Thursday, June 30, 2011
Photographed here at his victory party with his entire family behind him Tuesday, Gimenez will surely miss his children's presence. Carlos Gimenez, Jr., his wife Tania, the mayor's daughter Luli Gato and her husband Danny and his daughter-in-law Barbie have been by his side throughout the campaign. But most of them have to work today and can't make the event.
The mayor himself has already been at work since Wednesday, the day after he narrowly defeated former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina for the Miami-Dade mayor's seat. He has 15 days to prepare next year's budget for commission review. But since he is not really officially in charge until the canvassing board certifies the election and a judge makes him swear on a bible to take care of us, he can't really tell his minions what to do. County Manager Alina Hudak and others have been sharing information with him because, well, they know he is going to be their boss eventually. It makes sense to get on his good side. He already told Hudak that he wants to cut the mayor's salary and benefits by half and get as close to 25 departments, from 50, as possible (though we don't know if he can do that in two weeks). He is also looking at recommending other cuts, like the car allowance for commissioners, which he may just lower to $400 or $500, and offer more credit if the car is a hybrid. He has said he wants to roll back the "Alvarez tax" hike. In fact, the swearing in is scheduled for tomorrow right before a staff meeting where he is expected to ask top administrators to provide him with multiple budget scenarios, recommending 10 to 20 percent reductions.
In fact, that's why he's in a hurry to get sworn in. There is a meeting scheduled with department heads at 2 p.m. tomorrow -- but it may get pushed back or rescheduled if the canvassing board does not certify the results by noon so he can be sworn in at 1 p.m. Because he can't spend county resources, he can't give directives, he can't really negotiate with the 10 different labor unions, until he is mayor. (Photographed here at the victory party with some county cops, he told them that their bargaining would be easier than what he expects with the firefighters union). And if there is anything that is consistent about Gimenez, the nerdy, by-the-book, policy wonk, Richie Cunningham type, he does not break the rules.
The privacy of the event in the mayor's conference room is because a more formal and public swearing will be scheduled next week. Most likely on Wednesday. Most likely in commission chambers. And the mayor wants this to be an in-and-out thing. He has a meeting at 2 p.m. to go to and he really just wants to get to work. It is expected to last 10 minutes or less. And nobody else -- not any of his friends who helped elect him, no special interest supporters, not even his children, who have to be at work at the time, will attend this historic moment. Ladra feels bad about that. But at least the media -- which was invited at the last minute in a press release sent out by the mayor's transition team -- can capture the moment.
Gimenez planned the earlier swearing-in, however, for all the right reasons. He has two weeks to present his lean-as-promised budget and he wants to spend the better part of the day on Saturday working on just that. This mayor is not about the pomp and circumstance of a full blown affair like the kind last month enjoyed by newly minted commissioners Esteban Bovo and Xavier Suarez, who apparently enjoyed the partylike atmosphere. Gimenez would rather avoid the bigger ceremony -- except that the public is expecting it -- because he just wants to focus on the job at hand.
And that is exactly why we elected him.
But Brito has been working on the campaign for our mayor elect, Carlos Gimenez, for the past few weeks, at least. Maybe longer. Perhaps New Times should have named her Best Professional Activist. Here she is hiding from my camera at the Gimenez victory party, although she jumps at every other media exposure opportunity and even creates them when she can.
Not only did Alex Diaz de la Portilla tell me himself, between insults on Tuesday, that Brito was working with him on some of his campaign tasks -- which we know includes advertising and the absentee ballot drive, and I will bet on the latter -- but a Hialeah firefighter also told me, unwittingly, that he took some financial report from the city to her house (we assume he got permission from Gimenez campaign people) so she could have the "PAC attorney" look them over and see if there was some mismanagement they could attack on. As far as Ladra knows, the PAC attorney is Miami Lakes Mayor Michael "Muscles" Pizzi, whose own town overwhelmingly voted for former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina, who was narrowly defeated in the mayoral runoff Tuesday. But why would they need Muscles's help with that? Maybe it was supposed to be "PAC accountant." Although, really, anybody with a basic grasp of math can see that there are discrepancies and not a lot of transparency with Hialeah's finances. People have asked questions already and I expect the next city council meeting to be fun. (I'll be in the back row). Anyway, I called Vanessa and left her a message about her getting the financial reports and why she was working for the mayor when she said she was going to stay out of it. She never called me back. But she immediately called the firefighter, because she knew where I had gotten the information, and I was sitting next to him when the call came in on his cellphone.
And while Brito denies being the one behind the emails sent by firstname.lastname@example.org -- who began to praise the Political Cortadito once Ladra started sniffing around this subject, but thanks anyway -- and email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, the IP addresses for all four of those emails come back to the same IP address as firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Let's repeat that: All six emails have the same IP address, which come from the same domain client or host server. And even the emails from Hugo and Ralph Arza, who were working for Robaina, come from the same IP address. Weird, huh? (More on that a little further down) It could even mean they come from the same computer or network of computers at the same physical address. But it could also mean that the same client at go daddy owns the domains or the same host server hosts all those domains and emails. It could be that one consultant opened all those domains for her and also opened the Arza domain. But we don't know because she won't discuss it.
We do know that social media and email blasts are one of Brito's specialties and a staple of her campaign strategies. Despite several replies to these emails, asking these people to come forth, only one email has been returned. I asked the speakupmiami writer -- who began the first missives citing the Miami Voice voter guide -- to please call me so we could establish it was really an independent group, not just another pseudonym for the same old people (like the PACs are). In the reply, the writer cited the movie Inception and said,"If you've seen inception then you'll understand that I although I cannot call you will have to take a leap of faith."
Later, when I insisted, the writer added more: "Look my name is Victor, I haven't been out of college too long, but was really interested in investigative journalism. One of the reasons I follow you is because I thought your questions and writing were right on the mark. A friend of mine got me involved with all this as he brought up politics in the city and county I realized how bad things were and could get. I've just been following the campaigns since the recall but things have gotten too hot I think. I am humbly stepping away but stay in touch," it said. Ladra pressed, and explained the IP discrepancy. "That I have no idea about, I do not work in computer technology or anything I don't know how that works, and I said I was interested in investigative journalism, I am new and do not know much." Ladra pressed again, asking for just 60 seconds by phone. If I could hear Victor's voice, that would certainly go a long way toward easing doubts. His answer: "I'm a little busy right now but if you give me a little bit I will try to give you a call."
That call never came. Subsequent attempts to reach "Victor" have been met with no answer.
Brito did not respond to a telephone message left on her voice mail. She did reply to an email request. "That's absolutely not true. I don't know who those people are and in fact, contacted them about the initials. You can post anything you want. If you haven't contacted the people who own the site, then you're not doing your job. I will ask you once more not to contact me again." But I did. I have to try harder. "You should have a tech help you out with IP research. I will not have anything to do with false accusations regarding this. I am asking, once again, that you do not contact me again - for this or any other issue."
She sent me (under the subject line "good research") the registration of speakupmiami.us to a Tallahassee address who is also behind rescuemiami.org, another pro-Gimenez group. Ladra was thinking the same thing: Flow chart! But it proves nothing because, as everone knows, you can have a registered agent hundreds of miles away and still be sending emails from the computer in your home, which is what the IP address footprint may indicate. At least, according to people who know far more about this than me. I did get tech help. And according to all the forensic computer and people with dedicated host servers, the dedicated server that hosts the Miami Voice email also hosts the other groups. And also hosts emails that come from Hugo and Ralph Arza at ralpharza.com. So all those emails are being routed through the same internet client.
All of this might be explained of course. I believe in giving one the benefit of the doubt. But Brito will not give an explanation or even talk about any of these things. And that gives the doubt more benefit.
