Monday, April 25, 2011

"Education" on "reform" tonight

One of what we suspect will be several "town hall" meetings and forums on the charter reform questions voters will see on the May 24 ballot is in Palmetto Bay Tuesday evening.

Commission Chairman Joe Martinez and newby Commissioner Lynda Bell, former mayor of Homestead, have invited the public to "share their input on changes they would like to see in the charter and the proposed amendments." Not that the input is going to have any actual, er, input. The proposed amendments -- watered down to self-serving red herrings, for the most part -- have already been decided and voted upon. What's the point?

Could it be to sway voters one way or another? Nah, they couldn't be up to something like that. Both said in their shared press release that they were just informing the public. And they are really going all out to do it. Martinez, who has two other town hall meetings planned before the vote, sent an email to constituents explaining why.

"These town hall meetins will allow residents to obtain information on the prposed Miami-Dade Home Rule charter amendments... while providing a venue for their opinions to be heard," Martinez wrote. "With the special election quickly approaching, I feel it is imiperative that the community's sentiments be heard and that they are provided with all the information available in order to make an informed decision. As such, I urge you to attend a town hall meeting near you." In the press release statement, Martinez said: "The special election is quickly approaching and it is imperative that voters know how the proposed amendments to the charter can affect the Miami-Dade County Home Rule Charter. As their representatives, it is our duty to make sure the residents have as much information available to so they can make an informed decision."

m pleased to be able to bring this important meeting to my district and encourage residents to take an active role in their County government,” Bell's statement reads. “This is an opportunity for residents to take part in a public forum and learn more about the way their vote affects how their government will run.”

Ladra wants to "learn more about the way their vote affects how their government will run." But we are not sure we will make it to the meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Palmetto Golf Course Recreation Room, 9300 Coral Reef Drive. There is a good, actual paying job today, and contrary to what some politicians who may feel embarrassed by Ladra might say y Mami y Papi who are hoping some political grandpapi in the community will give me a "grant", we get no bones for this gig.

So if one of you, dear readers, would get that information on my behalf. Maybe even record the town hall meeting? Is that too much to ask? Yes, ask the two electeds how the government changes, but also ask one of the "representatives from other county departments" that are also expected to "be on hand to assist residents with answering any inquiries."

Then ask how much those staff members get paid to be at a town meeting that could either be a moot point or a campaign stop. I hope they are voluntarily informing the public.
Because there are at least two more town meetings scheduled by Martinez, who is really bent on informing us. There will be one with Martinez and Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Mas Canosa Youth Center in Sweetwater, 250 NW 114th Ave., and another at the West Kendall Regional Library, 10201 Hammocks Blvd., from 7 to 8:30 p.m. May 4.

Now you can tell that this is important to them.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

New poll: Robaina drops, Luke #3

Unconfirmed results of an unseen mayoral candidate poll -- and this time Ladra only got the same information from two people, not the three we like to have -- are not surprising in the sense that Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina may have dropped from two-months-ago numbers.

Robaina still leads, but he lost a whopping 10 points -- a significant decline since it went from a comfortable 28 to a too-close 18, closing the gap with former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez to 6 points. The drop is likely the result of Miami Herald headlines and other news stories about his alleged loansharking and connections to an allegedly admitted Ponzi schemer and the alleged subsequent investigations and alleged pending arrests. Ladra hopes that her barking about his bundling of contributions by allegedly shady business partners who have poured at least $68,000 into his $673,000 campaign also had something to do with the crowd going sour on Julito.

But what we were saying was that no, that is not so surprising. We were surprised to find Luther Campbell in the number three position on that poll with a 7 point percentage. Now that's interesting. Didn't expect Campbell, who blew off the candidate debate presented by DFAM earlier this week, to be in the top three.

But as much as Ladra would looooove to see Uncle Luke be the boss, I am telling people -- like my cousin who told me at Easter brunch that she was going to mark Campbell as a "protest vote" -- not to vote for him. That is exactly what Robaina wants: a runoff with Campbell.

Maybe it's too early to rule Marcelo Llorente and Jose "Pepe" Cancio out, and Ladra never got to see this poll, so I can't vouch for it independently. But I can vouch, so far, for the people who gave me the information, both begrudgingly (because I am good). So let's just pretend that those numbers are valid, also because they make sense. Llorente and Cancio may cancel each other out more than anybody else. And despite there being 11 candidates, there really isn't anyone else in this race. Roosevelt Bradley? Not a chance. Ever. Gabrielle Redfern? She is building her name recognition for the next time. (Llorente is also. More on that later). The other perennial candidates must just be practicing or positioning themselves for another run later on.

Ladra likes Luke, who has gained "community hero" status. We read his blog on New Times more now that he got our attention as a candidate. But he should withdraw from this race. He won't win a runoff against Robaina. We would love to see that, but we don't think it would happen. And, let's face it, as much as Robaina would loooove to have his runoff against Campbell -- anyone but Gimenez, really -- Campbell could become a real community hero and withdraw. Otherwise, his candidacy will be used by Robaina.

Watch this week as Robaina and/or his PAC, who have more money than Changó, start scheming to get Campbell into the number 2 position with attack ads on Gimenez. The idea is to divert votes not only to Campbell, but also to Cancio and Llorente. Because any lost vote for Gimenez would close the gap between him and Uncle Luke, and benefit Julio.

Will it be enough? Not a chance. Ladra predicts what everyone also feels is a sure thing after May 24: A showdown between the two top contenders. Let's call them Richie Cunningham vs. The Fonz. Gimenez, of course, is the nerdy, vanilla policy-wonk who goes to sleep ridiculously early and boasts that he likes to "underpromise" so he can "overdeliver." Just like a career bureaucrat. Robaina is a slick Rico Suave smooth operator with friends in low places who has already shown a tendency to over-promise and under-deliver. In other words, he knows what to say to woo the crowd, but doesn't know what he's saying.

That's the runoff we need and deserve. How about it Uncle Luke? Take it out of Julio's hands and run for Commissioner Bruno Barreiro's seat in 2012 instead. I hear he is pretty vulnerable. (More on that later).

Robaina gets scorcher of a ruling

Ouch! Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina -- now running for the county mayor's post -- might have felt a little burn Friday when the city was ordered to rehire 16 veteran firefighters he summarily dismissed right before a union vote expected to reject $4.4 million in concessions. And right before Christmas.

I bet there's smoke coming out of his ears.

"Since you are receiving a pension of 75% of your final average compensation, I recognize that you are in such better position to sustain your livelihood than an employee who would be terminated without any pension income,” Robaina wrote to them in the December termination letters quoted in the ruling. (At least he has a taste for sarcasm.).

The senior firefighters (read: big salaries) were all in the DROP plan, which means they postponed retirement for up to five years, and some within the union suggest they were targeted to sway the vote. They filed grievances on the grounds that economic reasons are not cause for termination and the firings were actually layoffs in disguise without cause or notice as required.

