Thursday, May 26, 2011
The three-judge panel does not say why in it's two page ruling. But, from the questions they posed to the attorneys, it seems they thought the action by attorney Ricardo Corona, who says the county's decision not to qualify him violated his rights. It's a moot point now. But what's important to learn from this is that the county was able to strong arm its way to get its way. By delaying and taking it out of the lower circuit court that seemed more predisposed toward the plaintiff, they got what they wanted. They are gooooood. They likely knew that once the election had taken place, the courts would be very hesitant to interfere with how people voted -- as they should be. But what's important to remember here is that Corona's attorney's were ready on Monday to argue the merits of the case. Assistant County Attorney Eron Rosenthal said he was not. He wanted to depose Corona, he said. In court. I wonder if it was under oath. Because I am quite sure he never had the intention of deposing Corona. It was a stall tactic (just like trying to move it to federal court, which was immediately denied) so that he could come back to the appeal court after the election and in time for the canvassing certification and swearing in. Nice. I would expect that kind of strategy from a corporate attorney or someone representing Ladra's ex husband. The problem is that Rosenthal works for us. For Corona, too.
"What this shows is that the political process is corrupt," Corona said. "I still have faith in the legal process. Judge Thomas did the right thing. The judges at the Third DCA, I understand that they don't want to interfere with an election that has already taken place.
"This shows that we have a corrupt political system that perpetuates people who are professionally in office," Corona continued. "The people distrust that. The people had the recall because they don't like the system. They distrust the people running the system... who set the rules up so that the only ones that could qualify were the two insiders.
"They limited the choice of the people and I think that that's corrupt."
It's also short sighted, heavy-handed and murky, instead of transparent. Ladra is happy that we have the results, though admittedly less than happy with the results (why deny now?). But I'm concerned with how this happened and hope someone will make some clear delineations about the time stamps and the forms and investigate whether or not Corona's rights were violated.
Maybe this is a task for incoming Commissioner Xavier Suarez to take on.
But only 214 people more voted for him on Election Day. As expected, Suarez led the absentee ballot race by a whopping 1,200 votes. Hmmmm...Former State Rep. Julio Robaina, who led by a nose in early voting and took 47 percent with less than a third of the campaign money, lost to Miguel Diaz de la Portilla substantially in absentee ballots. That campaign was led by Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who told Ladra that he was supporting Suarez, but not working for him. Same difference, no?
"That again did it to us, the ABs," Robaina said in a quick telephone interview a few minutes ago. "But he won. Maybe the other Julio Robaina (former Hialeah mayor running for the county mayor's seat) have worked against us with the Anglos. But he did a good campaign and his son helped him a lot.
"I'm disappointed, but I'm happy the voters have their result and know who their commissioner is," he said, in a decidedly upbeat tone. "I already texted Commissioner Suarez, wishing him lots of luck battling the budget ."
Now I know lots of people who might raise an eyebrow at a high number of absentee ballots collected by a former elected whose last seat was overturned after widespread ballot tampering and election fraud was found. Suarez was never charged criminally, as was Humbertico Hernandez, but I remember well that when I was hitting the streets in Hialeah and Westchester asking people there why they had voted in the city of Miami, many said it was to vote for Suarez.
Ladra had asked Suarez at a debate in Coconut Grove earlier this month who was doing his AB campaign. He did not answer, not even to say that he wouldn't give away strategy. He just ran away from me. As fast as he could. "We'll talk after the election," he said, repeatedly. I called already. The phone was busy, busy, busy, though eventually I left a message. Ladra will likely come way after other media outlets and the dozens of special interest investors, er, I mean supporters, who poured into his campaign, which was at $250,000 when he last reported and will probably near or top $300,000 when all is said and done. And some of that went into the AB campaign. Trust me. Could have been Diaz de la Portilla or just one of his favorite lieutenants. Or it could have been Hernandez, whose public adjustment firm did contribute to Xavier's campaign. Or it could have been any number of AB machine operators who are hereby put on notice: Ladra is on to you.
And being only a fairly intelligent watchdog, she surely isn't the only one.
Or at least the one for now.
The Third District Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that the county could and should release the results of the vote count in that election, which has been suppressed since Tuesday folowing the ruling of a trial judge earlier this week. Yeah, I know. This judge, those judges. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge William Thomas wanted to withhold the results of the race temporarily until he could hear the merits of a lawsuit to invalidate the District 7 commission race. That lawsuit, filed by TV advice attorney Ricardo Corona, claims the qualification period is not sufficient. But the three-judge appellate panel said Thomas' ruling was deficient and did not have substantive legal backing. They vacated it active immediately, which means results within an hour, I believe.
They did not, however, rule on the merits of the case, sending that ball of wax back to Thomas, who seems to have a real knack for it. In fact, Ladra thinks the county didn't really win the real agenda here, in my non attorney opinion, is that they wanted to take it out of Judge Thomas' arena, since he has already indicated he has issues with the shortness of the qualification period and granted the temporary injunction. This is the second time they do it. They tried to make it a federal case in federal court but it was sent back to Thomas once before.
Monday, when Thomas asked if the parties were ready for oral argument to begin, attorney William Petros, representing Corona, said he was. Assistant County Attorney Eron Rosenthal said he was not. He might want to depose Corona about where he was that day. He might want to see computer records to find out when Corona first went online to inquire about the process. Yet, by the time he drafted the 34-page appeal that was filed Wednesday, he had not done that. Ladra thinks there was never an intent to do that and he lied in open court before Judge Thomas. That was a delay tactic to, once again, take it out of Thomas' court. It's good strategy for an attorney. If he is representing someone, maybe. But not if he is representing us. No bait and switch for us, please. Present your case where it belongs and try it the best you can. This is still an open table. I know that Thomas seems friendly to the plaintiff. He was the one who came up with the qualification issue when Corona first sued to get on the ballot. And he indicated Monday that there was enough for him to issue a temporary injunction. Big deal. He takes this seriously. But it also seemed to Ladra that Thomas is going to rule however he feels is the right legal ruling, despite how it looks to him now. He just seems like he doesn't care what anybody thinks. That is really good for a judge.
It was disingenuous for the county attorney to say Monday that he was not ready for the case to be decided on what was present. He was ready for that now. Maybe the three judges saw through him also and decided to let their colleague in the lower court see it through. Hear, hear.
More to come.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Or they may still be in the dark if the Third District Court of Appeal upholds a decision by a Miami Dade Circuit Court judge to temporarily suppress the results of that election until the challenge of its validity by a third would-be candidate is heard.
The county has appealed Judge William Thomas' decision after a two-part hearing Monday. The three-judge panel will hear arguments Thursday afternoon. Ladra believes the intent, as the county states in its motion, is to get the results know by Friday's canvassing board confirmation and swearing in of the new commissioner(s). Rush, rush, rush. In fact, their heavy-handed brief -- citing 27 other cases -- says that the withholding of results "disserves the public interest." Wow. Talk about los pajaros tirandole a la escopeta. You know, the kettle and the pot thing.
What is a disservice to the public interest was to deny Ricardo Corona, who filed his papers by 4:58 p.m. on qualifying day, the right to be on that ballot. His 2009 tax return should have been accepted since the 2010 one was not due until April 18. Instead the elections staff gave him a financial disclosure form to fill out in the lobby and, when it was stamped at 5:22 p.m., they told him he was too late. Get this: They told him on the phone. In the lobby, they told him they would get back to him because they didn't know.
It is also a disservice for three county attorneys to fight this so hard when it makes no sense to and could easily have been avoided in the first place. Or fixed in the second. Corona says that 29 hours was not sufficient time for an outsider candidate such as himself, a political novice (yeah, he ran for judge once but was screwed by his campaign people and lost in a horrible hail of stupid negative attacks. Novice.), to qualify. It's not as easy as showing up with some notarized documents, ladies and gentlemen. You have to go at least twice, because after getting a document so you can open a bank account, you have to go with that bank account information on a treasurer's report. You have to pay the qualifying fee with a check drawn from that campaign account. Then you might believe the people who tell you that one of your documents is insufficient and give you another to fill out. Before you criticize, go through the process.