Meanwhile, the "neutral" Miami Voice chaired by a political consultant did give out one endorsement -- to Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño's chief of staff Francisco Lago, a buddy of Brito's from her FIU days, in his unsuccessful bid for the state rep seat vacated by the new Miami-Dade district 13 Commissioner Esteban Bovo, who decidedly won the seat of former Commissioner Natasha Seijas Millan, who was the only one of five targetted commissioners that Brito's efforts -- which she admits were paid for by Norman Braman -- was able to oust. (That's success?) Anyway, Lago's latest campaign finance reports do not show direct payments to her (the final one is not in yet, though), but she could have gotten the trickle effect of the $102,000 or so paid by Lago through Sasha Tirador, who also worked on Robaina's campaign with David Custin. Both Tirador and Custin also worked for Braman on the recall, with Brito.
It's all just too close for comfort. But this business is terribly incestuous. Yesterday's enemies are working on campaigns together today. Take the case of Emiliano Nuñez, a direct mail specialist who was paid more than $3,500 by the Robaina campaign before the primary and then got hired by the Gimenez PAC, Common Sense Now, and made another $5,815 after Robaina's people did not rehire him for the runoff (maybe that was their mistake). Nuñez told me himself that he will work for whoever hires him, which may leave a bit to be desired, but it's honest.
Brito, on the other hand, is fooling the public by saying she is neutral when she is stumping for one of the candidates. And I cannot imagine she is doing it for free, but that shouldn't matter.
This hypocrisy is something that our new mayor needs to distance himself from. He should know better, after he was already burned by her once, when she did the press release and radio spot against Gimenez for the Accountability Project.
And he should distance himself from her if he wants to continue to be known as honest and transparent. Because she is all about smoke and mirrors.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
According to Univision Radio General Manager Claudia Puig and two people very close to the Gimenez campaign, Diaz de la Portilla was the one who produced the spot, which allegedly vilified talk radio jockeys Armando Perez-Roura, Ninoska Perez Castellón and Roberto
Rodriguez-Tejera and had it ready to air before the smarter and more enlightened people at the campaign put a stop to it and told Univision Radio to destroy the recording.
"There was no way we were going to air that," said one campaign operative who added that Diaz de la Portilla acted on his own accord without consulting with anybody prior.
Diaz de la Portilla -- who helped the Gimenez campaign with advertising and absentee ballot collection and is photographed here way after the May 24 victory party was over and we were still talking in the parking lot -- would not confirm this to Ladra Tuesday and took to insulting her instead.
"Your relevance is greatly exaggerated in your own mind," he told me on the phone, in a heated exchange in which he also threatened to sue me (even though nobody reads me, he said). "You have delusion of grandeur."
Um, not really. We weren't talking about me, anyway. I know I have only 60 or so very loyal readers who must hit my blog dozens of times a day to get me 1,293 views in the last 24 hours and almost 19,000 so far this month. They are very motivated readers, I guess. Still, he insisted I quote him and repeated the statement slowly. (Did I get it right, Alex?)
But, now, what does your assessment of my work have to do with the ad and the controversy that it erupted. Dude, you sound a lot like former Hialeah mayor and defeated mayoral candidate Julio Robaina. And a little like Vanessa Brito, with whom you said yourself you have been working on the campaign despite the fact that, as chairwoman of the Miami Voice recall PAC, she has publicly said she would remain neutral (more on that later... as in next).
Diaz de la Portilla didn't exactly deny it, mind you. Ever the politician, he simply asked me to produce the commercial and said that if I didn't, he would sue me. I said the promo was reportedly destroyed, though I have a feeling there is a copy somewhere. Isn't there always? But that's irrelevant, because I have three very reliable, relevant people who said he's responsible.
Frankly, I wasn't even going to question him much on the content of the ad, because Ladra agrees that the coverage has been biased and knows that there is a perception -- whether its based in reality or rumors -- that the Cuban AM radio dial is on a slant-for-sale pay scale. But I do agree that it was likely not in the best interest of the campaign to run it (maybe Johnny Walker helped him write it) and can't help but wonder if Alex and/or the DLP brotherhood -- because they do kind of act in unison -- have an axe to grind with those particular journalists. I called Rodriguez-Tejera, but he hasn't called me back and I don't expect him to after our exchange earlier this week where we basically agreed to have no respect for each other's work.
But I did expect Alex to act like a man and take responsibility publicly so he could take any flack off Gimenez, who apparently never knew about the promo never would have approved it, but who was attacked in negative ads by Robaina based on the content of the commercial. It's not like he doesn't have a big enough head to take credit for everything else he does (and some things he probably doesn't). When I told ADLP that someone at the station said more than multiple people on the campaign were authorized to approve campaign promos -- a statement later confirmed by one of the campaign operatives, who said Diaz de la Portilla added himself to the list -- he said he was the "one and only person" approving advertising.
"I am the one who has produced and approved more than 40 mail pieces and radio and TV spots," he said. Except the one he said didn't exist. But campaign manager JC Flores -- who is naturally more relevant than either of us -- had already told me the piece did exist once and had been produced without authority. So who's lying? Hmm. I believe Flores. And I understand that Diaz de la Portilla was "reeling" from the tremendous verbal spanking he got from the real people running this campaign and that his attack on me was just desparate defensive deflection on a really stressful day, even though he exuded extreme confidence. But that is just as bad as what he says the radio campaign operatives do. It's pajaros tirandole a la escopeta, again.
"Have never reeled in my life," he texted me after I gave him that out, and told him his behavior toward me showed no class. "lol... more class in one pinky than you will ever have in your whole body." Wow. This from a former senator and majority leader. Very statesmanlike, eh? A perfect example of said class. I saved the texts if anyone, like say the new mayor, wants to see this arrogance with their own eyes.
I have to admit, his words stung. And I know I shouldn't have let him know that he made me cry. But I was feeling the frenzy of Election Day, and he had feigned friendship at the May 24 victory party and in ensuing phone conversations about the campaign, where I wasn't as irrelevant, I guess. And I was looking forward to seeing him again that night so we could talk more, because he has a unique wealth of political information and knowledge, something I could tell in just a few hours talking to him the first time. And I loved that he was the only person, except for maybe State Rep. Erik Fressen (REP, District 111), who talks faster than me.
He texted that I got "way to emotional." Then he challenged me to google him. And, well Ladra is a very curious animal and so I did. And I was reminded of the restraining order against him granted last year by his wife for protection against domestic violence, and about his brutal negative campaign against former State Rep. Julio Robaina ("the good one") who ran against his brother, State Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (REP, Dist. 36) for state senate last year (a campaign that was basically cloned last month against Robaina for Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez), about his work to try to save former Mayor Carlos Alvarez from the recall, about his $17,000 fine from the Florida Ethics Commission in 2004 for his failure to comply with election laws by the Floroda Ethics Commission, which also questioned how he paid for his lavish lifestyle on a $29,000 a year salary.
And I have to thank Google and him for suggesting it. Because his blatant disrespect suddenly didn't sting anymore. But his thuggish behavior -- like that of his brother, School Board Member Renier Diaz de la Portilla, who actually had the nerve to try to kick me out of the Gimenez victory party Tuesday after I asked him if he lived in the district (it's just a question, people) -- should not be tolerated by anyone.
And that includes Mayor Gimenez, who says he likes to lead by example.
He talks about how Julio Robaina did not really do that well in the primary, considering how much he spent and the huge lead in absentee ballots (that all but vanished Tuesday and paved the way for a Gimenez win).
My favorite part of the post by Javier (who was kind enough to pose for a few photos with the new fellow blogger): "The result is no doubt a surprise, and for those who believe that establishment support is the be all end all, I say take heed of the fact that any increasingly informed and savvy educated electorate will ultimately decide on their own who will represent them best - regardless of marketing, establishment support, and endorsements."
Second favorite part: "Special hat tip to Ladra at the Political Cortadito for covering the Mayor’s race."
Read it all at http://shark-tank.net/2011/06/29/16527/#more-16527 , which should be bookmarked by anyone who wants to stay on top of our local delegates in the state and national arena.