Fort Myers arbitrator Robert Hoffman agreed. “The city failed to have just cause, cause and good cause,” which is a nice way of saying they had absolutely no cause at all, Hoffman said, adding that the firefighters “shall be immediately reinstated to their former positions and made whole.” That means paid retroactively to December. Add to that whatever it cost the city to defend this action.

All this to be a bully?

There is a right way to negotiate and a gangster’s way to do it. Ladra is not necessarily happy about the paid five-month vacations for these dedicated and hardworking first responders, no matter how wonderful they are. Even though it does provide the voting public with a nice warning at the right time. But since they all contend that they were “willing to make some concessions in the first place, including retirement” for some DROP staff, and it was “Robaina who acted in bad faith ,” they can compromise now and come out of it true Hialeah heroes. And make him look like the heavy again. Which is really easy, actually.

In the ruling, even the arbitrator – who probably knows nothing about Robaina’s alleged freelance loan sharking, gaming industry appeal, zest for no-bid vendors at the city and real estate development ties – made some observations worth pointing out to voters.

1) The action was taken without a formal cost analysis, which is “especially significant here, given that this is not the usual cost-cutting measure, whereby the most expensive employees are cut back, laid off or terminated to save the total cost of their salaries and benefits.”

2) The city would have to hire replacements for the high-ranking officers – which include three district chiefs, three captains and eight lieutenants – and they could not be entry level, so savings were not immediately evidently significant, Hoffman said (read: It was payback from the mayor).

3) The city failed to terminate other employees, including senior non-drop fire officials that would have meant a greater savings to the city because it would be a 24 percent decrease in pension costs.

4) There are “questions about the legitimacy of the reasons to terminate” the firefighters because of the timing right before the union vote.

He stopped short of saying that Robaina fired the firefighters so they would not be able to vote against the contract ratification. But that’s what Ladra is growling about. Is this the kind of leadership we want at the county?

I hope the "dropped 16" as they have been called in the firehouse start back at work Monday.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Artiles to sponsor Ladra's law

Embarassed yet accountable State Rep. Frank Artiles (R, District 119 but he doesn't live there yet) finally called me back today and said he had no hard feelings.

"I know you were just doing your job and congratulations," Artiles said, but maybe a little sarcastically, not like everybody else.

While he will take full responsibility and pay the fine -- which could be up to about $14,000 -- Artiles repeated his story that he really did not know he was supposed to have moved from his Palmetto Bay home already. He said he was told he had six months because it was a redistricting year. "Because the boundaries could change," he said. That makes no sense for two reasons. One is that he voted less than a month ago to fine a fellow freshman legislator, Jacksonville's Reggie Fullwood (and we don't know if it's a coincidence he is a Democrat), after Fullwood failed to move into his district for 15 days. (Artiles told our new best friend Marc Caputo, of the Miami Herald's Tallahassee bureau, that he was voting with the chair without knowing what the vote was, which Ladra thinks is far worse than hiding your residency even). And the second is that I highly doubt boundaries will change within the six-month window that ends next month.

But Artiles seemed genuinely offended, even wounded.

"Again, I know you are doing your job, but what bothers me is that you say that I knew and I was trying to skate. But that's not me at all," Artiles said. "I pull no punches."

Neither does Ladra, I told him, and repeated that this was not a personal attack on him. Rather, I said, it was about the system and the fact that the law should be changed so that candidates for the title of "representative" are required to live in the district before they run for office there.

Then Artiles said the smartest thing I've heard from him so far in this whole mess: "I will run that bill in Tallahassee next year."

Are you serious? Really? Can I quote you?

"Yes," he said. And that's the second smartest thing he's said.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Proliferation of the PACs

Newly former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez has more money for that mayoral bid than we first thought.

More than half a mil, to be exact. Because he has two accounts.

The campaign fund is the one with $229,295 in contributions, but the PAC Gimenez formed in November has raised more than that, with $277,716 in contributions. Gimenez total: $507,000.

So the race cash gap is smaller between him and Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, who we reported last month had more than twice as much as Gimenez with his $611,000 war chest. Robaina has his own PAC working for him, but The Truth For Our Community PAC, run by his ally and Hialeah Housing Authority chair Julio Ponce, only has abut $20,000 left in it's account, according to the report due April 11 (which tells Ladra that another PAC is in the making). We do have to add another $42,700 to the Robaina campaign fund for what we assume are Robaina-related expenses. Why? The PAC, formed in 2008 to fight slot machine gambling -- not because it's wrong, but because the state legislature had the you-know-whats to leave out Hialeah Race Track, owned by a family that "bundles" its contributions to those they support. How dare they? But the spending went on through May of 2010 mostly adding phone bills they had likely forgotten about months earlier, and then stopped. Until December. About a month before Robaina announced he would run for mayor. Expenses include an $18,900 December payment for a survey by NY-based McLaughlin & Associates and another $3,000 survey by Gainseville-based Data Targeting last month, $12,500 in consulting services -- including $2,500 to Hugo Arza, disgraced former State Rep. Ralph Arza's cousin, who made $5,000 from Robaina's campaign account -- $2,200 in advertising, and $2,450 in donations to organizations where they might also have had event tables. These include Junta Patriotica, The Portrait of Empowerment, some South Florida After School program, the Christian Family Coalition and a Sisters and Brothers Forever. Looks like campaigning to me.

Gimenez, chatting very friendly-like with opponent Marcelo Llorente (not everyone has to be antagonistic) opened his PAC in November with the intention, he said, of using it to push for reform efforts and get some name recognition. The last expense reports submitted earlier this month show many of Gimenez' campaign staff getting paid also from Common Sense Now. Between them, JC Flores, Gimenez's campaign manager, his fundraiser Brian Goldmeier (who worked for Alex Sink in South Florida) and his pollster Dario Moreno (an FIU professor and former director of the Metropolitan Center) got paid more than $60,000 through this PAC. The trio got another $8,250 from the mayoral campaign, which only started spending in February (is that double dipping?) The PAC also used Gimenez' Georgia-based mailer and printing firm, spending about $16,000 there. The official Gimenez campaign has only spent about $2,600 on that mailing firm so far. So look for more mailers to be about the issues than the candidate.

Because EOC rules prohibit the group from endorsing any one candidate or saying to vote for one candidate. They may ask you to thank Carlos Gimenez for his years of service. They may tell you that term limits would be better with eight years, as Carlos Gimenez had suggested. They may remind you that Carlos Gimenez voted against the Marlins Stadium. They have to speak to messages that would bolster the Gimenez name -- objective number one.

"The political practicality is ultimately about raising money and getting your name out there is very expensive, especially when you have no name I.D.," Flores said, pointing out that Gimenez serves as chair of the PAC openly and transparently. In fact, the campaign office on the 9th floor of a downtown Coral Gables building has been the "Common Sense Now" office, as shown on the plaque, until just recently.