It's a disservice to this community, to the taxpayers that fund the county attorney's office, to write in the brief that 17 other candidates qualified in the same qualification period. That is not entirely true. While they did submit their loyalty oaths and financial disclosures on April 14, some candidates filed some papers, like designation of campaign accounts, much earlier. Particularly those in the races for the recalled mayor and commissioner in District 13, who had since March 15 to know that those seats were going to be open (unlike Gimenez, who resigned a day earlier and was wavering in the days before that). Particularly those who are polished, practiced politicians with medium to large operations behind them. Take a look at the time stamped on their qualifying documents, particularly the bank accounts and when they are open. Gimenez did qualify April 12, but because he only resigned the day before. He was, however, likely ready with the paperwork. He had intended to run for mayor in 2012 and began fundraising in February. His runoff partner Julio Robaina, who resigned as Hialeah mayor the day before the election, filed his first paperwork on Jan. 10. Nobody beats former State Rep. Marcelo Llorente, however, who came in third thanks to absentee and early voting (more on that later) and filed the first paperwork of the bunch -- in June of 2009. Other candidates who filed early some of their documents, mostly the opening of campaign accounts and statement of candidate: Jose "Pepe" Cancio on March 26, Farid Khavari on March 10, Roosevelt Bradley on March 28, Eddie Lewis on April 7, Jeffrey Lampert on April 4. All but three, four if you include Gimenez. In the other commission race, former State Rep. Esteban Bovo filed his first documents March 22, the week after veteran commissioner Natacha Seijas was recalled, but the other three seemed to file that same qualifying day. And in District 7, both former State Rep. Julio Robaina (March 25) and former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez (February 23) filed some paperwork early. They seemed far more ready than a political outsider who did not know if District 7 was going to be open or not until the day before.
The county says the injunction to suppress the vote count is "fatally defective and must be vacated" because it fails to make any findings of support to warrant the injunction and that even if the court had, "there is no substantial likelihood that Corona would have succeeded on the merits of his claim" -- which is exactly what opposing counsel is supposed to say. The appeal also says the injunction "disserves the public interest by depriving District 7 of representation on the county commission during the pendency of this case."
So, maybe they are right about that part. Ladra wouldn't mind if they release the count (and we really don't believe that nobody knows by now) as long as whoever gets to be sworn in Friday knows it could be temporary, if a judge later decides Corona's rights were violated. If Suarez wins, he could be overturned once again (like he was after his 1997 election to mayor showed widespread evidence of ballot tampering and fraud, though he was never charged with a crime). And if I worked at county hall, I'd call in sick the next couple days just in case. If Robaina wins, as Ladra suspects and prays, he seems to be confident enough in a redo that he doesn't mind what the court does. He has said publicly that he will abide with whatever the judge decides to ensure a clean process and feels that what the county did to Corona may have been "a travesty."
Corona himself wants the vote count out. He said that was never his intention and he does not mind if there is an interim commissioner (my words, not his) while his case is heard. After all, he lives in the district and wants representation, too. In fact, the county is disingenuous and, Ladra fears, is doing this simply to take it out of Thomas' courtroom because the judge is at least willing to give Corona the time of day. He seems to take the issue very seriously and has ruled in favor of Corona already. Maybe the county attorneys wanted to take it to another venue. Because Corona's attorneys were ready to proceed with the case in front of Thomas on Monday. "I do not believe there is any question about the actual facts in this case. .. your honor could absolutely rule today without any further hearing testimony, evidentiary hearing testimony," William Petros said. It was Assistant County Attorney Oren Rosenthal who told the judge he was not ready.
"I may want to depose Mr. Corona. Find out what he was doing that day," Rosenthal said. Has he by now? No. This is obviously an attempt to take it out of Thomas' hands.
Any delay in the release of the vote count was caused by that.
A call to Rosenthal at the county attorney's office was not immediately returned. Ladra will try to ask him today what changed since Monday.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
That's victory #2 for Ricardo Corona. The first was last week when the county lost its move to make his lawsuit a federal case. (Tsk, tsk. Our taxpayer dollars at work fighting activists who want to become participants.) And defeat #1 for former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, who was removed from office in his last election win after widespread ballot tampering was found -- though he was never formally charged with a crime (Happy, X fans?) -- and the only candidate who asked the judge, through his attorney daughter, not to give Corona's lawsuit a full hearing.
"Halting the election now would disenfranchise 8,000 voters who have already voted, the thousands who have contributed to campaigns of the qualified candidates," said Olga Vieira, adding that it could result in five additional elections (but if she is counting elections scheduled for 2012, which are scheduled anyway, that is disingenuous). So is saying that 17 people qualified in the same time period because candidates for mayor and commissioner in District 13 had weeks to prepare, since those seats were vacated by recall vote and the District 7 seat was filled the day before qualifying started.
But don't blame the Suarez clan for their last-minute Hail Mary attempt to railroad this election over Corona's rights. X has raised and spent about a quarter of a million dollars to take over the seat vacated by Carlos Gimenez, who resigned to run for mayor. He has to work for that now or how would it look? Since he lost to Gimenez in a regular cycle election, Ladra bets he counts on low turnout, lots of special interest money for promotion and post-recall voter discontent -- as well as confusion over the good Robaina (South Miami) and the bad Robaina (Hialeah) -- to get him in. So it's no wonder he doesn't want to delay, despite questions about due process: The more time people have... the less well he will do.
Miami Dade Circuit Court Judge William Thomas set the case for June 1. But, with all due respect to the court, that won't address the issues in time, should the plaintiff win, to put the District 7 candidates on the June 28 runoff ballot. Which might enrage voters, or certainly affect their voting trends, if it is an unnecessary cost. An earlier date -- like Tuesday or Wednesday -- might allow for a qualifying period that ends Friday and puts the names on the ballot. And Ladra thinks the county can move that up a bit in order to get a new ballot for June 28, if that is, indeed, what the judge decides, and save at least a little money. We will call her commissioner tomorrow. And you can call your commissioner too.
But first, the background: TV attorney Ricardo Corona sued to stop the election based on a 29-hour qualification period he says is insufficiant and violates his rights to due process. Ladra thinks his rights were violated, alright, but when he was told he didn't qualify because of the last time stamp on the last document submitted. Most of the documents Corona filed were stamped at 4:58 p.m., two minutes before the bell. One form he was made to fill out in the lobby was stamped 5:22 p.m. (and just why wasn't his 2009 IRS return good enough on April 14 when the form for "last year" wasn't due until April 19?). Too late, he was told. So he filed a lawsuit last month to force his name onto the ballot, which is what Ladra thinks should have happened. Instead, the judge said he had issues with the qualifying period and Corona refiled based on that. Apparently, the judge feels there may be some merit to attorney William Petros' arguments that the qualifying period was insufficient for anyone except the two candidates who are already experienced politicos already prepping to run for the seat in 2012.
"Wouldn't it be funny if folks spent all that money and effort on a recall election and for their investment, they don't get significant change? This was a golden opportunity for change," Petros said to reporters outside on the courthouse steps, adding that the recall showed a voter discontent with the status quo and a system that protected insiders. "That's precisely the point. He hasn't been involved and that's what the people want."
Unlike Suarez, who fought Corona's motion with his daughter and son, Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, by his side, former State Rep. Julio Robaina, the other candidate allowed to qualify, has publicly repeated that he has no problem with holding up the results or even having a new election, if it ensure that everyone gets fair access to the process. Everyone means anyone, because if Corona wins and gets this vote count thrown out, a new qualifying period could bring about new candidates in the District 7 race.
That's more good news from Monday's ruling and well worth the only bad news, really: That Ladra can't see South Miami Robaina beat the X Factor right off the bat. But don't they say good things come to those who wait?
Former State Rep. Julio Robaina and former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez were each called on the telephone -- and put on speaker -- by Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge William Thomas in the middle of a hearing for a lawsuit filed by a third would-be candidate who was not allowed to qualify and now wants the election stopped.
Ricardo Corona, through his attorneys, says that the qualifying period was too short and voters as well as political novices such as himself were disenfranchised by the commission's decision April 13, in less than three minutes, to end qualifying in 29 hours. While he did get to the elections department by 4:58 p.m. that afternoon, two minutes before the bell, his papers took more than 20 minutes to stamp and he was told he did not qualify.