Thanks, Javi. Hope I stay on your good side when Ladra plays on partisan fields, my friend.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Just a few quick observations about the election and the victory before Ladra takes an 18-hour nap (more on the victory party and campaign later).
While Robaina got a tiny head start on absentee ballots (38,420 votes to 39,749), Gimenez got a larger lead in early voting (22,321 to 17,283). The total votes cast are 62,125 for Mayor Gimenez and 58,005 for former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, who will have to find something else to do tomorrow.
When that 51.71 lead over Robaina's 48.29 percent only grows as Election Day numbers trickle in from the precincts, I want Mayor Gimenez and everyone else to remember one thing: Ladra was the first one to call him that.
Ladra is going to predict now that Mayor Gimenez wins by more than five points.
Former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina, and his expensive absenteel ballot machinery, had whooped Gimenez in AB votes during the May 24 primary, 3 to 2. Robaina had about 9,000 votes more and started the race with a 41 percent of the vote to Gimenez 28 percent.
But this 50.44 percent lead for Robaina is so tiny it's the best thing Ladra has heard all day. And I am not alone. Pollsters Fernand Armandi and Dario Moreno had told me (and everybody else who would listen) that Robaina needed a strong AB lead to win. His own people know this and I bet Julito is sweating it right now like he was at that Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce event weeks ago, bullets dripping down his long-sleeved token guayabera shirt.
Gimenez is expected to take both the early voting and the Election Day precinct voting, so that tiny half point lead should be gone very soon.
Stay tuned, people.
The wet weather is expected to affect the small "rush" of voters who typically go to their Election Day precincts to vote. And turnout has never been more important in a race than it is today. Of course it's desireable to have a high number (read: 30 or 40 percent) of the registered voters come out for any race, let alone a mid-summer county mayoral election resulting from a recall in which 17 percent of the electorate participated.
But in this contest, the saying "every vote counts" has never meant more.
Former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina, who has somewhere around $3 million or more to spend and bought himself a powerful absentee ballot machine, can only benefit from low turnout. Especially since there has been higher turnout in his stronghold: About 5,000 more absentee ballots -- where Robaina decidedly won -- were castffor this runoff than on May 24 (10,000 more votes cast in total). Robaina decidedly beat him in the AB votes (of course, he has the tried and true queen consultant of ABs, Sasha Tirador, who has made billed more than six figures already in this contest, we can add the other races up later) 3 to 2 practically, with 9,000 more than Gimenez. And Gimenez -- who is now on top of the polls, where Robaina was before May24 -- only beat him by a margin of less than 500 votes in the early voting period. But maybe he will have a wider margin in that extra 5,000 EV ballots.
Still, precinct voting is key to both the Gimenez campaign, which hopes it is high, and the Robaina campaign, which hopes it is low. Both campaigns have reported optimistic support. But the elections department has no turnout numbers until the votes are all in.
It is up to the voters to make one of these candidates' day, rain or shine.
Reason Number 10 to vote for Carlos Gimenez: He isn't under investigation by federal, state or local authorities for anything.
Reason Number 9: His fiscal management experience includes bringing the city of Miami back from financial ruin as city manager there while his opponent has made costly mistakes that have left the city of Hialeah in a questionable financial state which voters will not really know the extent of until after the election.
Reason Number 8: He is transparent and open to challenge. What you see is what you get. The other guy is a little less so. What you see depends on who and where you are.
Reason Number 7: He was once a fireman.
Reason Number 6: He answers questions directly, even the ones he doesn't like, and doesn't hide from pesky reporters at public events, or private events for that matter, and answers his own phone or returns calls (or did before the campaign went into overdrive and will again once elected). I don't know about you, but I do not want a mayor who won't be accessible to the journalists he doesn't agree with and won't answer the questions he doesn't like.
Reason Number 5: He isn't hated and reviled by the public municipal employees that worked under him and will not use his position as a platform for personal perks or favors to friends.
Reason Number 4: He hasn't increased his net worth from under $800,000 to more than $8 million since he has been in office and he doesn't make high-risk, high-interest personal loans and he isn't a principal in dozens of corporations, some with strikingly similar names, and limited partnerships with business associaties that include two men indicted on racketerring charges in 2004 (even if the charges are not later pursued).
Reason Number 3: He does not flip-flop on his position on important community and campaign issues, whether it is the Marlins stadium, term limits or his stance on equal rights.
Reason Number 2: Did I mention he was once a fireman?
And, the Number 1 reason to vote for Carlos Gimenez: He is not Julio Robaina.
Monday, June 27, 2011
After being accused of having a slant for Julio Robaina, the station will have to admit that two of it's veteran talkers, Oscar Haza and Roberto Rodriguez-Tejera, basically lied live on their programs on Monday -- the day before this important mayoral race -- when they aired their needless disgust for the other candidate over a commercial that questioned the integrity of some reporters, an ad that never existed. (Note to teachers: Excellent example of irony).
Admittedly feeling a little vindicated after her own run-in with one of these radio personalities, Ladra can't wait to hear the retractions that will reportedly be aired tomorrow during both the Haza show in the morning (starts at 8 a.m.) and the Rodriguez-Tejera show in the afternoon (4 to 6 p.m.). But, while it's at least an admission from the station -- widely regarded as Robainaland -- that the men lied or misspoke or whatever spin they may put on it, a taped retraction in some woman's apologetic corporate voice as the extent of any apology for having slandered Gimenez -- deliberately or unintentionally misleading voters -- is not enough. Especially after the Robaina campaign has already used the non existing radio spot in his own ad heard on Radio Mambi Monday night (and when was that commercial produced? Could Robaina have been flagged to it before the talent spoke of it on the air?).
These two men used their own voice and their own airtime and whatever credibility they have with the important viejito voting block to slander a career public servant who is so painfully squeaky clean that the other campaign continuously makes up faux dirt that fails to stick. No, it is only fitting that these two self-descried "journalists" devote some of their own airtime to either admit they are or tell us why they are not, at the very least, predisposed against Gimenez. Haza, in particular, should spend 13 minutes on the subject. That is about how long he dramatically went on and on and on Monday about how offended he was by this commercial that questioned the integrity of some Cuban AM radio talk jockeys who call themselves journalists and have been unquestionably biased in this and other campaigns (not open minded, equal opportunity political harassers like, ahem, well). Haza went so far as to ask Gimenez publicly to retire it from the air. Problem is, it was never on the air. It was not produced by the campaign, approved by the campaign, paid for by the campaign, placed on paid airtime by the campaign. That commercial was produced by one of multiple part time consultants or a volunteer (depending on whose talking to Ladra) on the campaign (someone who is likely fired by now), without the prior knowledge or approval of the candidate or the campaign manager (Are you crazy? Because they are not). In fact, the first time they heard about the ad was after Haza -- who also had a debate on his TV show last week and said Gimenez bailed when he knew the former commissioner was not doing debates and had declined -- talked about it in his morning show. "We didn't know anything about it until today, until it was on the radio," said campaign manager JC Flores, adding that a "statement" by Univision Radio would make it clear that the ad was never paid for or, as the disclaimer says, "approved" by the Carlos Gimenez campaign. People close to the campaign and inside the station on Southwest 8th Street told Ladra similar stories. Basically, someone -- either an unappreciated member of the multi-consultant team or an overzealous volunteer -- produced the piece on their own to impress the future mayor and his kingmakers. But the promo got pinched before the protege could pitch it. Somehow, the piece got turned over to "talent" (Univision Radio's word, note they don't use "journalists") to make into a campaign issue on the eve of the election. Rodriguez-Tejera reportedly said on his show that he "heard" (this is how they do it, folks) Gimenez was in the studio Friday recording the piece. I didn't hear that first hand but I understand that is why the retraction will be aired on his show as well. But it was not true. Gimenez was not there on Friday.