Even Llorente has a PAC. A New Day for Miami-Dade (technically an EOC, which, as we established, is a PAC), was formed in February and has collected $17,500 we need to add to Llorente's $369,000 total. We don't know if he is the chair or on the paperwork, but we know it's his committee because one of the expenses is $1,162 to reimburse Llorente for meals and travel.

Ladra does not like PACs because often they are used as shadow organizations for a special interest or a candidate, such as the Truth for our Robaina Community PAC or political-junk-mail-king-turned-political-consultant Keith Donner's three PACs in Miami Beach which he formed the same year he ran a campaign for Miami Beach commission candidate. Those PAC names were Clean Up Miami Beach and Women's Voter Coalition of Miami Beach and Keep Miami Beach Safe. Look at all those names again, please: Truth. Clean. Safe. How manipulative can you guys get? Donner should win an award for the names he comes up with. His new PAC, The Accountability Project, was seemingly formed to hide the source of muckraking ads and attacks against Gimenez (it is partly funded by the Robaina PAC) and Coral Gables commission candidate Brad Rosenblatt, who lost earlier this month to Frank "the Cuban Kerdyk" Quesada (we believe those attacks were funded by either Gonzalo Sanabria or the Gables police union, which endorsed Gonzalo Sanabria).

Another big issue for watchdogs like Ladra is the money trail. It gets much blurrier and harder to follow in most PACs. Such as when Miami Voice gets a third party contribution from the just-reactivated company owned by PAC chairwoman Vanessa Brito, who admitted to Ladra it came from a "client" who wanted her to put it toward the recall effort without coming on the report -- which we believe is illegal and have heard called a political version of money laundering -- especially since we know she has no other clients. Or when a lack of any limits allows billionaire car dealer and downtown property owner Norman Braman to sink $1 million or more of "his own money" -- he deposits $150,000 one day and then $250,000 again the very next day but, of course, nobody is going to question him because he's a billionaire. Right? I mean, c'mon. Of course, it's his money.

Whatever. Ok? We don't like PACs. It's established. So Ladra naturally growled at Gimenez and Flores when she noticed Too Late For Common Sense. But upon further inspection, this PAC looks a little different. First off, a $10,000 contribution from Coral Gables contractor Rafael Garcia-Toledo, and from car dealer Alan Potamkin, and from John Dubois and Terremark Worldwide, Coastal Construction, Nifah & Partners (engineering), The American Institute for Public Safety and EMS Management is tons more transparent than $50,000 through more than 70 "bundled" contributions from a group of shady business partners in real estate development and holdings, which is on Robaina's campaign report. (Why didn't they just give the Truth PAC the $50K?). Plus, any muckraking would come back to the former commissioner -- not some Unaccountable Project that won't tell anyone who funded the attacks.

"I purposely made sure my name was on it so if there's anything negative, you will know it's me," Gimenez told me. "Not some shadow group."

See? He thinks so too.

Artiles' "home" turf, Part II

Ladra had no idea when she started howling Tuesday about the residency violation by State Rep. Frank Artiles (R, Disrict 119, except he isn't living there) that the post would resonate so loudly and so widely. But we are glad. Maybe all the outrage will lead to some action and common sense.

Several people who first read the blog and/or the Miami Herald story that followed it (and thank you Herald and Marc Caputo for citing Political Cortadito) have already reported back that they have filed complaints or are in the process of filing complaints with the House of Representatives. Rich Bard, a 34-year resident of West Kendall (where Artiles should be livin' and representin'), passed by his district office, which is in West Kendall, and asked for the legislator's resignation.

"After I learned from The Herald's Page One story this morning indicating you had discovered that state Republican Rep. Frank Artiles does not live in Florida House District 119, I went to his district office in West Kendall and told his staff I think he should resign," Bard, a respected editor who worked at the Miami Herald for many years and was among those that made me a better writer, wrote to me when I told him I was doing a follow up post.

"Let me be clear: This is not a partisan issue with me," Bard wrote. "I would have done the same thing if he were a Democrat or an independent. West Kendall deserves a representative in Tallahassee, of whatever party, with integrity. He demonstrated considerable chutzpah by filing to represent a district located far from his home in Palmetto Bay. Obviously, I care about West Kendall, home for more than 34 years and where I raised my kids."

Charles Croston, who was a mortgage broker and now is at FIU with an intent to go to law school, plans on passing by tomorrow for the same reason, he told me over the telephone today. The Homestead resident is also in the process of filing a complaint with the House, but it's not an easy thing to do.

"I've been on the phone for the last few hours, figuring out the right way to file a complaint," Croston said. He cited House rule 18.2, which requires that the person filing the complaint have personal, first-hand knowledge that he still lives in the house outside the district. You almost have to knock on his door. And I bet he isn't going to be home a lot now.

Perhaps a recording of his admission on WQBA this morning will do. Artiles was reached on his cellphone by a producer at the station, where I was on the Bernadette Pardo show in the morning, and came on the air with us. He admitted he did not live in the district, but said it was not his fault. The post and the stories afterward are unfair, he whined. He was misled and told he had six months to move. Yeah, riiiiight.

Ladra barked at him on the air. "Excuse me Representative, but if that is the truth, you have to tell us who exactly told you, what entity is responsible for this because then that is who has to be held accountable."

"I am ultimately responsible," he said.


It is unfathomable to Ladra, and she is just a fairly intelligent dog, that Artiles would not know the rules of the game. He ran for the same seat and lost against Juan Zapata two years earlier. Then ran again last year and won. Maybe I am being too harsh, but I believe that if you are going to run for office, you should not let one person on your team -- which is how he characterized it -- make that kind of mistake for you. And if you do, maybe you shouldn't be in that office.

Rhonda Victor Sibilia, another former Herald colleague who now is a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust (key words: ethics, public trust), asked Speaker of the House Dean Cannon (R, District 35) to remove Artiles from office.

"As a resident and registered voter of Florida House District 119, I wish to file a formal complaint against Representative Frank Artiles for his blatant refusal to abide by state law by running for and holding office while illegally living out of the district," she wrote him. "This arrogance and disrespect must be punished by all measures, including removal from the office he obtained through deceit. To do any less would show acceptance of this selfish manipulation of the electoral process and disregard for representational government by the leadership of the Florida House and the Republican Party."

I quote her because what she says is very important. Speaker Cannon should do something, and from what I understand he is being called upon acting to lead by example and show that the Republican Party is not going to be partisan when there is evidence, and admittance, of fraud.

Furthermore, I think it's time we amended the constitution and require our "representatives" to reside for xx period of time before they qualify to "represent" the voters there, who should be their neighbors. As regional or statewide as the issues at the House is, you are a representative of your district. Otherwise, why have them? You need to see the traffic patterns, the development and its impact, the businesses that open or close down, the needs of the neighborhoods, concerns of the local schools PTAs, the issues that matter to the people who voted for you. You need to be able to know what your constituents, whose doors you knocked on, who you campaigned to and whose vote you sought, want from you now.