After a county attorney suggested that the two candidates in the case had not been given sufficient notice to attend the hearing -- in which the judge could cancel the election or, at the very least, supress the results until he was able to make a decision -- Thomas reached them by phone. Robaina said he would have no problem if the judge decided to supress the results of the election until a decision could be made.
"The most important thing to me in any election is that the people have the right to vote, access to vote and that people have every opportunity to run," Robaina said. "I would have no problem if you determine that there would be another candidate or another race or something that would mean this election would be cancelled.
"If there as a wrong here, make it right."
Suarez, for his part, wasn't so sure but uiferred that he agreed with the county's position that the time was sufficient and that indeed Corona had made it on time, but only lacked the right paperwork. Suarez asked the judge if he could confer with his attorney and call back, the judge said he would reconvene at 5 p.m. to hear the candidate's position.
Ladra thinks he just couldn't pass up the chance to be on the news on Election Eve. We will be there, too.
And that does not include the monies donated to two PACs run by his friends and supporters.
That means he collected another $442,000 in donations. Even if all of them were the maximuj $500 (and we suspect almost all of them are), that would be an additional 884 checks or so.
Ladra has not had time this morning to pore through the list and find out how many more of those are bundled contributions (coming from multiple businesses or family members of the same person) and tens of thousands (or hundreds, perhaps?) for Robaina's mayoral campaign come from special interests like the mafia behind the maquinitas industry or business partners with properties near the proposed reverse osmosis water plant that he is so supportive of.
Maybe that is why it was filed late, so that people don't have time to fully digest it before Tuesday's vote.
Ladra will take a long look at it later, with many cups of coffee. But it shouldn't matter. There are enough questions about this guy already and, coupled with the big money pouring into his coffers, there is reason to be wary.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Thought maybe election fever was getting to my brain and I saw signs everywhere. No, really. Political signs, that is. Even behind the Bulls basket at the Miami Heat game Sunday night. There was that nasty, angry, braided Bull, missing another free throw, and the Miami fans waving t-shirts and Heat posters and a Cancio for Mayor sign and... wait a minute.
Right there, in section 112, row 12, was a Pepe Cancio for Mayor sign. "Perfect location," said Jose "Pepe" Cancio, Jr., season ticket holder and son of mayoral candidate Jose "Pepe" Cancio, Sr. "You gotta get a little free advertising."
Junior's telephone interview was later, as he drove home from the game with his wife Sunday night. But, at first, I really thought my eyes were playing tricks. Marili Cancio hadn't seen it when Ladra texted her to ask if it could be. "It is very possible. My brother is crazy," she said.
Well, apparently the ad police at the NBA saw it and told her brother to sane up and quick.
"They wanted to kick me out," said Cancio, Jr., 44, who also was wearing a Cancio t-shirt. "NBA security sent security to come and get me. They wanted me to turn my t-shirt inside out."
No can do, Cancio told them. "I put my sign down, but I wasn't about to change my shirt."
The season ticket holder for the last 10 years was allowed to stay through the end of the game, in which the Heat beat the Bulls decisively in the last quarter and a half... well, pretty much since Cancio Jr. flashed that sign. Conicidence? Hmmm. Just in case, Pepito, bring a sign to the game Tuesday (who cares if the election is over by then?).
Good thing for the NBA, too, that they didn't force the issue. His sister, we hear, is one helluva lawyer.
"Now that is BS," Marili Cancio told Ladra when she first heard her brother's tale about the t-shirt trouble.
"I would file suit against that."
It seems that the only thing Hialeah Mayor and county mayoral candidate Julio Robaina can do these days to try to stop his spiraling numbers and keep the heat off him for possible ties to organized crime and a federal investigation into his finances is to go on the attack -- again.
A recent TV ad paid for by The [Non]Accountability Project PAC (which has received funds from the PAC led by Robaina ally and Hialeah Housing Authority director Julio Ponce) compares former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who is seen as Robaina's biggest obstacle to the mayor's seat, to none other than the recalled former mayor Carlos Alvarez.
I guess the county PBA, who Michael Putney reported funded the ad, is hoping to tap into that alleged voter outrage that led to the recall and that the dismal low turnout (like the scant 17 percent that voted in the recall) will help them. Tsk, tsk. This from our cops? Just because Gimenez was the only commissioner who voted against your current contract because, he said, it was the most generous of the three employee contracts.
"I called them out on it," Gimenez said on the Putney show.
But Ladra thinks it's hypocritical, not to mention opportunistic, of the PBA and John Rivera, who supported Alvarez and worked hard against the recall, to now try to compare the two men in order to capitalize on that. Ladra can't help but wonder if Alvarez gave you the ok to run this ad, which also keeps making him look bad. Or is he crucifying himself here so he can be the anti-Gimenez? Becasue Gimenez has been the anti-Alvarez all his political life.
Think about it. Gimenez has voted against Alvarez probably more than anybody. "If Carlos Alvarez and the rest of the commission would have followed my lead, I wouldn't be sitting here right now because he would still be the mayor," Gimenez said.
The TV ad, Ladra thinks, is targetting the least educated of the voters by using push button isues like the publicly paid car allowances that allowed Alvarez to tool around town in a fancy BMW and Gimenez in a luxury Mercedes ("to impress the ladies," if you believe the same PAC's jingle. Ridiculous.) But, as Gimenez explained to Putney, it is the same allowance that was given to all commissioners, and which he will eliminate. The ad also talks about Gimenez taking multiple pensions when he only has one, a pension from his 25 years as a Miami firefigthters, into which he contributed $250,000.
In other words, there is nothing new for them to talk about. They can't say anything really bad about Gimenez, and they can't say anything really good about Robaina, so they regurgitate the same misinformation that makes for good soundbites and pray for emotional knee jerking.
Because, really, there is only one thing alike about the last county mayor and (okay, I'm going to come right out and say it already) the next county mayor: his first name.
"My name is Gimenez, not Alvarez. I am a completely different person."
Saturday, May 21, 2011
A circuit court judge could cancel that race on Monday.
Attorney Ricardo Corona, better known for a late-night TV show that dispenses legal advice to call-in viewers, filed a lawsuit against Miami Dade Elections Department Supervisor Lester Sola last month after he was not allowed to qualify for the race and become a third candidate to replace Carlos Gimenez, who resigned to run for mayor to replace Carlos Alvarez, who was recalled by Norman Braman, who is backing former Miami mayor Xavier Suarez in the District 7 race, instead of supporting Corona's efforts to open the field to more participants (others besides him could qualify if the period were opened up again). He was told he was too late, even though he was there in time, as shown by documents stamped at 4:58, two minutes before the bell. But he was given another form that the staff said he needed in lieu of his 2010 tax return and that document was stamped at 5:22 p.m. Still, even a watchdog like Ladra knows the litmus is the first stamp.
"Like the people who came out for the recall, they wanted to help create change and I wanted to participate in that change," Corona told Ladra in a telephone interview Saturday. "And as I encountered the difficulty of an outsider to participate, it crystalized the issues we have and why people don't want to be part of that participation."
Corona told Ladra that elections staff were texting and making calls while he filled out the financial disclosure form they had given him and he believes that political insiders -- the financial backers and influencers who work various elected officials and candidates at the same time -- "they circle the wagons" to ensure their clique's control.
His first motion asked the court to put him on the ballot. But while Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas did not take that drastic a step, he took issue with the 29-hour qualification period and said he had grave concerns that public notice requirements were not met. "I don't like the way it was done," Thomas said in the ruling. "I don't like the way the commission conducted the notice aspect of this. I don't like the way the commission set the deadline for this. I think it was messy. I think it creates an issue, at least in my mind, as to whether or not it put people who were considering running for office proper notice."
Corona says that the commission should have taken longer than three minutes to decide to put the District 7 race on the ballot. "It's obvious that they had discussions outside the public eye, which is a direct violation of Sunshine Laws," Corona said, referring to Florida statutes that require elected officials to refrain from discussing issues that might come before them outside of the public view. So, the attorney, who lost a bid for judge some years back, refiled to stop the election, or delay it rather, so proper notice could be given -- and he has another chance to file.
Former State Rep. Julio Robaina has said he is willing to delay the election so that proper notice can be given and Corona could be placed on the ballot. It is about having a clean process, Robaina said. Ladra doubts that former Miami mayor and Braman puppet Xavier Suarez -- whose history and company show he has less respect for the process -- would agree to slow his mad dash to the county commission dais via a special election with dismally low turnout.