I did hear Haza's dramatic speech, though. Because I was flagged to it on the internet by Chuny Montaner, the web content producer for Univision Radio, who did not return a call (no message because her voice mail was full, la pobre) or a text message. She apparently sent a mass email with a link to a clip from Haza's show on their website, but it's gone now. (And she should now send another mass email explaining it was a mistake, not just an email to "recall the email," which is also not enough.) On the website, before they took it off, it was titled "Haza asks Gimenez to retire promo" -- a promo that never saw a working day in its life? It never aired or was even known to the campaign to exist. And Haza's piece sounded like a Robaina endorsement. I called Haza, then texted him before I called him again. I think he may have thought it was someone else before I introduced myself. He said he remembered me (I've been on his show a few times for some U.S.-Cuba policy issue or another) and then I asked him when was it that he had heard this commercial that he was so outraged about on the air.
"Hello? Hello?" The call seems to have been disconnected. Maybe his battery died. All I know is I called back and left a message for him to call me back at any time. Maybe he will in the morning. Or he can just explain on the air how he had come to the conclusion that the commercial aired, who had given it to him, if he indeed heard it, and with what motivation, and how he might avoid doing that again.
But the conversation shouldn't end there. As a community, we need to have more dialogue with the owners, producers and "talent" at Univision Radio, the supernova of Cuban AM talk radio, about what seems like a longtime image -- real or perceived -- of their stations as slanted sanctuaries of slander-for-sale. Yeah, that's right: I went there. Again. This is not new territory, people. Please don't anybody feign surprise or offense at this suggestion. This perception is out there and has been for decades. I'm just talking about it openly. It doesn't help that Rodriguez-Tejera devotes six shows to attacking Gimenez on a robocall that only 1 percent of the population heard and hasn't spent one minute on the attack ads against Gimenez paid for by a PBA-funded PAC. It doesn't help when someone who sounds like a veteran radio personality does robocalls for Robaina and uses the easily-identifyable signature theme music in the soundtrack. Campaign finance reports show tens of thousands of dollars paid to political consultants (in addition to line items for production and airtime on TV and radio) for what many political insiders admit are payoffs to on-air personalities and their handlers at the stations. In fact, there is one veteran program host whose nickname on Political Street is "Tres Lucas" because his going rate is $3,000 a show (and Luca is Cuban slang for $1,000).
There are people reading this blog who know exactly what and who I am talking about. And there are people at Univision Radio who know that this perception exists. If they do nothing to address it, they basically allow it to grow and give their talent license to make it a reality.
If none of this is true, the perception still needs to be discussed in the open so that the rampant rumors are put to rest and the community assured. If the perception is even the tiniest bit real, then it's time for a frank discussion about saving Cuban radio from itself.
Regardless, this is a topic -- the influence of Cuban radio on elections and public opinion and the extent of any bias, real or perceived, within -- that needs further discussion. And I invite -- no, dare is a better word -- the powers that be at Univision to dedicate a post-election show on the matter.
Julio Robaina is up to $1.7 million, raising $400,000 in the last three weeks. Former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez is not too far behind with almost $300,000 more to get to just over $900,000 in his campaign account. The PACs all got more money, too, including another $360,000 for Gimenez's Common Sense Now, which is at $1 million.
More on the money later, after I've had a chance to read over the reports. Still coming, maybe after Tuesday: How rich did the consultants get?
Uncle Luke, who came in fourth in the May 24 primary and later endorsed Robaina because Carlos Gimenez would not give his friend a job, went on twitter today and tweeted his man out. He was trying to slam the Miami Herald's Sunday story about absentee ballot brokering, but he ended up slamming his own candidate, too.
"This paper is so one sided its a shame the two of them use brokers not one. Election in Miami if you have the money you can pay for votes. I'm the only one that didn't pay a broker," Campbell posted on his twitter account, unclelukereal1, around 8 a.m. today. Gimenez has told Ladra that he does not have a broker and his campaign finance reports do not show any of the known "baloteros" on his staff, while Robaina's PACs are, indeed, paying the queen of the absentee ballot machine, Sasha Tirador.
Last week, Campbell (photographed here with me at the first Miami Foundation forum at UM) spelled his candidate's name wrong and said "Voting Robaino for good reasons he's the only on that cares about black people. You have to care about all people to be the Mayor."
It's RobainA with an A, Luke (I know, all our names sound alike). He's not going to like that you misspelled his name on your status update. And the charge that he is the only one who cares about your community is sorta ludicrous (I know, that's another rapper) in light of the support he has gotten from other black community and political leaders. Or do they not count? Only Uncle Luke's black community matters? Not any of the other people quoted here or in other media outlets.
As far as your assessment that Ladra (what do you mean I was your girl #2 to JR #1?) threw you under the bus, that is not true. "You ran the bus over me. Frank [Alvarado] told me," you responded to me on twitter. Luke, read my blog, don't let your colleauges tell you what I write. I never said you did anything wrong. Like I told you over the phone, before the signal died and the call dropped and you decided not to answer the phone again: You were doing what you could to ensure that your candidacy had some lasting legacy. It is admirable. Naive, but admirable. Robaina, however, may have done something wrong.
Ladra liked you before the primary because you had some great ideas and I thought you spoke straight. Your thoughts on transparency and the dual billing/insurance system at Jackson Memorial Hospital are topics that need further discussion and review. I hope Mayor Gimenez will follow up on those things.
Even your last-minute switch in your endorsement, and the (videotaped) admissions that followed about some sort of quid pro quo showed nothing more than a naive community leader trying to do something right, to save something out of and battling with his own personal feelings to do so.
The only thing I didn't like, still don't, is that you didn't stick to the truth.
Like I told you over the phone, Uncle Luke: You have nothing to hide or fear or be ashamed of. What you did was try to get someone you trusted into county hall after your shot was blown. Someone to watch over the things you care about, like the CRAs.
Luke told me that both men simply agreed to consider his recommendations. But that's not what he said on tape. He said we could review the video together, the unedited version that Frank still has. Frank said he would get it to me tomorrow.
I'll bring the popcorn.
Together, and as of the last report filed earlier this month, both candidates had more than $3.5 million to put toward their efforts. Former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina had $1.33 million in his campaign coffers, plus another $1 million or so in six PACs (Ladra has since dug up a seventh Robaina PAC, so there's likely more than that), while Carlos Gimenez raised about $634,000 in his campaign and another $660,000 in his PAC.
But only the candidates and their respective political machinery operatives know how much more they raised and spent since the last cut-off period, which ended June 3. They've had three more weeks to raise and spend and we don't know where that came from and where it went. That's because the last campaign finance reports due (last Friday) before the election were electronically received by the elections department, but are not a public record until the hard copies get in. Probably through snail mail. Maybe this afternoon. Maybe tomorrow.
"The statute is very clear on when it becomes a public record.It's not considered received until we get thehard copy. We can't even see them. We just know they are there," said elections department spokeswoman Christina White.
And that's convenient for the candidates. So much for the intent of the law, which we have to believe is for voters to know about the financial picture, not just the campaign staff.
But even if voters get the information late, the campaign reports won't be officially late. "The statute says as long as it's postmarked by the due date then it's considered on time," White said.
"If they put it in the mail on time and it is postmarked by the deadline and we don't get it until the day after the election, that's perfectly fine within the confines of the statute," she added.
So the statute should be changed. The whole point of campaign finance reporting is so that voters know who is financing the candidates and how they are spending those funds. Are there more special interest or bundled donations? Are they renting vans to shuttle elderly voters to early voting sites? Are they paying absentee ballot brokers or "volunteers" to stand with signs? People should know these things before they vote, not after. Ladra contacted the staff on both campaigns and asked them to provide us with the finance reports that they already have because they mailed them and also filed them electronically. No answer yet. (You will know when I know).
Many campaigns wait to report big money or questionable contributions and costs in their last reports (there is one final campaign finance report due 90 days -- that's three months -- after the election and that one is usually quite interesting also). They can do this several ways, some legal, some not. Many campaign staffers don't get paid (or don't get really paid the balance of what they've really been costing all along) until the last report (legal). And "soft money" can be spent and not reported until the very end (illegal).