Or you are really representing someone or something else.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

District 7 hopefuls to talk

Former State Rep. Julio Robaina (R, District 117) and former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, running to replace county commissioner and mayoral candidate Carlos Gimenez in district 7 will share time next Tuesday with the Miami Young Republicans, aka the Biscayne Bay Republicans.
Both candidates will speak and present their differing visions for the county, discuss their history, take questions, etc.

It's not exactly a debate, said the group's president, Bradley Gerber. "Both candidates will speak and present their differing visions for the county, discuss their history, take questions."

The group's April meeting is free and open to the public and might present a good opportunity to hear from both men in the same place for the first time.

"Both of these gentlemen have long histories of public service in South Florida, and both have reputations for being hard-nosed, principled Republicans not afraid to share their opinions," reads the facebook invitation from the group.

The meeting begins with a social hour at 6:30 and an organizational meeting at 7:30 at John Martin's Irish Pub, 253 Miracle Mile.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mayoral forum is a yawner

Maybe it's because Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and rapper-turned-political-columnist Luther Campbell, the most colorful of the county mayoral candidates, were no shows, but the forum Monday night presented by DFAM at some union building in Allapattah was a real snoozefest.

Don't take it from me. Ask anyone who was there. Better yet, ask those who left early, in the midst of the monologues. Like Ernesto "Flaco" Peña and his wife Leann Perez, who said they had gone to get a feel for the candidates and weren't tremendously impressed by anyone -- but were certainly turned off by one or two. Most notably, they said, they didn't learn anything new. "I can't believe we took an hour away from the kids," Perez said.

Even some of the candidates were bored, especially since a third of the 60 people in the audience were campaign operatives or press. About 20 were local card-carrying electricians we suspect were summoned when the place still looked empty. After the meeting Ladra asked former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez if that look on his face during the forum reflected the feeling in my gut that this was a colossal waste of time. "Absolutely," said Gimenez (photographed here with former State Rep. Marcelo Llorente). Gimenez had closed by telling the small group that it was "impossible to sum up 36 years of public service in 90 seconds" and urged them to go to his website.

It wasn't anyone's fault, really. This kind of format, eight candidates passing a microphone along the line, one by one answering the same lame question as the Miami Herald's Matt Haggman pulled names out of a hat to determine the order. Each chanted their slogans when it came their turn. Economist Farid Khavari, who lost a mayoral race last year: "I'm not running for mayor. I'm running to fix the economy." Eddie Lewis, who lost a race for property appraiser: "I'm a John Doe. I'm the people's choice." Jose "Pepe" Cancio, a businessman who has served as interim commissioner: "I'm the only candidate who has served as vice president of the Florida Concrete and Products Accociation." County employee Jeffrey Lambert: "I'm not taking one dollar from anyone. I'm not a rich person... but I am not going to owe anyone anything."

They had 90 seconds to answer questions that were emailed in advance to DFAM's Barbara Walters that offered nothing new from what has been repeated over and over again. Except for the transit issues. That was new. Not really exciting, but new to this race, anyway. And because it accounted for two of the five questions (the usual suspects: term limits, Jackson and the projected budget shortfall), we have to wonder if the last minute entry of former Miami-Dade Transit Director Roosevelt Bradley (second from the right, in the photo above, with Gabrielle Redfern, Marcelo Llorente and Eddie Lewis) has brought this on. Not that it would come from his camp. Bradley was fired in 2007 after allegations of widespread mismanagement and lack of financial controls and someone might be wanting to remind voters or draw a connection to his tenure -- although he boasts of meeting budgets every year -- and the yanking of $180 million in transit monies that the federal government earmarked for us and then said, "Whoa! What the heck are we doing throwing this money out?"

Still, Bradly said one of the best lines of the night when each of the candidates were asked how they would address a projected shortfall in the county budget. "I know where all the bones are buried," Bradley said, adding that he would cut take-home cars and cellphones. But are those all the "bones" and did Bradley mean "bones" as in squandered resources and opportunities for savings or did he mean it like "where all the bodies are buried," which could refer to incriminating information he may have. Either way, he now has to give up the bones. Whether he is elected or not (and Ladra will predict right now he comes out under county employee Jeffrey Lambert), he has to tell us where those bones are and what the heck he is talking about. We can't let him go home in shame again knowing where the bones are buried. Right?

Which reminds me to go back to Robaina. Walters told Ladra that she had called him and emailed him repeatedly and never got a response. Cancio joked about it after all the candidates lined up for a group photo on stage. "Where is Mayor Robaina?" Some of the campaign staff of other candidates joked that, unlike the LBA, this was not seen as a friendly group for him. One quipped that perhaps he was trying to become the million dollar man and was out stumping for more contributions to add to his $611,000 campaign bank.

Ladra will have to call Robaina and ask, but at a decent hour.

Artiles lives outside district

Lucky people of Palmetto Bay! You have not one but two newly-elected state representatives looking out for your neighborhood interests in Tallahassee: Rep. Michael Bileca (R, District 117), which encompasses parts of Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay and South Miami and for whom you actually voted, and State Rep. Frank Artiles (R, District 119), whose electors live and vote someplace else entirely.

Artiles is supposed to be living among his constituents, somewhere between Homestead and Sweetwater, and representing their best interests. And he may have violated Florida law by staying in the Palmetto Bay house where he and his wife Aimee have lived for eight years.

The legal residency requirement for a state house candidate is a resident of the state for two years and "an elector and resident of the district upon taking office," according the to the FAQs on the MyFlorida website. Not sure about this, but Ladra believes that "upon taking office" means Artiles had to be living in the district when he was sworn in Nov. 16. But five months later, he still lives at the yellow 5-bedroom, 3-bath house at 8392 SW 165th St., pictured here, bought in 2003 for $337,000.

Artiles got up from watching the Miami Heat trounce the 76ers on the couch and answered the door in socks and a pair of gym pants when I knocked on the front door about 9:45 p.m. Monday night. (It has to be late or early to establish residency). "Representative Artiles," I asked, though I recognized him right away. "Yes," he said. "Can I help you?" I extended my hand, he shook it as I introduced myself and I told him I was a political blogger. "And, um, you are not supposed to be living here," I said. He answered: "I'm moving to West Kendall next week." I asked where as I pulled out my little tiny camera (was it too much to hope he would pose next to the house numbers?). But he shut the door, ending the surprise interview (damn, last time I take out a camera so early!) and sprinted behind a wall to what Ladra assumes was the kitchen. There's a fine line between journalism and stalking, so, after kind of whining a little -- "Oh, c'mon. Representative? Why can't we talk about this?" -- I left. We got our confirmation that he still lives there. He was not going to say anything else at that moment. We called him Tuesday but he did not answer. His legislative aide, Cire "Cee" Andino, scolded Ladra for showing up at his house late at night without prior warning. "He's very upset," Andino said. And I am not surprised. "You should have made an appointment. That's not very professional," she added. Um, actually, it is indeed professional for Ladra to show up unannounced. An appointment would be a spoiler here. He does not want me to write this and she knows it.