Let's hope Judge Thomas throws down a speedbump on Monday.
Friday, May 20, 2011
"We're going to get three, four, five more commissioners out in the next year and we're going to have a whole new commission in two years," Suarez said last week at the Urban Environmental League debate in Coconut Grove.
Who is we? Ladra and others assume we includes Norman Braman, who led the effort to recall the former mayor and has endorsed Suarez, and Vanessa Brito, whose PAC led the recall effort against the veteran Seijas and had originally targetted four others and is now working for Suarez on his campaign. This threesome is an odd alliance: X supports using taxpayer funds for a roof over Dolphin Sun Life Stadium and the recallers used the push button Marlins stadium deal to motivate voters. And X is supported by Alex Diaz de la Portilla, whose brother beat the opponent, former State Rep. Julio Robaina, in the senate primary last year and who then reportedly went to work for Alvarez and Seijas to fight the recall. Could Braman and Brito have been lying all along, having some other agenda when they pushed the recall? Ya think?
Let's also look at Suarez backers, who include lobbyists with a lot of influence at County Hall Chris Korge, Rosario Kennedy and Al Maloof, who has been rumored to be behind Braman's effort as well. Maloof's firm has contributed to both campaigns, however. (More on that later).
Word on the street is that the trio is first targeting Chairman Joe Martinez and Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, who are seen as the chief derailers of real reform measures. Both are up for re-election in 2012, but Suarez and Co. can't wait. Martinez is popular in his district. Barreiro may be easier to oust. Miami Voice was short something like 35 signatures when they collected recall petitions in his district. But Ladra is not sure they really tried that hard. The persistent rumor (and information from Miami Voice defectors like Barbara Walters of DFAM) is that Braman and the people who advise him (because we just know there is a puppeteer somewhere behind the cardealer) told Miami Voice to lay off Barreiro, lest the Cubans in the community take it as a personal affront that there were three Cubans on the recall ballot and nobody else. It could have backfired if Alvarez and Seijas played it right on Cuban radio.
Ladra also believes that Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who Brito vowed to go after again last month when Edmonson called her entourage a "little, ridiculous group," is on that list. Because, really, that's all the reason they need.
But Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz is safe -- for now. He has kowtowed to the recallers (read: special interests) for weeks, defending them from Edmonson at that same meeting, talking ad nauseum about their "heroic efforts" on the dais and hosting a charter reform town hall meeting with Miami Voice last week in Hialeah Gardens. Anybody can see it is out of fear he might become one of their targets. Diaz, who has come under fire for a possible conflict of interest since he does work for an airport contractor, doesn't need any more enemies.
But, as fun as it may be to watch Pepe cower before the recallers, Ladra thinks that this empty threat (read: blackmail) is dead already. The people are not going to get behind another recall. Voters are not stupid. They are coming around to these theatrical smoke and mirror games where puppeteers try to replace the decision makers with their own crowned dunces and pretend to care about reform.
Go ahead, Mayor Loco, and try to recall anybody who won't do your bidding (read: Braman's and his backers' bidding). Ladra predicts you lose that one, too.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
It would be easy for him, Suarez stressed, to "get along with the mayor and the commissioners because I come from a large family with kids." The gist, taken from Suarez supporter State Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's (Rep., District 36) successful GOP primary campaign against Robaina last year, is that Robaina, still single at 49, and with no children (that anybody knows of, anyway. Where's the baby?), is gay or at least a pansy who can't get a girl.
Robaina, whose girlfriend has two children and father has nine siblings, says he has frequent family gatherings with his "huge"clan and added that the low blow wink-wink-nod tactic, which is totally off topic and taken from a DLP campaign mailer sent last year that aimed to raise questions about his sexual orientation. "It's an insinuation. I'm a single guy, never been married," Robaina said. "He uses pictures of his family. He's a 'stable family man.' It's the same thing here," Robaina told Ladra after the debate. "And it's the kind of low blow tactic that Miguel and [State Rep. Carlos] Lopez-Cantera are known for." (Lopez-Cantera was in the audience for a short while but left before the debate ended, saying he had dinner plans).
Campaign Manager Steven Ferreiro recognized it, also. "The allegation is that he is gay or a mama's boy, that he's weak, not a family person, not an easy person to get along with," Ferreiro said, adding that another radio ad that came out from the Suarez campaign attacks South Miami Robaina as "Julito el peleón" or "Julio the fighter." Said Ferreiro: "He is a fighter -- for the people. If he argued against something it was because he wasn't in agreement. He was representing the best interest of the people, not the party."
Although transit and land use issues dominated the Urban Environmental League debate, Tony Garcia at Transit Miami already owns that issue quite thoroughly at http://www.transitmiami.com/politics/reflections-on-district-7-debate-julio-robaina-tgo-has-transit-vision -- one curious question submitted asked the candidates if they would "support a measure to prohibit discrimination in all aspects based on sexual orientation and identity." Ladra imagine the questioner had employment or other issues in mind because the county already has provisions that ban discrimination in housing. But Ladra wonders if it was the question submitted by Suarez campaign worker Vanessa Brito, who likes to consider herself a gay activist but is more like an opportunist who just happens to be gay. Because as head of the Miami Voice PAC, which worked with Norman Braman on the recall of Carlos Alvarez and Natacha Seijas and used Marlins stadium funding deal as one of the push buttons. Now she works for Suarez, who said on Wednesday that he favors using tourist bed tax dollars to build a roof over Dolphin Sun Life stadium. (Robaina said he would not, saying that those funds can be used in other ways and preferring to divert at least some of them to upgrade the Miami Beach Convention Center). Don't forget that means she and Braman are on the team with the candidate supported by the DLP clan, after Alex Diaz de la Portilla reportedly tried to help former mayor Carlos Alvarez and former commissioner Natacha Seijas fight the recall effort. What this makes them is opportunists that see cash registers for campaign consultants, mail gurus, background people, working all these new open emergency races and creating all new PACs to make more new money.
Which brings us back to Suarez. Ladra preferred the first question at the debate, asked by Nina West of Coconut Grove. "The Miami Herald survey of voters tells us the most important thing to Miami residents is ethics in government. Considering that your opponent has a pristine reputation, why would I ever consider voting for you?"
Even moderator Stephen Scott, an investigative reporter for CBS 4 News, sorta winced. But surely, Suarez -- whose 1997 election was overturned after a group of Miami Herald writers and reporters uncovered widespread electoral fraud and whose late-night tirades against critics (sometimes in his bathrobe) led people to call him Mayor Loco -- is prepared for this with some ready answers.
"I was in office for eight years," he said. "I voted every single time on every single vote and never against the interests of the community. I never, ever, ever committed any transgression... My record stands clear. Sometimes, people distort things."
And while Suarez was never charged with wrongdoing, his evasive nature with Ladra after the debate begs question. Once I introduced myself (he talked to me like he knew who I was so I just assumed, but he does that with everybody), he told me we could talk after the election. Which really does me no good when I am trying to ask about the race, about his absentee ballot strategy in particular. "After the election," he said again, literally fast walking away through the middle of the room -- shortest way to the door -- and moving the chairs in the way to get away from Ladra. I asked him three times, and three times he told me he would talk to me after the election. Now what is up with that? Is he off his meds? Ladra thought he would just tell us that it was Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who is reportedly a go-to guy on the ABs and, seemingly, a good friend and supporter. But he just kept running away.
Ladra assumes he left in the gorgeous little, blue convertible BMW sports car he came in, talking on the phone. "It was my CPA," said Suarez, who as of the last financial campaign disclosure report had collected almost $120,000, including several bundled contributions of the maximum $500 from development/real estate investors Jose and Carlos Garcia, the Migoya family, lobbyist Miguel de Grandy's clan , and others.
"I was asking 'How much money do I have left?'"
Ladra hopes to find out Friday, when the new campaign finance reports are due.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
There are at least two more forums (three if you count a "meet and greet" in Miami Springs Thursday) before the ballot box closes. Since Ladra may not be able to sit at your table, for example, at the Chamber South breakfast Wednesday morning (or because you do not want to have to get up so ridiculously early), let me offer my director's commentary now.
