daisy Castellanos did not even acknowledge, again, to Frank Lago, the former chief of staff to Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño who jumped after she did into the race to unseat Pablito "special ed" Hernandez and kinda pissed on her parade. She did say in her little speech that she was running for the families and the small businesses and not for special interests. That's a jab at Lago's ties to attorneys Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Carlos Gimenez, the son, who hosted a fundraiser for him and represent the red light camera contractor that is likely going to file suit against the city for breaking the agreement. But Mr. Castellanos, however, did get ruffled. "I love my wife more than he loves his wife. Are we going to get into a debate about that," he told me in a mock manner after Lago first thanked his wife, maybe too effusively, for supporting him and his dreams (well, I would too if I had just left a $70,000 job for a shot at a $44,000 one). And, no, Mr. Castellanos, you are not going to get into a debate about that because you are not the candidate. Even though sometimes you might think so.
The other lemon was Lourdes Lozano -- who everyone thinks was thrown in against Morales by alcaldito Carlos Hernandez. She was the only member of his slate to go to the party and arrived late, rushing from a CAMACOL event, she said, after she ran to join the line of candidates next to the podium so she could speak. Garcia stopped his speech -- which was going to be longer than anyone's (and more on that later) -- to give her the mic. And Lozano, who was appointed to the Hialeah Housing Authority and fired Morales at former Mayor Julio Robaina's behest, ran with it and opened a can of worms on herself, tossing a few of them on Morales. She came off as aggressive and unapologetic about it. "I was never investigated at the Department of Children and Families," where she works (Hmmmm. Ladra is going to have to take a walk over there.). She said that when she arrived at housing there were more than 900 food stamp vouchers that had not been given to residents and she was proud to have gotten them into the hands of needy families. Aha. That walk over to DCF is definitely in order, especially since she kept referring to allegations against herself. And wait a minute? She works at DCF, around food stamps, and is on the housing board. Hmmmm again. "I have never used fraud to get a vote for anyone nor a vote for me... I do not rent myself out to be in favor of anyone... I will work with whatever mayor is there." Lozano later told Ladra that she was on the slate with Hernandez, who is apparently helping her with campaign resources, but she reiterated that she would work with any one of the three hopefuls. When asked who she was referring to about fraud and unused vouchers, she wouldn't directly say Morales, but she shrugged her shoulders and jutted her chin in his direction. "You're a journalist. Look it up," Lozano said, not too nastily. "Everybody knows who I was talking about." Lozano also said she loved Danny (what's not to love?), but she wouldn't tell me if he had her vote. "El voto es una cosa sagrada," she said. (Well, not in Hialeah so much, especiallyin your housing units, but Ladra's working on that.)
Anyone could tell there was no love lost between Morales and Lozano. She was the only other candidate Morales would not mug with -- no matter how much Ladra begged. Morales was even friendly with Garcia, who beat him in the 2000 state senate race, and arrived at the Parisian Ballroom in East Hialeah with an entourage and big tent-like sign on a truck. That was a difficult race for Morales for personal reasons, but he says he has no regrets. "What happened was that wasn't where the Lord wanted me to end up, which was in a job that I loved and where I could do a lot of good," Morales said, referring to his stint as head of the Hialeah Housing Authority until he was fired by Robaina in 2009. "Rudy won the people's support and it's over." Staying his "solo" self, Garcia stood on the other side of the dancefloor as the candidates stood in one line opposite him waiting to speak. When his turn came, he spoke again about a different kind of Hialeah, and named former elected leaders like Andy Mejides, whose wife was sitting at his table, and Ruby Sweezy and Jack Weaver (who did not have anyone sitting at his table). "What we have now is a lack of leadership, these shows they are making hurt and dishonor our city," Garcia said. "People ask me why I don't go to the council meetings and I'll tell you why. Because what is happening in our council chambers is an embarassment."
But there are plenty of people who do go, Sen. Ghost Garcia, and try to ask questions and fight against the embarrassment and the corruption and disrespect. You could lend these people some support, some credibility, some strength in numbers.
And guess what? They vote.