Ladra had already passed by the home a few times in the last couple of months after getting tips from two different sources that he was still living outside the district. It wasn't hard. She lives close by and would just swing down the block on her way to and from the park, the dogfood store, the bank, Flamingo's Frozen Yogurt or whatever. His Ford Excursion with the U.S. Marines vanity plate was parked regularly in the driveway. A few weeks ago, Ladra rang the doorbell early in the morning before Aimee Artiles had taken their two young daughters to school. She told me that her husband was in Tallahassee. I casually asked where they might move to since they are required to move into the district, and she seemed like they had all the time in the world. She also did not seem eager to move into Sweetwater and Homestead. She told me they might rent in Country Walk or the Twin Lakes area. Andino confirmed Tuesday that they had gone several times to the Twin Lakes area, but that it had been difficult to find a place to rent. "They have been crazy looking for a house," she said. "He is hardly ever here."

They are also looking to rent out their home and Ladra imagines that selling the house in this down market might mean a $50,000 loss because the property is assessed today at $290,000.

Several people, including Dem opponent Katie Edwards, who had signed to rent a place in The Redland and had worked at the Dade County Farm Bureau in Homestead for seven years, said Artiles "told a number of people on election day that he had bought a foreclosed house in Country Walk." Andino says that's crazy. "They don't even like Country Walk," she said, contradicting what Aimee Artiles told us herself. (Note: Ladra worked briefly on the Edwards campaign, never got reimbursed fully for expenses and still believes she would have made a better representative of the people in that district. And take a look at the bills Artiles champions for us: one to repeal prohibitions against sale, use, possession, etc. of clove cigarettes, one to repeal provisions regarding frozen desserts and one that removes the law that requires bicyclists to keep on hand on handlebars at all times -- aka the important "Look Ma', No Hands" act -- and one to strengthen the powers of process servers.

We had spoken to Andino before, who said she was under the impression Artiles had until May 1, six months, to move in. That's not what the law says. And if he thought he was okay, why would Artiles shut the door and run away? Chris Cate, a spokesman with the Florida Division of Elections, helped us find the wording in the state constitution: "Each legislator shall be at least 21 years of age, an elector and resident of the district from which elected and shall have resided in the state for a period of two years prior to election." I am pretty sure that he has to be an "elector and resident of the district from which elected" by now. I have asked Andino to provide me with whatever proof Artiles had to provide the sergeant at arms upon swearing in (some electeds have to give their voter's registration or something to prove residency) and is still waiting but will definitely update this post if that happens.

Maybe Ladra will get it on Monday, now that we have an "appointment" with Artiles. Andino said she would get back to me on whether it was at the district office or a Starbucks. I asked if we could meet at his new home in the district. "He's not going to let you into his home," she said. Well, I may not normally have interviews at electeds homes, but its relevant this time.

Maybe he can at least provide Ladra with the actual rental agreement or lease, dated prior to this date, to make sure he had already made plans to move, like he told me Monday night, and isn't doing it now that he doesn't have a choice since someone is watching. Because there is a possibility Artiles, who has friends working on the redistricting of the legislative seats, hopes they carved a little piece of Palmetto Bay into the 119 pie. There were no boxes and no "for rent" sign outside his house. Only a pretty flag with Tigger to celebrate Easter. Ladra doesn't know about everyone, but it takes her and her daughter a month to move and the Artiles house is bigger and they have two kids. And they are moving next week? Doesn't look like it.

I am not picking on Artiles for any other reason than he was easy. He just happens to be the one who got caught this time. Last year, two Broward legislators, House Pro Tem Joe Gibbons and Jim Waldman, were blasted for living outside their districts and not in the homes they had indicated they lived in to comply with the law. A Jacksonville legislator got in similar trouble. And Ladra has heard that there are other elected officials right around South Florida that live outside their districts, even if one or more might keep a sham studio or small apartment where they do not sleep. In fact, this kind of thing has gone on for years, as most people in the campaign cottage industry can tell you. And everyone looks the other way and shrugs at what seems in the 305 like a small trangresion.

It is -- and it ain't. Because it can be manipulated. And what it leads to is professional politicos who shop around for places to pitch their tents and sell their snake oil. Take Paul Crespo, after losing in a Senate primary against David Rivera (R, District 25), he now has thrown his hat into the race for state house in district 102 even though he lives in Coral Gables, not Hialeah. He says he will move into the district if he is elected. But I bet he won't if he is not. I bet he would never even consider it, which shows how much he cares for those constituents. And that is perfectly legal. But it's also completely backwards and part of what is wrong with our entire electoral system. Local municipalities require residency minimums before a candidate can qualify for that office. County commission candidates need to live in the district at least six months first. In some cities, the requirement is a year or even two.

That's how to elect people who are truly local representatives of the people and not stewards of a system that cranks out candidates first and then finds the voters to support them.

This is not like the latest boy band -- market the image and the package first, then take care of finding the audience and even the talent. Like other community leaders, candidates for office should come from within the ranks of their own communities.

Only then can we know who they really represent.

MIA fire union in Kate's camp?

It's not official yet, but the Miami Firefighter's union -- which has publicly aired its issues with city commissioner Marc Sarnoff -- are most likely going to support one of his challengers, the polished and polite and professional Kate Callahan in the district 2 race.

The endorsement is not out, but Robert Suarez, president of Miami Association of Fire Fighters spent Friday with her with her at St. Thomas University's symposium on ethics and law. They definitely looked like they were there together. Suarez has not returned several calls for comment.

Ladra wondered if Suarez, in this photo on Callahan's right (panelist Merritt Stierheim on the left), has spent as much time with the other candidates. Forget Sarnoff. The firefighters don't trust the commissioner they endorsed in 2007. Suarez was quoted in the Daily Business Review as saying that the union members have a "distaste" for Sarnoff because he has "undermined" their rights (read: benefits). But what about Donna Milo, a community activist and former planning advisory board vice chair who ran for Congress last year? Or William Armbrister, whoever that is? Her campaign manager, Emiliano Antuñez, said they have not heard from the group at all. Or Michelle Niemeyer, who serves on the Coconut Grove Village Council with Callahan? (Bet Council members and friends had a busy last week with fundraisers for both Niemeyer -- at News Lounge -- and Callahan, at some secret spot). Neimeyer told Ladra that she had not met Suarez and had not been approached by the union about her candidacy. But she is waiting. "I met with a senior board member a long time ago and he told me they have an official process to vet candidates." Had she been sent questions or an email asking for an appointment. "Not at this point," she said Monday morning.

Not that there is anything wrong with Suarez hanging out with a candidate all day. It's good that the firefighters' union is getting to know the candidates. In fact, I might say it's better that they do that before they make the official endorsement. Now, Bobby just has to spend a day with Milo and a day with Niemeyer. We won't make you spend a day with Sarnoff because that would be cruel and unusual punishment and there's no point, really. The point is transparency and equal access and a fair process. We know that Sarnoff is not going to be considered. But if you are going to pretend to consider everyone else, you need to give equal face time.