* Roosevelt Bradley will start by boasting that he is (but he is most certainly NOT) the only experienced administrator on the ballot. Not that that is a good thing. Why is he pumping that? And he just has to tell us "where all the bones are buried" already. Better yet, make him dig. If he knows where they are buried, he may have buried some himself. Fellow candidate Farid Khavari is sick of hearing it, too. "What? Are you an undertaker or something," he asked Bradley at the NAACP forum Monday night. Bradley told Ladra Monday that he means where he can make things more efficient. But, then, why didn't he when he was transit director? And he still has to tell us anyway when he loses this race. He will likely say that he is also the only candidate who has created "thousands and thousands" of jobs. In transit? What are they doing? But he might not mention that he was fired from his own position as transit director after alleged fiscal mismanagement -- which could be technical government speak for buried bones. He says it was political and that he always planned to retire in 2008 and run for mayor in 2012. Then why wait til the last minute and not campaign early on?
* Farid Khavari will actually tell you, point blank, that he doesn't even want to be mayor. "I want to fix the economy." Then why is he running? Maybe to sell his books. He started the campaign with eight. But now there are nine. He had time to write one while he campaigns? Maybe because he is so not into it. And he will hold one up and talk about how he is the only candidate who is an economist. "When your house is on fire, you don't call a plumber. You call a fireman. When you're economy is failing, you don't call a lawyer, a politician or a fireman. You call an economist."He also wants to make Miami-Dade a "world economic model" and win the Nobel Prize. He's a smart man who would do better without his Iranian accent and crazy hair (sad fact) and will likely bring up solar energy and his dream of a county-owned bank with low interest rates to loan money to all the people in this county who need it. Let's just hope this last idea doesn't give Hialeah Mayor and fellow candidate Julio Robaina -- a freelance loan officer, of sorts, with sky-high interest rates and friends you wouldn't wanna cross -- an itch to have him whacked, er, I mean sued or something.
* Jeffrey Lampert doesn't say very much. "I'm not taking one penny from anybody. I'm not going to be with the special interests," says the county fire department employee who took an administrative leave from his job in logistics to run for mayor in his very first stab at public office ever against someone who will end up being his boss, who could be the one who is a former firefighter who has the fire union endorsement. Uh-huh. Lampert says he is running because he sees a disconnect (the candidates love that word) between the people and the government and blah blah blah. Uh-huh. And he loaned himself $3,000 for the race even though he lists his net worth at $13,500 and has more debt than that and he knows he is not going to be in the runoff? Uhhhh-huh. Someone should ask Lampert who put him up to this. Okay, Ladra will. When I see him again. He hasn't shown up to the last two events. But he doesn't have to worry about being beholden to any interests. He's not going to be anywhere near the 29th floor and he is either going to get promoted after June 28 or he will be transferred to a very cold office in the corner of some far away northwest swampland facility... depending on the answer to the aforementioned question (which must be asked).
* Wilbur Bell might be a brilliant businessman who has made millions, but he is a bit of a dud as a public speaker and is not gaining much traction in this race. "I'm in it to win it" has never meant less. He can't sell it easy if he doesn't even believe it himself. So one has to wonder if he's so smart to make all that cheddar, then who is he helping? Or hurting? Luther Campbell came right out and said Robaina put him in the race. Bell said he doesn't need anyone's money, but there could be other reasons. Maybe he is loaning himself $26,000 for the race and not taking contributions to get out the black vote? He says the county should be run like a business and he has 41 years experience as a businessman to do it. But he is in the real estate business and has sat on the Redland Community Council since 2006. Hmmmmm... Ladra wonders if it is he zoning board that in April of 2010 granted a zoning change request for the 160-acre Kendall Commons development on the edge of the UDB, which is owned by Robaina and his business partners.
* Gabrielle Redfern doesn't really want to be the "first female mayor of Miami Dade County" -- but it sure sounds good, don't it? She really wants to fix public transportation (more on that later). She either has already or should think about motivational speaking because the little firecracker has come out from behind in a big way, wowing crowds, gaining key HOA endorsements and waking up the front runners when every once in a while she basically wipes the floor with them. I can tell that some of them are impressed -- and surprised. "This is government. It is not cardio vascular surgery," she said. She doesn't mince words and calls things as she sees them and sticks to unpopular positions (redistricting and countywide seats) because she really believes in them and can tell you why without blinking. Ladra likes that even if she adamantly disagrees with her arguments. She will likely talk about how she pored over budgets and found $3.5 million stuck in an enterprise fund in her Miami Beach just sitting there and the commission moved it to the general fund, saving taxpayers a 2/10th of a millage hike. She also boasts that she came up with the bike sharing program on Miami Beach. And she does change her tune: While campaigning, she has noticed a stark difference in county buildings when they are in poor neighborhoods and not so poor neighborhoods. "There are two Miami-Dade Counties here and there should not be."
* Luther "Luke" Campbell -- whose billboards shout "I'm Dead Serious -- Are you?" -- is actually one of the most honest candidates Ladra has heard speak in, well, forever. He is not as practiced as the others and his answers to questions seem more unpracticed. He is probably the one who changes up his chat the most. But he does have some staples: His constant hitting on the dual system at Jackson Memorial Hospital -- he says insured patients are siphoned off to one of the University of Miami hospitals while the uninsured stay at the county-funded facility -- should be something that is looked at beyond this election. So is the open transparency he advocates for and having every document and every transaction posted online -- like the Open Wellington example he often gives. He also likes to portray himself as the only true outsider and the only viable African American candidate (calling the others plants). "If you don't give as a community activist, you should not be sitting here," he said at one event or another about his work to preserve historic landmarks in the black community and provide opportunities for inner city youth. "I am not a political insider. I don't have any friends downtown." And he is right. But Luke makes friends easy.
* Eddie Lewis says he is the only true outsider. Ladra agrees. But he is way outside. "I'm on a fixed income," he said at the forum at the Bank United Center, the first to have all 11 candidates (they had only invited 6 but after Redfern insisted, they made room for everyone). "I'm not in anybody's pocket. I'm barely in my own pocket," he said Monday at the NAACP forum at New Birth Baptist Church. You know, it may look bad to be a candidate whose net worth has grown more than 800 percent to $8 million while in office in "the second largest city in the county" (which you will also hear, but not from Lewis). But it may also look bad to seem broke and penniless while bidding to run a $7.3 billion budget. "We need someone with common sense," he keeps saying. Ladra hopes the voters have some and tell this guy to go get a real job.
* Jose "Pepe" Cancio is obsessed with timelines. He will tell you he is the only one who has been the CEO of a business for 23 years and that he has been married to the same woman for 46 years and that he only wants the mayor's job for 18 months until the next general election. He might also mention that he has served twice as commissioner in appointments to finish off terms because that will give him a chance to bring up the glass door he installed at his county hall office. Get it? Glass door = transparency? Yeah, we know that's a false security blanket, but we are not sure Cancio knows -- he is so proud of that glass door -- that we don't want to break it to him. His English is not really so hard to understand so make the effort because he says some very smart things. He didn't run successful cement and trucking businesses for more than two decades for nothing. He also believes the county should be run like a business and talks about helping small businesses with less regulations and shorter permit waits. He is one of a few candidates who actually answers the questions asked and has done his homework. Don't be fooled by the gray hairs on the 71-year-old's head. Papi Chulo -- as Uncle Luke dubbed him once and as Cancio himself has embraced -- is sharp as a tack. And the most elegant, not only in his excellent choice of suits but also in the honorable and chivalrous way he always gives Redfern the mic and insisted she join other candidates onstage at the Downtown Bay Forum (photograph here). He always jokes about Robaina when Robaina doesn't show up ala "Where is Mayor Robaina?" with his eyebrows raised -- and Ladra thinks he enjoys being a thorn in the Hialeah mayor's side But he got every candidate, including Robaina, to sign an accord that keeps them honest with each other and in which they agree to meet as a group once a month with whoever is elected to discuss important issues and problems. Told you he was smart. Cancio has set the standard high, where it should be, and all future candidates to come should mirror his behavior and attitude.