What Ladra doesn't understand is why do these contradictions exist. Why are there finance disclosure laws that allow the candidates and their political handlers such a big loophole? Seems that if the intent was truly to make it transparent, the electronical filing would be a public record. Why is it exempted from public records laws?
Perhaps these are questions for our next mayor, but I won't hold my breath. Because the loopholes give the candidates an advantage.
And leaves the voters in the dark.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Like the 77,500 absentee ballots, the majority of which Ladra thinks will still go to the machinery paid for by former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina (though with a smaller margin than on May 24), the EV ballots could also go to the better bankrolled candidate, who reportedly had busloads of voters driven to the West Dade Regional Library on Coral Way and other sites. Numbers are high in each of the candidate's strongholds, but Ladra's informal exit poll Saturday of 160 voters shows that Robaina takes a small lead in the early voting statistics. At West Dade Regional, 100 voters were split 55 to 45 in favor of Robaina over former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez. And the JFK library in Hialeah was a little more than 2 to 1 for the heralded homeboy. Gimenez blew him away, however, 3 to 1, at the Coral Gables library. We chose those three top vote banks because they have consistently been the number 1, 2 and 3 early voting sites throughout this race and ended up again on Saturday, accounting for a third of the 39,691. Each of the three visited also got between 600 and nearly 1,000 more votes than on May 24, a likely result of stepped up efforts by both campaigns.
Voters who chose Robaina told me that they were fed up with the establishment and wanted to hold the line on taxes. "As a homeowner, that is important to me," said one woman who voted in Coral Gables. Roman Ayala, 70, voted for Robaina at West Dade Regional "because he is closer to the Cuban cause than Gimenez is. At least in my view," he said. Meanwhile, Gimenez voters seemed closer to Earth. "I've met him and talked to him and I agree with his policies and positions," said David Miller, 80, who is retired after having owned a clothing manufacturing business -- in Hialeah. "He is an honest man, approachable." Nurse Elizabeth Rodriguez, 45, said Gimenez had more experience and more integrity (her words). "I like his track record, his background, and how much he has done for the community."
Most of the Robaina voters did not want to talk about their reasons. Gimenez voters were only to happy to share. Likewise, Robaina (who got in a Buick SUV and was driven away as soon as I arrived at the JFK library in the afternoon) declined to chat with Ladra during two stops (yes, I asked twice) at the West Dade Regional library. I even told him I wanted to share the good news from the informal exit poll, but he just shook his head from 15 feet away. He won't even let me get near him (thus why he is so far away in the photo), walking away at a rapid clip and even in zig-zag to get rid of me. And my parents were afraid he would confront me. (No, I don't think I need any bodyguards, Candela writer, but thanks for the offer). Gimenez, on the other hand, greeted me at the Hialeah library and let me tag along as he spoke to voters. He posed for photos. I asked him about party involvement in this nonpartisan race (more on that later), something I did want to ask Robaina about but he never gives me the opportunity. He answered me. And they were fresh and spontaneous answers, not practiced and off point. I asked him about that infamous anti-Hialeah robocall, which he continued to say he had nothing to do with and that he would fire anyone working for him that was tied to it. I asked him for his take on early voting and he said he felt confident. He looked relaxed and carefree -- like a man without federal authorities breathing down his neck, a man with nothing to fear or hide. He's said he is "good with whatever happens." Bet Robaina is not. And I'm not judging him because I sure as hell am not good with whatever happens. I told Gimenez that I hoped I did not have to move out of the country after June 28. He said, very confidently, that I could stay put. "Other people might have to move out of the country," he said, laughing, relaxed and feeling good.
Maybe for good reason. The Bendixen Amandi poll shows that Gimenez's chances of being our next mayor increase with the voter turnout. Robaina's support base may be deeper (read: more motivated) but Gimenez's is wider. And so far, we have 117,000 votes cast, more than the 107,000 early and absentee ballots in the May 24 primary. If the trend holds out and we get another 10,000 extra votes, that could be a very good thing for Gimenez , indeed. That's the magic number in his email to supporters as well. He asks everyone to get 10 people to vote and I know volunteers have been asked to help on phone banks Sunday and Monday to make it happen.
Because EV and AB votes may hold the expected lead for Robaina, however narrowed by the Gimenez campaign's concerted efforts, but election day votes are what will take Mayor Gimenez to his righful place at County Hall.
Friday, June 24, 2011
Supporters for both candidates have sent mass emails out asking their friends to vote and to urge their friends and relatives to vote for their respective man.
Consultant and former Miami Public Health Trust member Jorge Arizurrieta (or a campaign staffer ghostwriting it on his behalf) sent a 610-word email on Friday urging people to vote for Robina or Robaina, the former Hialeah mayor's name was misspelled at least twice. (Someone will likely get chewed out for that one). He used words like "transparency" and "accountability" and "economic development" -- okay, I'll give him that last one. Robina knows a bunch about developing his and his pals' economies. But in unaccountable, murky ways.
While Arizurrita echoes the campaign mantras about lowering taxes (though Robina increased them the first three years) and "cutting bureaucracy," it says nothing about slashing employees' salaries by 17 percent while administrators took a 3 percent cut. "His business background ensures that we are not getting another lifetime bureaucrat, who now claims to be a 'reformer' but has nothing to show for it. But someone with real world experience and proven results." And lots of conflicts of interest, he forgot to mention.
He also echoes the blah blah blah about how Gimenez is the same as Carlos Alvarez. You guys gotta give that a break. Nobody buys it. Gimenez was Alvarez's biggest critic on the dais and it is ironic -- and not transparent -- that the PBA is financing the attack ads that compare the two men when the PBA supported Alvarez against the recall. What hypocrisy. Not accountability.
Arizurrieta -- who we have to nominate to the "elect us mayor" committee with an eye toward his medical-related business interests -- also took quite a bit of those words to complain about the Miami Herald's coverage of the race, again hitting the same arguments that Robina and his campaign staff, principally Ana Carbonell, have made (maybe she wrote the email). "They made a decision months ago to blast Mayor Robina and support their choice, Carlos Gimenez. What they forgot to do is register as a 527 organization as they have acted no differently," he said, sounding like a crybaby because he has to know that the media can make endorsements and that they have covered the race, actually, in a reactive way, rather than proactive. But I guess he would suggest the media ignore the federal investigation, the public housing given to the cop with the $80,000 salary, the developed commercial property Robina was paying, I mean dodging taxes on as vacant land for four years, the intense special interests investing hundreds of thousands in this multi-million effort, the absentee ballot concerns, the campaigning while he was serving as mayor, the flip-flopping on the stadium deal, the business ties to contributors who were indicted in 2004 on racketeering charges, the Uncle Luke quid pro quo, the illegal campaign stop to MIA.
"The Gimenez campaign owes the Herald big and should declare their 'priceless' reporting as an in kind contribution to their campaign," Arizurrieta said. No, actually, the community owes the Herald big for getting voters' the real story. Robina's people need to realize that all the media cannot be bought. Trust me, the Herald and all the rest of the media would love to get Carlos Gimenez doing something stupid. And if he had, your candidate's people sure would have let us know. But we might miss it ourselves because Julito has us too busy watching him.
The consulant with dollar signs in his eyes also suggests that Robaina "will dominate the absentee ballot votes as he did in the first election a month ago." Well, duh. He does have that awesome AB machinery that is costing him a pretty penny. He predicts Robina will also do better in early voting (let's bet on that one, rich man). Because he has "personally known Julio" for more than 10 years, he can vouch for the real estate mogul's "commitment to this community and ... attest to his integrity and his commitment to governing in an efficient, effective and transparent fashion." More campaign speak. This letter was clearly written for him not by him. How embarassing that a grown man needs a handler to write his letter.