Suarez did not return three calls for comment. Ladra also sent him an email and left a message for Executive Assistant Freddy Delgado, who is in Tallahassee today to lobby against bills that seek to change the way firefighters collect pension and pension-like funds. (Note to candidates: The fire union endorsement might not be one of the "golden" nods since they are seen generally as being self-serving and fighting Sarnoff solely because of his votes against their benefits).

Callahan also did not return a call to her campaign office Monday. But Ladra spoke with her briefly at ethics symposium about her candidacy and her campaign. I didn't ask her about Suarez because, frankly, this was before it started and I had not yet seen them together. She said she has been an activist for years and has seen the people's discontent grow.

"It's clear we've been poorly represented throughout the district," Callahan said. "There's this arrogance in City Hall. I looked at the corruption in the city, the fact that we are being audited, and I think I can do a better job."

Callahan touted her master's in public administration and repeated three times that she teaches ethics at Barry University before I asked her to specify and she admitted she teaches medical and health care ethics (she is also a health care consultant and "expert witness" (read: paid) for both plaintiffs and defendants in medical ethics cases). It's better than nothing but don't hype it up as something it's not. That sounds like a campaign staffer's idea: "Don't say bio medical ethics. Just say ethics." Still, 10 years teaching medical ethics to "young attorneys and young dentists" will keep her clean, she said. "I will never disappoint the hundreds of people I teach ethics to by doing something wrong," Callahan said. "I cannot betray their confidence." (And now we put it in writing.)

We had to ask her: How come Ladra keeps hearing that she is Norman Braman's horse? Callahan was very specific with the wording of her answers. "I have not met the man yet," she said, which does not mean she is not his horse. "He's looking forward to meeting me and I'm looking forward to meeting him," she added, which sounds like they have either conversed via telephone and/or email, or she has a go-between. Or maybe two. Callahan's campaign manager is Vanessa Brito, the Miami Vice chair who has been working for Braman and who has admitted to making an undisclosed amount of money through Arizona-based Silver Bullet, who Brito said hired her for data, and who Braman is paying through one or more of his three recall and "reform" PACs. The second connection could be Elena V. Carpenter, the candidate's friend/supporter and publisher at Miami Monthly Magazine as well as president of the Vanessa Brito fan club. She is also a fan of Braman's and the recall and posted recently that Brito deserved a cocktail party for all her efforts on the community's behalf. It was sad, really. But Ladra is wagging her tail because that all provides a more visible map to the connections. Carpenter also gave a $500 maximum contribution to her friend's campaign chest. And, according to our sources, Carpenter is who introduced Callahan to Brito at lunch one day and Callahan was so excited to meet the recall queen that she hired her on the spot. Brito would not comment on this or anything else. "I am never answering questions to you," she told me. She says it's personal. It's not. It's because since I have personal knowledge of her, I ask questions she does not like. Carpenter could not be reached. There was no answer at Miami Monthly this morning and she has not responded to my email. And suddenly I can't find her on facebook. (Maybe she doesn't like my questions either. Oh, well.).

Callahan, naturally, says she is not anybody's stand-in candidate. "I'm my own person," she said, adding that hers is a grassroots campaign and that she has been knocking on doors. She has also raised almost $30,000 as of the not very exciting campaign finance report filed a week ago.

But hiring Brito is going to cast doubt. I mean here is someone who has taught ethics for 10 years and she hires someone whose ethical lapses are well known? She is putting her campaign against a ridiculously well-funded incumbent ($300,000 and counting, but more on that later) in the hands of someone who gave a third party donation to her PAC and admitted it? Someone who was more than 10 days late with a campaign finance report? Someone who lied about gay discrimination during the election and encouraged the name-calling of ousted commissioner Natacha Seijas? Someone whose alliance with a certain non-accountable PAC caused a controversy when she seemed to smear a mayoral candidate days after she praised him (we urge Callahan to talk to people in the Carlos Gimenez campaign). Someone who is being sued in court for something like $11,000 by Miami Gardens Councilman Andre Williams for some work she allegedly never did? (Apparently there might be a settlement in the works, which makes sense now that Brito is awash in Braman cash. More on that later.). Someone who once started to form a PAC called the TaxPayer Coalition as a front to campaign for a candidate? Someone who gets paid under the table by a company hired by Braman to do "data research" on, we suppose, every single election in which Braman wants to have an impact? Why would Callahan, an ethics professor and community activist, hire this gypsy con artist? Could it be because a higher power (read: Braman) is making that happen (read: paying)?

But, really, it doesn't even make business sense because Brito has a terrible campaign track record. Past clients or candidates she promoted for free include losers like Mimi Planas, Scott Galvin, Maurice Ferre, Lisa L'Esperance, Johnny Farias, Millie Herrera, Whilly Bermudez, Katie Edwards. Has anyone she represented ever won? Or can she only do recalls? This does not bode well for Callahan, who otherwise seems to have all the right ingredients that could raise a serious challenge to an incumbent who could be vulnerable.

Because now she may have become vulnerable.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cancio slams LBA nod to Julio

Imagine how Jose "Pepe" Cancio felt after the Latin Builders' Association, in which he has been a member for more than 20 years, first snubbed him at the forum for county mayor and then endorsed Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina -- without even hearing him out.

Cancio goes so far as to call the endorsement a "backroom deal" made without the consent of all members or directors. To which I can only say one thing: "Duh!"

But you don't have to imagine, dear readers. Ladra got a copy of the email he sent the board of directors last Thursday when they LBA issued its announcement and wants to share it with you.

"I am appalled to learn that the LBA issued an endorsement of a mayoral candidate without having the courtesy of interviewing other leading candidates," Cancio began, reminding the chairman of the board, Bernie Navarro, that the qualifying period had ended less than 48 hours earlier. "Unlike other associations such as BASF and ABC, which have extended interviews to all candidates, the LBA issued an endorsement without consulting or advising many of its directors and certainly most of its members. It is my understanding that you are in Europe and you were not even present at the meeting."

"The LBA has always been proud to stand for tradition and it has a history of supporting its members. I started my candidacy the same day that the LBA conducted its 'mayoral debate' and I was disappointed in not being added at the last minute to the panel. I definitely expected an opportunity to be heard," Cancio wrote. "Today, to add insult to injury, we received notification by the LBA that our company was selected 'Member of the Month' which includes receiving recognition in the May issue. In addition, I am the only mayoral candidate who was selected to receive the coveted 'Entrepreneur' of the Year Award by the LBA as received by Jorge Mas Canosa, Pedro Adrian, Armando Codina and others in the past, and I refused to accept it because I felt at the time the award was more deserved by our company and by our employees rather than by me individually.