* Marcelo Llorente will tell you he went to Belen and says he can bring home more money from Tallahassee and from Washington because of his experience (eight years) as a state representative, though Ladra never heard of him until he started this campaign in 2009, "with every intent of running for office in 2012." Get over it already. You are not that cute. (Okay, yes he is.) He touts himself as a fiscal conservative. "People want government to live within its means. Not even live within its means, to do without," he said at one forum. Llorente (the cute one on the right in this photo) is the only one who has proposed a separate millage or tax rate or penny tax for operations at Jackson. He makes great points about transit and the long commute to West Kendall, where he lives -- he may say two or three or more times that he lives in West Kendall -- and he will call Metrorail "Metrofail" as if he coined that term yesterday. Oh, maybe he heard it yesterday. Ladra heard it when he was in diapers. He will say he is running because he was "frustrated with the disconnect" between government and the community. Like there's no disconnect between voters and Tallahassee? Which is where he has been, remember?, for the last decade or so. How connected is he to this community?
* Carlos Gimenez, who resigned as county commissioner to run, will talk about his record as a consistent vote against the regime of the recalled Carlos Alvarez. He has to. He knows why we are all here instead of doing this next year. He will cite his no votes on the tax hike, the Marlins' stadium and the union deals. He will talk about how he rose the ranks to fire chief in the city of Miami and was tapped to become city manager at the city's worst financial time. He will say how he led it out of those oversight days with low bond ratings and left the city in good financial shape to run for county office. He'll say that he plans to make a 50 percent cut in his own pay and benefits. "You have to lead by example," Gimenez might say. He wants to cut the number of departments from 60 to 25 (though this means nothing because if they are bigger departments with the same funding put together or more, what difference is that? What needs to be changed is the funding.) He might mention how the mayor will have about a month or so to prepare a budget and how he is the only one, with county budget experience, who can do that well. He will also be "top salesperson for the county and Miami in Latin America." He will say all of this with a shrug and a half a smile because he seems uncomfortable having to talk about any of this. He just wants to get back to work already. "I like to under promise and over deliver," he likes to say.
*Julio Robaina has missed more forums than he has attended and tries to use a lot of words that tap into voter sentiment, like recall and reform, without really saying much. And often saying things he can't back up. In fact, he has frequently said he was against the Marlins stadium deal when he spoke at the commission meeting in favor of it. He said on radio that he would fire 1,000 county workers on Day 1, but has not analysis of where they would come from and how that might affect services. He will likely say he is strong mayor of "the second largest city in the county" and that he has reduced taxes without slashing services. But he won't mention that police stations close at 5 p.m. now and that parks close early and city pools are available about half the time. He might mention that he is tough with the unions, but he might not say that two recent decisions against the city could cost Hialeah upwards of $6 million. He will talk about the recall election and how he is for reform (even though his track record does not support that) and seems to be hedging on the wave of that voter discontent. He says he is a fiscal conservative and wants to make it so "it's the government that is working for the people, not the people working for the government." See? Sounds good. Means nothing. What he won't talk about, hardly anyway, are the allegations about a federal investigation into his freelance loaning activities in connection with a convicted Ponzi schemer and/or business ties with real estate developers on the edge of the UDB and/or tens of thousands in campaign contributions from local businessmen that were once indicted on racketeering charges in 2004 (Charges were dropped later, which means what? Exactly.) and/or other contributions linked to the owners and operators of thousands of illegal maquinitas, or gaming machines, that he has championed. Time and again, Robaina "the bad" simply doesn't answer the question, like on Monday at the NAACP forum when Jim Defede asked him about headlines and possible issues made of whether or not he could be trusted. "Mr. Gimenez has wanted not to talk about" the issues, he said, accusing his main threat and turning himself into a victim. "Nobody in my family has committed a crime. And the gentleman that did commit a crime is spending 10 years in jail while we are part of a lawsuit to bring justice to the victims of a $48-million Ponzi scheme." (Lots of people think Robaina is heading in that same direction and maybe that's why he doesn't show up to a lot of these forums -- in case the authorities are waiting there to bring him in.)
So that's Ladra's general take -- the good, the bad, the whatever -- and maybe some of it is not going to be 100 percent on target. But as a somewhat educated voter who has heard the candidates over and over again, this is the perception of you.
Good luck this morning and this evening and tomorrow and throw Ladra a bone (not the buried kind) with some new jokes and some new moves.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
In transit, what else? The Miami Beach single mom doesn't want to be mayor anymore. She wants to fix the public transit system she says works badly for too few at too much a cost.
Redfern has cozied up to fellow candidate, Carlos Gimenez, the former commissioner and certain front runner who seems to have grown an appreciation and admiration for the Gutsy Gabrielle, who actually snagged the key Kendall Federation of Homeowners Association endorsement out of the dark.
"Hello, Mayor," she said to Gimenez as he finished up a TV interview and she waited her turn patiently after the forum presented by the New Miami Forum at the Airport Doubletree Hilton.
Ladra said he might hire her if he is elected so she can help fix the transit department.
"From your lips to God's ears," she said.
And, actually, it is a great idea that Ladra had thought about earlier and asked Redfern and Jose "Pepe" Cancio and Farid Khavari before. Those three are willing to come work for the county with the assets and skill set they have. Put Khavari in charge of that bank thing, Cancio as a small business ombudsman and Redfern in transportation, for sure. She can find those bones better than Roosevelt Bradley. Then hire Luther Campbell as your information and public documents or transparency officer. Have him be in charge of Open Miami-Dade, the conversion to the online reporting system that records every receipt, bill, check or charge made on a city account that he wanted to bring as mayor. Ladra is sure Luke can come up with more stuff to put online for the world to see. And he wins my heart for that.
I would suggest the new mayor hire Marcelo Llorente for economic development and traffic mitigation (he can work with Redfern), but Ladra kind of wants to see the dogfight between him and his one-time Tallahassee colleague, former State Rep. Juan Zapata (REP, District 119). He can also work with Wilbur Bell to create economic opportunities in the African American community. Bell and Eddie Lewis should also serve as a liaison to that community. Jeffrey Lampert can have his job back.
Ladra even entertains the thought of having the fired county transit director Roosevelt Bradley or Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, whose business dealings have been questioned and whose participation in a federal investigation indicates some reason for concern, if they want to roll in and roll up their sleeves and help us figure it all out. But they have to pitch a proposal with measurable benchmarks.
Maybe they can do some kind of small business incentive program (which they can do in pajamas or a corrections jumpsuit).
Monday, May 16, 2011
At a forum Monday night presented by the NAAC, Robaina -- who arrived late -- got called "so close to" being a crook by Eddie Lewis, who ran for property appraiser in 2009 but lost. He was also jeered at and got some elbowing on his Marlins stadium answer from Luther "Luke" Campbell and former Miami-Dade Commissioner Carlos Gimenez. Everybody was basically looking at him when he didn't raise his hand after Defede asked who thought it was a good deal.
More than 200 people turned out to the New Birth Baptist Church on Northwest 22nd Avenue for the forum, what seems like the largest turnout to any gathering so far. Notably absent were candidates Marcelo Llorente, Jose "Pepe" Cancio and Jeffrey Lampert. Ladra was surprised to find Robaina, who has skipped several other forums, to come to this group, which she thought was not his people. However, maybe his team was there early scoping it out (Ladra spotted campaign manager Ana Carbonell scanning the crowd), and they texted him that he should get his chubby cheeks over there pronto.
He probably should have skipped it. Things started getting good when Campbell said, for the third time, that the other three blacks in the race were puppet candidates. When pressed for details, Campbell said nobody ever questioned him about that at any other forum until they got to the black community. But that part wasn't true, and he admitted that when he was reminded (with a short growl) that Ladra asked him twice about it. He always dodged an answer with me. But Monday he said that both former transit director Roosevelt Bradley and Perrine businessman and community council member Wilbur Bell were being backed by Robaina. And that caused quite a stir.
"I am the only African American here right now that is not bought and paid for by one of these other candidates," Campbell said to hoots and whispers. Later, moderator and News4 Reporter Jim Defede asked him to get more specific. "Robaina bought off Bradley. I don't think Mr. Gimenez would do it, so Bell was bought off by Mr. Robaina also. I don't think Mr. Lewis was bought of. He's a nice man," Campbell said.