"I too have worked with Carlos Gimenez in his capacity as commissioner. A well intended person he is. A leader he's not," he said, basically confirming what everyone fears: that Robaina is a mal-intended leader.
"Early voting is occurring right now for twelve hours each day. We have no excuse for not voting. Here's a link to the locations and times," he ends, almost begging.
Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner sent out not one but two emails on behalf of Gimenez. But hers were clearly written by her. They both hit on the Gimenez camp's biggest fear: low turnout. The first one came as early voting started. "This is an incredibly important election. And it will be all about turnout! So please go do your civic duty and vote for good government with Gimenez - we need it now more than ever," she wrote and then ended with her plea: "I am asking you as a personal favor to go vote!" She sent another email plea out Wednesday. "He is an outstanding candidate who will bring much-needed, serious reform to County Hall. The polls have all indicated that he will win BUT, it is only going to happen if we get out and vote."
But do those emails get any new votes for their candidates? I got Mayor Lerner's emails but not Arizurrieta's (that was posted and forwarded to me) because I am likely on one email list and not on the other. But I also already voted for Gimenez, as I suspect did most of the people on Lerner's contact list. Maybe the forwarding effect has turned some undecideds into Gimenez backers or Robaina supporters. But what about the time both candidates spend at early voting libraries? Don't early voters who are at the polls already know whose bubble they will fill out? How many impulse shopper voters are there, really?
Of course, while it seems like a collossal waste of time to me, I cannot imagine what else they could do instead with the few days left.
Gimenez also spent time Thursday, again, in Palmetto Bay with Mayor Shelley Stancyk and other people who are already voting for him, and then Friday at La Carretta in Hialeah, with people like former city councilmembers Alex Morales and Cindy Miel and their friends, who are already voting for him, before he went to the Miami Critical Mass Bike Ride take-off at Government Center to talk to former mayoral candidate Gabrielle Redfern and a bunch of bikers, who are already voting for him, and then to Villa 221 for a food truck event with a live band and DJ and young voters who are not voting for anybody.
Gimenez did not speak at the last event, though he did shake a lot of hands. But Ladra wonders if it was another waste of time. And I think he wondered it too.
"Many young people don't even know there's an election," he said. "No way," I countered. "Yes way," he said (well, okay, he did not say "Yes way" exactly, but the gist of it). And he was right, I found, after a tiny, little survey.
"We're interested in other stuff right now. Like how to open and run a small business," said Doral resident Roberto Fajardo, 30, who was there for a friend's birthday celebration and could not name the two candidates, not even the one he shook hands with moments earlier.
About a year ago, Fajardo opened an impact window installing firm. He works from Palm Beach to the Keys and says he sees things less regionally. "Our generation, we globalize things. Before, people were more interested local news. Now, we want news from around the world."
Paul Wessling, a 25-year-old firefighter from Miami Springs, is still bitterly disillusioned with the presidential robbery committed against Al Gore. "I don't feel like my vote counts," he said. "How can you win the general vote and not the election?" Wessling was surprised to learn that the man he had met moments earlier was a firefighter for two decades, but was still not moved by the fact that the general vote would decide this election. "It's corrupted me permanently." Well, he's only 25 and wants to make a point. Someone please make him vote.
The presidential election is the only one that students Stephanie Suarez and Jennifer Rangel, both 20, have cast ballots in. "It's never interested me," said Suarez, a psychology major at Miami Dade College. "It's not publicized," said Rangel, a public relations and marketing major at FIU. "At least they don't target us." (Note to candidates: Buy time during reality TV shows).
"I see the signs. But I never pay attention to them," Rangel said, confirming that statement when she could not name either of the mayoral candidates and just stared back blankly. "It means nothing to me." Ladra told her that might change in a few years if she buys property and/or begins a new family. I explained to these children that the mayor could and likely would have more impact on their lives than the president. They looked at each other and seemed to synchronize their shrugs.
At least Gimenez got what looked like a yumy hamburger (hopefully no heartburn from those onion rings) and some down time with the family -- even though they were rained on a little.
Because Ladra doubts he got any votes.
Robaina's bank is apparently $1.7 million in the hole on personal high interest loans made in the past few years, some of which may be part of a federal investigation into usury and shadow banking in Hialeah, discovered when a ponzi schemer was arrested last year and allegedly flipped on Robaina and his partners, the Blancos, for a lighter sentence.
In fact, $850,000 of that outstanding money is in four loans to Luis Felipe Perez, known as Felipito, the ponzi schemer/jeweler and one-time member of the Hialeah Chamber of Commerce. Robaina has said he and his family fell victim to Perez's scheme and filed four lawsuits against him in December (as sentencing drew near). Maybe that is why he charged him 18 percent interest. Payback is another five letter word for Ladra. Another $800,000 is claimed in three 2010 lawsuits against Rodolfo Blanco and his sister-in-law and nephew Mercedes and Robertico Blanco, who is also being looked at by federal authorities. He was charging them 18 percent, too. There is also a $55,000 claim against Jose and Juana Sigler, who have ties to maquinita permits in Hialeah, and former councilman Guillermo Zuñiga (who was once an assistant to the mayor but was fired and has sued Robaina and the city for wrongful termination), for an outstanding $28,000 mortgage from his former boss. But he is only paying 10 % interest. A sign of friendlier times?
This list of nine 2010 lawsuits filed by Robaina or companies owned by his wife, Raiza Villacis-Robaina (MR Holdings and RVR Holdings), show a total of $1,735,277 and comes to us courtesy of one mad-as-hell firefighter who has made it his mission to burn down Robaina's political aspirations. Fire Local 1102 Vice President Eric Johnson, whose professional and personal beef with Robaina is publicly documented on facebook and in every website that writes about the race, took the time to go to the courthouse this early Friday morning and make copies of these files. Bless him. And if that makes him my "handler" as one jealous wannabe hater has suggested, so be it. I am not exactly easy to handle and you have to be ready to get your hands burned if you play with fire, but I am an equal opportunity handlee.
Besides, they can be found online at http://www2.miami-dadeclerk.com/civil/
Robaina supporters may say that this is just evidence that he is a businessman, Ladra says that, at the very least, it is evidence -- as are the foreclosures he and his partners have had in the past couple of years -- that he is a bad businessman.
Not someone to trust with a $7 billion bank.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
And he was kicked off the property.
Miami-Dade Aviation Department Director Jose Abreu told Ladra that he heard about the rally -- Robaina used a bullhorn even -- about 20 minutes into it and immediately headed to the "taxi lot" to stop it. He explained to Robaina that there was a county ordinance against it.
"You can't campaign on a county facility. That's something you just don't do," Abreu said. "We went and within 20 to 25 minutes told the good mayor that he couldn't do that here. And he left. I don't think he put up any resistance. He said, 'Look, I was invited here.' I told him, 'We can't have this stuff.'"
Besides being illegal, it is disruptive, Abreu said. "I'm responsible for operating this airport and this is a business. The taxi lot is a dispatching holding area for about 400 taxis and their drivers and it does not lend itself for that kind of thing."
While Abreu said a few "folks" say he only took action because the unions are behind former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez in the mayoral race, Abreu said he got more flack from the union members who were not allowed to invite Gimenez over. "The union is really angry," he said. Because while they abided by the rules, Robaina did campaign, albeit for a short moment, capturing the cabbies endorsement while getting free "earned media" on Channel 10 with Michael Putney. http://www.local10.com/politics/28312727/detail.html
"My opponent, who has been here for the last seven years and has been part of the problem for the last seven years, has not taken care of you," said Robaina, who is good at taking care of his buddies. He spoke on a bullhorn to applause and shouts of support and got the cabbies association endorsement after he promised one critic, who said politicians only visit them (illegally) during the campaigns, that he would come back after the election.
Well, by then he will probably be an out-of-work, defeated mayoral candidate, so it may be legal. Unless he starts campaigning for some other seat -- maybe in Hialeah.