"As a CEO of a leading Hispanic construction group and a long-time member of the LBA, I should
have received at a minimum the courtesy of an interview. The only endorsement that really counts at the end is that of the voters but I must voice my disappointment in the way that some LBA members purporting to act on behalf of the executive board of the LBA handled what should have been a transparent and democratic process," Cancio wrote, and he had me up to there but then he finished with this zinger and totally lost me: "It is because of this sort of back-room deals and catering to special interests that the LBA is now losing a lot of its credibility in the eyes of many in our community and that is very unfortunate."

Now losing credibility? Special interests and backroom deals are what the LBA is made of, and I find it hard to believe Cancio wouldn't know that after 20 years as an award-winning member of the month. Maybe it only bothers him when he's in the "out" group.

The ladies like Gimenez

Mayoral candidate Carlos Gimenez is apparently a chic magnet. Who knew?

As plain and vanilla as some people say our former county commissioner and longtime city of Miami administrator is, apparently he doesn't need a Mercedes "to impress the ladies," as that cute little jingle produced by a political opponent goes on the radio. There is a long line of prominent women backing his candidacy, including noted historian Arva Moore Parks, who will open her home to a fundraiser May 4.

The "Women for Carlos Gimenez" host committee reads like a Who's Who of female power among local community and civic leaders. They include Betsy Adams, Gay Bondurant, Miami Monthly publisher Elena Carpenter, publicist extraordinaire Connie Crowther, Black Archives founder and activist Dr. Dorothy Fields, Miami River defender and innkeeper Sally Jude, PR pro and preservationist Penny Lambeth, former school board member Janet MacAlily, former Miami Commission candidate Beba Sardiña Mann (even though the invite spells her last name wrong), Miami author and historic preservationist Becky Matkov, activist and preservationist Dolly McIntyre, Florida Commission on the Status of Women commissioner Lourdes Castillo de la Peña (who might be related to Jose Luis Castillo, a political consultant who worked for Lynda Bell and Natacha Seijas, but we are not sure), Coral Gables Museum spokeswoman Chris Rupp, Pedro Pan exile and teacher Angela Albaisa Santos, femfessionals founder and political consultant Violette Sproul (who worked on Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado's campaign), tax attorney and chief development officer for the University of Miami Teresa Valdes-Fauli Weintraub, Patricia Vila of the Community Partnership for the Homeless and a dozen or so more.

Said Sproul, in her email to people she invited: "You will have the opportunity to get to know
Carlos Gimenez, candidate for mayor of Miami-Dade County (while enjoying great conversation with amazing with amazing women of our city)."

Ladra can't help but wonder what kind of women's group Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina can gather in Hialeah to match them up. Not for a softball game (I bet Julio's team could win that), but for a debate on the issues. That would be more fun (and probably more fair).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Different $$ "bundles" for Robaina

Well, it's not exactly news, but Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina -- a cash magnet whether he is getting large wads in unmarked envelopes delivered to a friend's home or multiple campaign checks -- was officially endorsed by the Latin Builders Association, as if the group needed an official press release so everyone would know.

Bernie Navarro, president elect of the LBA, pretty much summed it up when he said that since LBA members are "immersed in the building industry, we are extremely invested in the future direction of our local communities... and as a result it is imperative" to endorse Robaina.

And he is so right: The development, building and real estate industry are extremely invested in his candidacy through campaign contributions that more than suggest there is some kind of expected return. Take, for instance, the $18,000 that came from a real estate broker in Miami Lakes through his relatives and companies. Or the $38,000 (at least) from Roberto Cayon, former founding president of Hialeah's Ready State Bank, through his relatives and 70-some corporations that he either owns, is a principal in or is owned by one of his business partners, real estate developer Tom Cabrerizo, who is also partners with Yoram Izhak, who also gave about another $12,000 that Ladra found so far through 24 companies.

(By the way, Cabrerizo and Izhak are the two men who sent Miami Police Chief Miguel Esposito a cease and desist letter last month after the chief said on Spanish language radio that the men were connected to organized crime. Cabrerizo and Izhak were arrested in 2004 as part of a high-profile racketeering case, but federal prosecutors dropped the charges later. Shiver.)

Anyway, this practice of writing multiple campaign checks from your companies, your siblings and, sometimes, every junior partner in your firm is called "bundling" and it is a way of getting around the $500 maximum contribution requirement intended to keep special and financial interests or a small number of people with money from having a disproportionate amount of influence on a candidate or election.

And it is perfectly legal. But I don't know if it's always ethical. I mean, it looks like it might just be enthusiastic support when Pinecrest Councilman Joe Corradino or Hialeah car magnate Gus Machado give $1,500 (their own, their wife's and their business contrtibution). But when $2,500 come from developers Jose and Luis Boschetti, who are "a formidable presence in the South Florida condominium conversion market," according their website, and $5,000 in ten donations come from Jorge A. and Lisette L. Lopez, who own auto-related and real estate businesses in Hialeah, it looks like they are more invested.

Former State Rep. Miguel de Grandy, one of the panelists at an ethics and law seminar Friday at St. Thomas University (priceless irony, and photographed here sitting with former commissioner Katy Sorenson on the panel), said that no matter the price, it was part of the American Way. And at the end of the panel he participated in -- called "What Hat Do I Have On Today? Lawyers, Lobbysts and Elected Officials"(priceless, I tell ya) -- I asked him how he would characterize the contributions to Robaina from himself and his wife and his firm and his partner and his sister and her partner (that's $3,000 for anyone who lost count) and if that was done as a lawyer, or as lobbyist or as a private citizen and voter -- albeit one who specializes in government law, going before cities and county boards with his clients' land use, incorporation, annexation and rock quarry issues, among others, first at Greenberg Traurig and at his own firm since 2001.

"As a private citizen," de Grandy said, quickly, seemingly relieved to have that option. "It's part of the American system, part of everybody's first amendment. That's how it's done."

Yes, apparently, it is how it's done.

Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, who was on an earlier panel about judicial races, had a different spin on it, however. "They have an interest. Something is up," he told Ladra when she asked what he thought about a $38,000 contribution coming from the same family or business group. "That would require some special explanation from the people involved."

Former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, the symposium's guest speaker and a dean at the university, said: "That might raise my eyebrow."

But de Grandy -- who, by the way, was reprimanded just last year by the Florida Supreme Court and entered a guilty plea for violating legal ethics due to a conflict of interest because he represented two vendors competing for the same bag-wrapping contract at Miami International Airport -- also knows it doesn't pass what the conference participants called "the smell test."

"That's the problem I have with the premise of where you are going," de Grandy told me. "It is the purpose of election law to make sure everyone knows what everybody else is doing. There are 20 ways to get around that. The issue is not whether it's wrong to give money to a campaign. The issue is that it's transparent. So that people like you can point it out.

"Some people can be bought with a little bit of money. And some people take more," said de Grandy, who is now special counsel to the Florida House overseeing the redistricting process, on which he is considered an expert, having successfully challenged a 2006 initiative for clients Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

Well, it does certainly look like the price of tickets to the Elect Julio Robaina Ball fluctuate, depending on who's buying or how soon they confirm, or, something.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

All inclusive mayoral forum Monday

Miami-Dade mayoral hopefuls Jose "Pepe" Cancio and Luther "Luke" Campbell, snubbed from other candidate forums, finally have a platform on which they can finally share the stage and be compared to each other and all the other guys and, finally, one girl (more on that later).