"Mr. Robaina has a lot of money, he would buy off everyone out here but me," Uncle Luke said, adding that the three men, while making good candidates for other reasons, will only detract from front runners in this race.
"If they were not bought off, drop out and leave the race," Campbell said.
Robaina immediately balked, but did not really say anything. Watch: "I cannot argue any more with Mr. Campbell. These men and this lady try to help everyone in this community... we need to keep to the level and talk about the issues. That's what we got to be talking about. It's not about who bought off who."
Uh, yeah, it might be.
Bradley stood up to speak, he was so upset. "Mr. Campbell, I run a clean campaign. I have steel titanium in my back. I don't hae to be paid off," which Ladra is not sure what that means. He called Campbell a "trainee playing games" and said "This is serious. This is not a joke." Later, he told Ladra that he had always planned to resign in 2008 and campaign for mayor in 2012. But he didn't jump into the race until the last minute, so he had not been campaigning. And he balked at any comment about him possibly coming in fourth or less than that, saying he wanted Ladra to come back and talk to him about that at 11 p.m. March 24 (an invitation we, of course, accepted).
Bell was also visibly offended by Uncle Luke's accusation. "I am a multi-millionaire. I don't need no money from nobody," the candidate who wants to be mayor said. He took the opportunity to criticize any groups who only screened or invited candidates who raised a lot of money (read: Robaina, Gimenez, Llorente and Cancio). "They need to take that out of politics," Bell said, then he turned to Campbell. "I don't need the payoff from anybody and I'm really disappointed in you Mr. Campbell."
Bell and Campbell continued to spit words at each other. We couldn't hear in the back, but Defede had to intervene and ask them to stop.
Defede later asked Gimenez a direct question about Robaina and whether he was campaigning on the fact that Robaina could not be trusted. Ladra wanted to bark, "Well, duh!" But Gimenez did it in a classier way. "There are a lot of question about Julio Robaina. About his dealings with people under investigation and lending money ... illegal gaming in the city of Hialeah. There are a lot of questions I have concerns about," he said with Robaina right next to him, kind of squirming in his seat a little. Gimenez said the media raised the questions, not him. (Though Ladra is sure that his campaign staff helped the media whenever possible). "My personal finances are not based on the kind of things his personal finances are," Gimenez finished.
Again, Robaina deflected. He's good at that. And said things that sound big, but if you look closely, and read between the lines, say nothing at all. He never addressed the public trust issue. And made it seem as if this were not something voters care about. "It is about what is important to each and every one of you -- unemployment, transit department," he said, sort of pandering to the crowd. "Mr. Gimenez has wanted not to talk about those things."
He reminded everybody that he had not been charged with a crime and that nobody in his family had been charged. "The gentleman who committed that crime is spending 10 years in jail because I cooperated with authorities," Robaina bragged, adding that he had sued on behalf of his and several families "to bring justice for a $48 Ponzi scheme."
Many people, however, think an arrest is pending, and that authorities are either crossing all their Ts or waiting until after May 25 so nobody says they interfered with an eletion. To which Ladra asks, isn't that sort of interfering with an election by not doing what you would normally do?
The son is allegedly helping raise money for his father, whose giant warchest of $117,000 dwarfs the $6,500 raised by former State Rep. (REP, District 117) and South Miami Mayor Julio Robaina. (Though with several big fundraisers -- including one at founding Pinecrest Mayor Evelyn Greer's home and one at Lario's last week and two back-to-back today and tomorrow -- South Miami Robaina may be doing much better). But debonair Baby X (Xavier is his middle name) also stood in the rain on Sunday afternoon to greet the trickle of voters that showed up for early voting at the Coral Gables Library.
Asked about the local political chatter that has eyebrows raised about the possibility of both father and son Suarez sitting together on the board of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Miami commissioner told Ladra, as he stood under a Lincoln-Marti schools umbrella, that he's willing to quit the MPO if it made anybody terribly uncomfortable.
"I may resign," Francis Suarez said. "I will bring it up and see what the commission things. If they want me to resign because of any possible perception of an issue, then I will."
Suarez, whose dad lost a bid against Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who now resigned to run for mayor, is voting for Marcelo Llorente in the mayoral race.
"He's my wife's cousin," Francis Suarez said, moments before his wife arrived in a the Ford Explorer with a Llorente bumper sticker. Suarez's little girl was also wearing a Llorente t-shirt.
Which may bring up the MPO conflict again if his wife's cousin is elected to the county commission next year, in District 12, as we have hinted he may run for.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
That's how Ladra characterizes most of the rhetoric coming from mayoral candidate and Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina. One of the front runners -- despite headlines about federal investigations into his freelance loan making and other financial matters as well as ties to organized crime and the illegal "maquinita" industry -- Robaina's latest bird shooting at rifle moment is in his camp's negative attack ads against Carlos Gimenez on his development record. Yeah, I know, Ladra's ears went up, too. Robaina has tried to raise questions about campaign contributions the recently resigned commissioner has gotten from developers and development interests.
Is he kidding?
Yes, this is the "bad" Robaina, the real estate mogul whose net worth is reported at more than $8 million this year. The same Robaina -- photographed here dodging questions about a Hialeah cop with an $80,000 annual salary and free home courtesy of Hialeah Housing Authority -- who got the LBA endorsement because he represents the interests of the building community. The same Robaina who had a fundraiser thrown for him by the Spanish firm building a reverse osmosis water plant in Hialeah. (We have to do more on that later). He also has tens of thousands in campaign funds -- perhaps an investment of more than $100,000 -- that came in "bundled" contributions from one group of real estate development interests that include former and current business partners in a planned 160-acre mixed residential/commercial project on the western edge of Kendall on land that was in the last approved UDB application in 2008.
And he accuses a Tropical Audobon Society 2006 "Hold The Line Hero" because of his consistent votes against moving the UDB because of some development contributions? Really? Does anyone else think that's ridiculous? What about what he said at last month at the Kendall Federation of Homeowners Association forum when asked about the UDB line. "Inventory? Too much right now. So we need to look inside. Infill. Redevelopment of our corridors, especially our transportation corridors," Robaina said. "As a mayor I have worked with the DCA for responsible growth. That's the direction that we need to take in Miami-Dade County."
What Robaina hasn't said in any of the too many forums (and Ladra has submitted questions that, by chance we guess, just never get asked by the moderators), is that he owns interest in a West Kendall development known as Kendall Commons that was outside the UDB line until 2008, the last time the county commission voted to move the line in a somewhat contentious application known as the "Brown Tract application" for Kendall Drive @ 172nd Avenue. Like that little @? Ladra used it because Kendall @ 172, LLC is the name of the company in which Robaina owns interest, said his campaign manager. (More on the @ later). That company, owned mostly by David and Victor Brown and John Boschetti, owns one of the 12 parcels that make up the 160-acre planned development. The others are owned or represented by more Robaina friends -- people like Sergio Pino, Armando Guerra, Otto Rodriguez, Martin Caparros, his first real estate business partner, his former special aide Alex Ruiz, now president of RealCapital Consulting, and former Hialeah City Attorney Alex Vilarello. Total paid for about 230 acres (only 160 are in the plan; wonder what plans are already in the works for the other 70): $125 million, according to county property records. Robaina's campaign manager, Ana Carbonell (who worked for Lincoln Diaz-Balart), told Ladra that Robaina's interest was 2.5 percent of the piece owned by Kendall @ 172, which is the largest at 101 acres and was purchased in 2009 for $11.5 million, even though it was assessed at almost half. And the lovely, stamped application for a zoning hearing shows Robaina claimed 10 percent of Prestige Builders' Kendall Commons piece, which is five percent of the project overall, what he told Ladra personally after one of the forums earlier this month..
Naturally, those who own the other pieces of the pie have contributed heavily to his campaign. Caparros alone has forked over $18,000 at least in "bundled" $500 maximum checks from several of his companies (including Prestige Builders). The Boschettis have given at leat $2,500. Several contributions are tied to Pino. Arthur Falcone, who sold the property to Prestige and also provided a second mortgage, has given at least $7,500 through 15 contritbutions. Because a zoning change is just the start of the process, ladies and gentlemen. There will be traffic studies and impact fees to negotiate, site plans to approve and mitigation to plan. There will be a lot of headaches and hoops for developers. Might be nice to have a friend on the 29th floor.