As of today, the Miami-Dade Elections Department reports that 75,471 absentee ballots returned of the 126,980 requested. That's almost 60 percent. And it could top 80,000 by Election Day.
That may be a bad omen for former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez because former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina got one and a half times the AB votes in the May 24 primary and has a far more sophisticated absentee ballot machine -- and the far more experienced Sasha Tirador, AB queen of Hialeah -- working on his side.
Tirador has been the target of several election fraud investigations but has never been charged with a crime. Last year, the state attorney's public corruption office closed an investigation -- after two years -- into absentee ballot fraud in the U.S. Congress District 21 campaign of Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who also had Tirador on his AB team and who has mailed out an endorsement ad for Robaina.
While the circumstances provie amble basis forsuspicion of illegal or improper activity in connection with the handling of absentee ballots by someone associated with the Diaz-Balart campaign, any chance of proving a crime is remote," wrote Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Joseph Centorino, in the close-out memo.
Among the findings were two ballots that were apparently tampered with seemed to have originally been marked for former Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez but changed for Diaz-Balart. In the investigation, it also says someone named Carlos Hernandez (could it be the mayor? then a councilman) admitted to picking up ballots under the name Juan (he said five or six campaign workers were told to use the name Juan) and that he gave them to Tirador. Neither Tirador nor David Custin, another consultant working for Robaina who was a subject of that 2008 investigation, would voluntaily agree to give a sworn statement in the investigation.
Centorino told Ladra that it is frustrating because, while Hernandez admitted to picking up ballots (and we hear the new mayor and council members are picking up ballots in this race also), the law that prohibits people from carrying more than two ballots at a time has no penalty attached to it. He says the legislature also made prosecution of absentee ballot "brokering" more difficult when it took out the requirement of having a witness sign the envelope. Their thinking was that the elections department does not confirm the witness signature so it was not necessary. But while it was not a good tool for the elections department, it was a great tool for prosecutors who could find "witnesses" to question if the signed hundreds of envelopes.
"Do we believe that there is absentee ballot fraud happening? Absolutely," Centorino told Ladra over the telephone some days ago. "Can we prove it? That's another matter."
He's heard the stories about people who are told at voting sites that they already voted absentee even though they say they didn't. "We'll ask them, 'Is that your signature?' And they will say no. Then we ask them, 'Who's signature is it?' But they won't know. Then the investigation dies."
Well, Ladra loves transparency and justice and will provide the SAO and the Miami-Dade Police public corruption unit (which we understand are working with the FDLE on this very thing) a helping hand. Some of the people they might want to talk to include these folks:
Maria Bustamante of Kendall has already filed a complaint with police. She voted in person at her precinct. Imagine her surprise when she got a letter from the elections department the next day about an absentee ballot she never requested. It said her request was invalid because her signature did not match the one on file. She never votes absentee, she told Ladra, and never requested that absentee ballot. So somebody requested it on her behalf. Most likely, someone with one of the campaigns, which often dedicate thousands of dollars to absentee ballot drives that have increasingly become important in races.
But while there is likely some absentee ballot fraud going on countywide, it is concentrated in two main areas, Little Havana and Hialeah, according to noted pollster Dario Moreno, who says that "only about 20%" of the ABs ballots in any given election can be manipulated in one way or another. He is working with Gimenez, and sources close to that campaign tell us that their AB return rate is pretty good in the Hispanic Miami enclaves of commission district 7. In many cases, it is simply a matter of going out to public housing buildings and talking with voters, asking them or convincing them to vote for your candidate, or filling out the ballots for them. In the most egregious cases, they can take ballots from mailboxes and open them with wax paper and irons, checking the candidates marked and either changing the bubble marked if they can or shredding the ballots if they can't.
And if past history and the numbers from the May 24 election -- where some Hialeah precincts got 30 percent turnout buoyed by hundreds of absentee ballots, compared to dozens or less in other precincts -- the City of Progress is also the City of Proxies. The formula is there. Lots of elderly voters and access to them through the Hialeah Housing Authority and city's public housing units, which add up to close to 3,500 residents. And everybody talks about it like it's common knowledge.
An educational campaign by the firefighters union and media coverage on the absentee ballot concerns have some voters changing the way they do things. Some told Ladra they would not let anybody carry their ballots for them. But many are still being hoodwinked.
Eida Ramirez got the call from her flustered sister in an adjacent apartment one recent afternoon. "There was a woman there asking for her ballot. She didn't know what to do," Ramirez said. By the time Eida arrived, the woman -- "she was well dressed, elegant, thin, young" -- was inside at the dining room table, helping Bedelia Ramirez fill out her ballot. Eida thought it strange and was glad she had already filled out hers when the woman offered assitance. But she didn't hesitate when the woman offered to deliver the ballots. Both sisters, who live in a Hialeah Housing Authority building, turned their ballots over to the unknown woman.
"Was it sealed," Ladra asked. "No. At least I didn't seal it," said the elder sister, who lives in a Hialeah Housing Authority building where she has also seen ballots collected at the comedor. "They come, all the politicos, and they bring little prizes and gifts."
Ladra didn't have the heart to tell them but the Ramirez sisters have a 50/50 chance of having their vote count. Because if they went with the elegant woman's candidate, it will get to the elections department. If they went with the other guy, it probably won't. It may end up in the trash or the back seat of someone's car.
Neryda Gonzalez said she gave her ballot to Elena, the secretary of the condominium association at Los Arboles in West Hialeah. She always gives Elena her ballot. So do all her neighbors. "She does it every year. She doesn't live here but she works here and she is involved in the campaigns every year.Everybody gives her their vote," Gonzalez told Ladra. Elena Alfonso answered the phone at the condominium office. When I asked if she was the one who was taking the absentee ballots, she said yes. When I asked if she would accept them from another building, from another condominium, if someone brought them to her, she said yes. "Of course." When I asked her what she did with them, where she took them from there, she got suspicious and asked who I was. When I told her I was a journalist and blogger writing about absentee ballot fraud, she said she put a stamp on them and put them in the mail. "To help the old people that live in this building," she said, adding that she has been doing that since she started working there four or five years ago. When I reminded her that she agreed to take ballots from an unknown caller from another property, she said she did not understand me. "The viejitos come to me all the time to fax things, to fill out the discount forms for FP&L," Alfonso said. "I'm just helping them again."
Luis Martinez said someone showed up at his door with some kind of identification badge and a clip board, looking very official, like from a county department. "He had my absentee ballot with my name and everything and my mother's. But it was already filled out with the candidates chosen also and all he asked me to do was sign. I ripped it up." Ladra told him to keep the ballot should someone come by before June 28. And to call 911.
Ramona Cabrera is one of several residents at a building on West 46th Street who said Mayor Carlos Hernandez (maybe it was him from the 2008 investigation?) came personally to pick up her ballot. She said someone first called her from the city and asked if she had gotten her ballot in the mail. She told them she had and had already filled it out and was getting ready to put it in the mail. "No! Don't do that," she said they told her very excitedly. "We'll come get it and put a stamp on it." But she already put a stamp on it, she told them. "We're going to be there anyway, we can pick it up and take it to the mailbox for you."
She said that within the hour, a man who identified himself as Carlos and who she knew as the mayor, was at the door with two other city workers, picking up her ballot. A neighbor at her home at the time gave them her ballot, too.
Ladra is still out walking in Hialeah talking to more voters. I mean 2,334 absentee ballots were sent out just this week: 408 on Monday, 1,058 on Tuesday, 368 on Wednesday and 608 today.
Evidence that the absentee ballot machine is in overdrive.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
With little more than a week to go before Election Day, I write this open letter so that you know that I am still very much interested in an opportunity to hear personally from you on any issues or concerns you have about this race and coverage of both campaigns.
Of course, I'd bring along a few questions and some documents I want to show you. That's okay, right?