Cancio, a businessman and former interim county commission (appointed by then Gov. Jeb Bush), and rapper-turned-political-satirist Campbell were [finally] invited to a forum and have confirmed their attendance, said the presenting Democracy for America Miami-Dade, a liberal group that promotes "progressive candidates" like Howard Dean. The organization reported on its website ( that it invited all the candidates, but that as of Thursday only former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who resigned this week to run for the post, failed gubernatorial candidate Farid Khavari, and newcomers to the race Gabrielle Redfern (who lost a bid last year for Miami Beach commission) and Roosevelt Bradley (former Miami-Dade Transit Director) had confirmed they would attend the forum at IBEW Union Hall, 1657 NW 17th Ave. Notably MIA is Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, who many consider a front runner along with Gimenez and former state rep. Marcelo Llorente, who was the first to announce his run and start collecting funds two years ago. Not notably MIA are Wilbur Bell (a comedian who lost a Miami Beach mayoral bid last year), Eddie Lewis (who lost his bid for property appraiser), and Jeffrey Lampert (that name rings a bell).

DFAM (board members are Franco Caliz, Sam Feldman, Nadine Olmann, Jessica Galvez, Wendy Sejour, Larry Thorson and Krystina Armeda) encourages questions but they must be submitted in advance at (Ladra growls).

This all-inclusive public exchange is a great idea, except for one thing: If DFAM gets all 11 mayoral candidates to participate, which I applaud, the 7 p.m. meeting is going to go into the wee hours of Tuesday.

Ladra hopes they have snacks.

"Sandra Lopez" to be unmasked

Ladra has a message for whoever hid behind the name Sandra Lopez to send out an email to Miami Lakes residents last month bashing a local dentist who is leading an effort to recall Mayor Michael "Muscles" Pizzi: Come out, come out, where ever you are.

You are going to be outed anyway, so you may as well come out now and save some face.

Melissa Ayers, a spokeswoman for Constant Contact, called me back today about the lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court seeking damages for defamation in an email blast they sent March 8. But even though David Bennett, president of the Concerned Citizens for Better Government PAC formed to recall Pizzi, sued the company, what he really believes is that Pizzi was somehow behind the email.

Ladra isn't so sure. I mean, he's an attorney first. He must know that the records can be retrieved via subpoena. And Constant Contact does not fight subpoenas, Ayers told me, so it's just a matter of time before everything is revealed.

I am willing to bet Sandra is a pseudonym for Miami Voice PAC Chair Vanessa Brito, who we suspect also hides behind the pages of actual sitting elected officials whose facebook accounts she administers or manages (ala "Vanessa Brito!" is who won in the Coral Gables elections and also who someone wants for mayor. "Vanessa Brito!" The elected has denied making those posts to someone else. He still has not called me back, but I will post it anyway. More on that later).

The email in question was sent after Bennett registered Miami Voice, Inc., under his name in Florida's Division of Corporations (Brito had not secured it and only registered at the county. Why?). "Sandra Lopez" called what Bennett did fraud and questioned his motives, alleging he was going to use the "good name" of the fraudulent PAC (sue me for defamation, I dare you) to raise funds. Of course, "Sandra Lopez" took the opportunity to campaign for the recall of commissioner Natacha Seijas in this email, which by the way had no political advertisement disclaimer. I mean, if it is not a PAC plant, who or where is this suddenly very vocal and active Miami Lakes resident "Sandra Lopez," who still has not returned two emails sent from me to her at, and why is she so outraged on behalf of Miami Vice? She goes so far as to say that "No greater fraud of deceit has been perpetrated than Dr. Bennett creating an organization named Miami Voice." That is very extreme, no?, if she is not a board member. She has not been quoted or seen at any Miami Vice rallies or court appearances. Ah, maybe she is just a Pizzi fan. "Sandra Lopez" did two days earlier send another Constant Contact email -- with more misspellings -- that praised Pizzi for serving as pro-bono attorney for Miami Vice against a lawsuit from Seijas' supporters that challenged hundreds of questionable petitions. Maybe this is the bono in pro-bono.

"I am a resident of Miami Lakes and Miami-Dade County. I want to congratulate Mayor Michael Pizzi for being the only mayor in Miami-Dade to have the courage to publicly support the voters in their quest to recall Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas.

"This past September, Mayor Pizzi appeared before the County commission and urged them not to raise taxes and he set an example by lowering taxes in his own city. In fact, Pizzi was the first mayor to sign Mr. Braman's recall peition and staged a rally in Miami Lakes to protest agaisnt raising taxes.

"Michale Pizzi then foguht in court pro-bono to make sure that voters have the right to vote in the recall election. Finally, in March, Mayor Pizzi completed his fight for the people when he cast his "YES" vote on the recall of both Seijas and Alvarez."

This email included a photo of Pizzi at a pro-recall rally with "hundreds of residents" before casting his vote. But the photo expired from the Constant Contact system and Ladra could not see if they were truly residents or Miami Vice's paid sign-holders. And that email, as well as any other email sent by "Sandra Lopez" or the client who paid for it under different names, will be part of what Bennett's attorney, Stephen Cody, will demand in court. He also wants every single email that it went to and suspects the email addresses were provided by Pizzi, or someone at the city at Pizzi's request. Ladra says they were provided by Miami Voice, who already had gotten them from Pizzi. It doesn't matter, what is left of their credibility will be tarnished unless, and I can hold a tiny little shadow of a doubt better than anyone, "Sandra Lopez" comes forward.

Ladra can't wait for this to play out in court. Cody is going to ask for two years worth of the "Sandra Lopez" client's email records and we suspect other political campaigns might be, shall we say, embarrassed. by some of the things he may find.

Ayers, the Constant Contact spokeswoman, said this type of defamation claim on emails "comes up all the time" and that the company is not liable. "We don't control the content and our policy is very clear. The content is the responsibility of the client." She confirmed Cody's report that they had talked to the client. "We do reach out to the customer, we tell them a concern has been raised and make sure they are notified that they can't do that. The person who sent this email has been contacted and that person said they would not do it again."

Okay, but since we don't think that person is really honest, you can't just believe it, Melissa. And since it is being used as a manipulative tool to malign someone for political benefit, with none of the regulatory checks in place like campaign finance reporting or political disclaimers, you need to do more, Melissa. Or we are going to see more of these pseudonymous bashing email blasts.

Cody suggests a screening filter for words like "fraud" or "criminal" and maybe "rapist" -- let me add "pedophile" -- to a spam filter so someone can review them if they are flagged. It should not be so difficult. And it might save you the cost of going to court when it "comes up all the time."

Because, trust me, if changes aren't made, it will come up again from another "Sandra Lopez."