Sure, Gimenez does have some development gifts. He got bundled contributions himself, $10,000 in 20 checks from real estate developer Jeffrey Berkowitz. Another $5,000 or so come from companies owned by the Hollo family, which are Tibor Hollo, the grandfather of Miami condo development, and his sons Jerome Hollo, vice president of the Miami Downtown Development Authority, and Wayne Hollo, vice president of Florida East Coast Realty. But Ladra can't see Gimenez as a developer's "friend" on the 29th floor. And, interestingly, he has no visible stake in any big development. And Ladra has tried to find some.
It was not that easy -- and perhaps intentionally -- to find Robaina's either.
Remember that @ in the Kendall@172? It's hard to forget, eh? But Robaina did. He listed 200 acres (just 5 percent?) as an asset on the financial disclosure on the same line as a firm named 172, LLC. Trouble is, that company does not exist in Florida Division of Corporation records. Someone might try to look it up and not find it and just end there. But there is a company named Kendall@172, however, and that is the one. Robaina seems to forget a lot these days. Recently, when Ladra asked if the omission of Kendall@ was just a typo, he directed questions to Hugo Arza, his attorney-turned-campaign consultant and brother of former State Rep. Ralph Arza (REP, District 112) who resigned in disgrace after he left obscene messages on the voice mail of a fellow State Rep. Gus Barreiro (REP, District 107, Miami Beach) and pleaded guilty in 2007 to misdemeanor counts of tampering with a witness, getting slapped with 18 months of probation and community service.
Thank goodness for public records to keep us breathing. The information you are about to read was gathered through the Miami-Dade clerk's and building and planning departments, court records, the property appraiser's office, campaign finance records and the Florida Division of Corporations and the South Florida Business Journal.
Robaina was listed as part owner of the project in an April 2010 zoning change application to the Miami Dade Community Council District 11 by Kendall Land Development, LLC, to build Kendall Commons, a planned and repeatedly stalled (since 2003) controversial development of single family homes, townhouses, a school, a church and a community center on vacant land from Kendall Drive to 96th Street and 167th to 172nd avenues. The application shows Kendall Land Development is 50 percent Boschetti Capital Partners (belonging to Jose and Luis Boschetti) and 50 percent Prestige Builders Capital Investiments, LLC, owned by Caparros, Rodriguez, Alex Vega and Robaina. It was approved a year after the bank forclosed on Prestige Builders for the property. Yeah, that's right. The bank foreclosed on them in 2009, but they went to mediation last year and it may have been settled. They got the zoning change, however, months before that. (Can we reform that?) Anyway, state corporate records do not list Robaina as an officer of Prestige (curious) but the same address in Miami Lakes (which, by the way, also goes back to his PAC), is the address for several of his firms in which his business partners are Prestige's principals (Caparros and Vega, for the most part). Also, the land was once owned by Boca Raton-based developer Arthur Falcone, president of Kendall Commons Inc. when it was purchased by Kendall Land Development for $74 million in 2004, according to the Business Journal story (that could be for the 160 acres; property records show the figures quoted above). Falcone -- who also happens to be the developer of the proposed downtown Miami Worldcenter project -- also happens to be president of Falcone Funding, which provided a second mortgage to Kendall Land Development for the property. The 2009 foreclosure lawsuit, which was one of the largest in size and number of housing units, was for the first mortgage for $33.8 million in 2004 (modified to $22 million in January 2008).
Ladra wonders why Robaina, whose exploits as a freelance loan officer has been the subject of a federal investigation, couldn't find other sources of funding.
Robaina met with Brito, chair and founder of the Miami Voice recall PAC, early last month to chat campaign strategy and he thought she was on board until just the other day. He didn't even know, til Ladra told him, that Brito’s Myami Marketing firm was paid $2,000 for "PR consulting" April 21 by former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, Robaina’s only opponent in the race. But he got an inkling something was up. She hadn't return a single call of more than a dozen he made to her in the two weeks since the April 6 breakfast meeting at a Bird Road Denny’s where Brito indicated energetically that she would be on his team, he said. In attendance were the two men who Robaina said “highly recommended” Brito: The late Carlos Alvarez, a campaign consultant and local democratic party activist who had a sudden massive heart attack last Friday, and Johnny Farias, who ran for state rep last year but lost the Democratic primary to Sandra Ruiz. Also there, former State Rep. Juan Carlos Zapata (Rep., District 119), who is running for commissioner in District 12 next year, and someone named Yoel Alfonso, who might be a union guy and the same Yoel Alfonso quoted in a 1997 New Times story as an avid Suarez supporter. (What the...? Don't these candidates vet people anymore?)
Brito, who looks like she is picking her next switcheroo here, was excited about the get together, posting on facebook at 8:14 a.m. April 6 via blackberry that she was “looking forward to a great morning meeting.” And she was excited in her email to Robaina the next day, and furnished here to Ladra. To quote in its entirety:
“Hi Julio! Great meeting with you and Juan yesterday. I hope we can work together, especially mobilizing the recall voters in the District. Let's just hope CG stays in the race!
As promised, here are the counts for voters for 3/15 election. I will get you the numbers for the Key Biscayne precincts separately in a bit.
Dist. 7 Voters who voted in Recall Election: 22,671
Dist. 7 Voters who signed a Recall petition or requested an AB through us: 9,722
Dist. 7 Voters whose AB solicitation has expired, was not renewed, and would not receive an AB for your election: 9,390
Dist. 7 Voters who voted AB: 8,579
Hope this serves as a starting point. These folks are more likely to vote for you over Suarez, so long as you get to them first and target them correctly.”
Wonder what her current boss would say/think about that last line. But Robaina took it as a sign that she really did want to do something, even if they couldn't afford the $4,000 he said she asked for. ”She said, ‘We like you, Julio. We know your past. You are a breath of fresh air.' Why would she give me data if she was working for the opposition?"
Brito said all she gave him were raw numbers. "Did I give him names and addresses? There is a lot more data than that," she said. She acknowledged she had gone to the meeting, but said she never agreed to work for Robaina or indicated that she would work for him. She said that Yoel Alfonso, who was also there, was also supporting Suarez now. But, as Ladra said, we suspect he was always supporting Suarez. Maybe Brito was, too. The other people at the meeting, the two that are still with us, told Ladra that Brito indicated she was part of Robaina's camp.
"She told Julio she wanted to help," Juan Carlos Zapata, who is one of Robaina's partners in their condo management business, told Ladra. "She was taking notes."
Said Farias: "She was very enthusiastic about it."
Brito also sent two other emails on April 7 -- one with the Key Biscayne numbers and another that ends "let me know if you need anything else, please." Sounds like she is on board, right?
Wrong. Robaina said he tried to call Brito at least a dozen times since that last email. He left messages. Brito never called him back. Farias, a known Vanessican, told Ladra the same thing. "I tried getting a hold of her several times. I couldn't get a hold of her," Farias said, adding that Alvarez, before he died of a massive heart attack Friday, had also tried to reach Brito several times, to no avail. "I haven't talked to Vanessa in almost a month," Farias said. "I heard that she started working with him [Suarez] because a friend of hers asked her to help him out."
Perhaps it was Norman Braman, the other recall media darling, who recently endorsed Suarez. After all, he pays Brito an undisclosed sum through an Arizona company for "data research" and, Ladra suspects, other work on local campaigns. But Ladra thinks that the gypsy con artist was more motivated by the money (that $2,000 is what's on the books as of April 22. The next financial disclosure report is not due until May 19). Brito has every right to get paid for her work as a political consultant and to work for whoever compensates her what she thinks she is worth. But she should have called Robaina and told him. To leave him hanging is not as bad as coming out with a press release and attack ad after telling another candidate that he was the bomb and she was going to help him. But it's still bad.
Zapata said he warned Robaina against trusting Brito. "I like community activists. But I also get very skittish when community activists also take on political agendas," Zapata told Ladra. "Julio said she was going to help him without any money. I told him, 'You gotta be careful. Folks like that who get into the scene through some popular movement and then they become famous and then they get politically involved -- it never ends well.'"
Ladra told Zapata that she is quite sure, actually, that Brito planned her political agenda first and then became a self-proclaimed "community activist" to further it.
"That's the sense I got," he shot back.