I only ask because you have repeatedly dodged me at public events (practically ran away from me at one forum, and that is why I wear sneakers, by the way) and have refused to return my calls from the very beginning of the campaign. I did stop calling you directly and now try to go through your campaign spokeswoman, Ana Carbonell, but she only returns one out of three calls. And never really answers my questions. Always says she will get back to me. I'm still waiting to hear details about the telephone town meeting you had weeks ago.
Please know that I understand your trepidation, given the nature of the discrepancies and hypocracies I have written about so far. I understand your discomfort with my inquiries. But that is no excuse for a community leader -- a man who wants to be the mayor for all, no less -- to simply ignore legitimate questions. And they are legitimate questions, whether you want to recognize them as such or not. And I am not the only one asking. Sometimes, they aren't even my own questions. At the Miami Foundation forum at UM, I was asking questions for Univision 23 (they had no reporter there and I was just going to hold the mic, not be on air) that were about the seeming collegiality between you and Gimenez, like everybody else asked, and the $19 million surplus that was in the paper that morning, like everybody else asked, and on his thoughts or concerns about complaints that there had been irregularities with absentee ballots, like some others had. Instead of just having the respect to answer me, you ran off and allowed (or maybe instructed) your large bodyguard and attorney and consultant Hugo Arza to grab me by my camera hand and push me back toward the chairs. That is no excuse for you to allow Carbonell to call me names in public and try to discredit or embarass me. I don't get embarassed. And I can't be discredited by anyone but myself so don't bother trying. But as someone who wants to be the future mayor for all, you should have called them off. Instead you turned your face and ran.
Despite your calling me "biased and unethical" at that forum at UM, I am still willing to sit down and hear you out, objectively and openly. I don't take it personally. And not because I claim to be unbiased. Of course I am biased. But I wasn't always and I am not biased because of any hidden agenda or conflict of interest. I have become biased through the consideration of facts, perceptions (real and perceived), connections, contributions and the lack of answers and transparency in your campaign. Not because I have any financial or adminstrative interest in the other candidate. And everyone is biased. If you think Michael Putney and Matt Haggman do not know who they are voting for and why, you are not as bright as you make yourself out to be. Everyone is biased. When they hide it is when you have to be careful. I am transparent about it. So you know where I stand all the time. But that doesn't mean I am planted there.
And it certainly does not mean I am unethical. Are Roberto Rodriguez-Tejera and Nelson Horta of Nelson Horta Reporta blog unethical because they are biased in your favor? Well, yes, they are. Because you may be paying them and because they will not budge from those paid positions.
But I'm also open-minded to the extreme (my friends say wishy washy) and give people the maximum benefit of the doubt. I have changed my mind before, on candidates and policy issues. There is no reason to think that I cannot be convinced that you are the best man for the mayor's job. Maybe you are offended that you have to convince me, but come on! Look at all the strange questionable things, including investigations and other alleged investigations, you don't want to talk about at all. When someone doesn't want to talk openly about things like that, it is usually because talking openly is not going to make them look better. It's usually because talking about it can make it worse. Usually. Not always. So that's why I still give you the benefit of the doubt. Because, really, someone with nothing to hide should be an open book, like I am.
The offer is still there. And anybody that knows me knows I fully intend to give you every opportunity to convince me that everything I have heard and discovered is BS and that you are just the victim of a vicious conspiracy to paint you as corrupt. I mean, why wouldn't I want that? It makes for a better blog post. So show me how the documents I have that say you got 20 percent interest on a loan made to an accused felon by one of your friends are bogus. Tell me how other loans to people who have maquinita interests in Hialeah is not a quid pro quo, but just a business transaction. Explain to me how you, a real estate developer, couldn't tell you were paying less taxes for years on a vacant property when there was a building on the land and you should have been paying more. Tell me why your Kendall Commons project -- the 160-acres you and your partners planned to develop into homes and commercial centers -- is in foreclosure and tell me how many foreclosures your business partners and you have gone through in recent years and why that should not be questioned as anything but a result of the bad econom. Talk to me again about the need for a reverse osmosis water plant and let's go through the property records around that site so you can address the parcels are owned by your business partners and tell me why that should not be perceived as a quid pro quo or inside backroomd deal. Help me with the math and show me how your firing of 17 firefighters last year right before the union voted on your contract was supposed to save the city money, since an arbitrator made the city rehire them after you resigned and pay them retroactively. Tell me how much that cost the city. Yes, I got a number from another source. But I want to get it from you. Tell me how it is not extortion when you tell fire union leaders, caught on video, that the veteran firefighters will be rehired if they sign the contract. Explain why you need no less than six different PACs to raise $2.5 million for this race. Convince me that your partners, who between the PACs and your campaign coffers have contributed hundreds of thousands to get you this job, are not buying access or favors or preference. Please give me some shred of evidence that disproves the video-taped admissions by Luther Cambell's about his endorsement coming after you promised his friend a job. Show me the reciepts for the Don Shula dinner that might indicate it was just you and Uncle Luke. You can't just say that's preposterous. It's not. It's been done before. And, certainly, you can't be surprised that someone might suspect it of someone like you or with your reputation. That would be like me saying it's slander for someone to call me a sarcastic bitch. It's not. It's been done before.
I really can be convinced. But you have to try. You can't deflect by saying you ran the second largest city in the county and give me buzwords and polished soundites disguised as answers because they are not really answers. And my saying so and pointing out discrepancies or hypocracies in those non-answers does not make me biased. It makes me fairly observant. And consistent.
But I am biased, as I admitted. And toward your opponent, Carlos Gimenez. But it is ridiculous and shameful, really, for your people to say I am a paid campaign staffer. Because since you all know that is not true, then we know you are lying on purpose to discredit me (again, an exercise in futility) and maybe get some to question my credibility and ethics. But that won't work with many and it won't last long when it does. Because it is pretty obvious that nobody is paying me to do this. And because Gimenez and his people do not love me unconditionally. I'm sure they enjoy some of my entries, of course. But I'm an equal opportunity inquirer and ask everyone uncomfortable questions. Gimenez nearly bit my head off when I privately asked a question after one of the debates about one of his kids, his baby girl. He took off his sportscoat slowly, as if he was getting ready to rumble. I had never seen him so angry. But the question was relevant. It ended up going nowhere. Still, I had to ask. His demeanor with me changed from that day forward, not that it changes mine. And I still have to ask more questions he won't like. That's probably not good enough for you, but I can't just make stuff up like your people do. Carbonell was angry at me early on because I didn't write about the "four pensions" -- a lie your own campaign has backed off on, now talking about his one city of Miami pension as if he wasnot entitled to one after working and contributing to it for more than 25 years. I can't just make stuff up. When I get a tip about you, you can bet I confirm it before I write anything. I'd have to confirm any tips your team gives me, too. (Yeah, I know. What a drag.)
By the way, I have asked your campaign people to tell Ladra where she can dig for dirt on Gimenez. (See? He's not going to like that either. Not my problem.) It is my job to look everywhere, even at a candidate Ladra likes. And either the former commissioner really is a squeaky clean nerd or your staff is not very good at the "opposition research" part of campaign work (I would have thought you'd get the best). Because I did give Carbonell several opportunities to provide me with leads I could investigate. "Why don't you write about all his pensions," she retorted, which we already went over. Comparing him to the recalled mayor because they have the same name and their last name ends with "ez" is good for the mailers and such, but not something I can just repeat because you want me to. The two have nothing in common. And it's a little offensive, as a granddaughter of an Alvarez myself. Also, that car thing is way old, and you yourself gave a $900 car allowance to your housing authority director so he can drive around in a BMW with a Miami Dolphin vanity plate. So why is it okay in one case but an example of wasteful spending in another?
Wait, is that question too hard?
Hey, to show there are no hard feelings, as a good faith effort so you give me an interview, I will give you some free media advice: Stop bringing up the car allowance. It only raises uncomfortable questions about your hypocracy.
In fact, may I suggest that, if we do have a face-to-face, you leave your second one at home. Or I'll have to point out the double-talk and discrepancies and you'll go right back to the silent treatment.