Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Miami campaigner taints process

The political advisor of a LGBT group that intends to make endorsements in the Miami city elections is also the campaign manager for one of the candidates. And while that appears to be an enormous -- and possibly planned -- conflict of interest to everyone in the universe, however, is defended as business as usual and no big deal by the group's leaders.

Unity Coalition sent out questionairres to candidates and is screening them tomorrow. But Ladra is going out on a limb to say that they already know they will be pushing for Kate Callahan in the city's District 2 race against incumbent Commissioner Marc Sarnoff. This hunch is not based on her stand on issues or any one thing that she has done, but rather on the fact that her campaign manager is UC's political director, Miami Voice chair and political consultant Vanessa Brito.

After all, Callahan is paying Brito $4,500 a month, according to campaign finance reports, for something. All political operatives have just raised their eyebrows or dropped their jaw. Brito is a newby and $4,500 a month is way out of her league. She is robbing Callahan blind. They say this. Not Ladra. But Ladra knows that the gypsy con artist is totally capable.

Yeah, yeah, both Brito and UC founding president Herb Sosa say there is no conflict because the campaign manager/political chair will abstain from voting. Riiiight. And her hand-picked committee is not going to just rubber stamp her clients. Suuuure. But that's exactly what they did last year when almost every single pick on their "vote for" list had Brito on the campaign either as staff or volunteer, including such obvious underdogs and arguably unqualified candidates as commission hopeless Mimi Planas and longshot State Rep. candidates Johnny Farias and Lisa L'Esperance. Maybe it's just loyalty. But it's not a coincidence. It is, indeed, a conflict of interest, even if it is just perceived as such by the other candidates and their supporters. And UC should go out of its way to ensure that perception is addressed and eliminated.

Two candidates in the District 2 race did not submit the questionnaire and might not even be considered by the board, making their recommendation somewhat useless. The third may noto have been contacted either but Michelle Neimeyer never returned my call so I don't know. Sarnoff, the incumbent who is easily reached, said he never got it. Nor did he know about the screening tomorrow. This was the same thing other candidates in the 2010 race told Ladra back then. "I guess I am not going to be considered by them," Sarnoff said. No, Marc, you are not. "Isn't that a conflict of interest?" Yes, Marc, it most certainly is. Donna Milo, another candidate, agreed with him. She got the questionnaire after Brito contacted Milo's campaign manager to say they never got it back. But Milo, a Republican transgender who just lost a Congressional bid for the 20th district to replace Debbie Wasserman Schultz, says she does not want to give the campaign manager for her opponent access to use her questionairre in some way. She said she offered to take the answered questions with her for the board to use during the screening only if she could take them with her when she left. "Unless I get to keep copies of Kate Callahan's answers and the answers of the other candidates. Because Vanessa is going to have access to all of them and that means that Kate Callahan will have access. Why would I turn over the questionairre to my opponent?"

Milo's gut instinct is right on target, I bet. Brito must really want Milo's questionnaire. Though Sarnoff said she never reached out to him, she emailed Milo's campaign manager last week to get her included. "The Unity Coalition Board of Directors is meeting on September 1st (see details below) and would like to meet with as many candidates running on November 1st. While Donna Milo did not complete the questionnaire, we would still like to extend an invitation to join us and talk to our Board," she wrote. "Please let me know if Donna will be attending." Antunez said Milo never got a questionnaire and that, later, Brito took that back, telling him that UC founder and president Herb Sosa said that any candidate screened had to fill out a questionnaire. But the political operative is more worried about what he sees about an apparent conflict of interest with Brito's participation?

"If an organization is going to endorse candidates in a race it should go the extra mile to insure that no one involved in the process is working for any candidate in the race," said Emiliano Antunez, Milo's campaign manager. "In the interest of fairness, Unity Coalition should consider completely removing people involved in campaigns from the process of endorsing candidates.

"Ms. Brito may not be voting member but her initiating the contact for Unity Coalition regarding endorsements in the City of Miami Commission District 2 race where she is working for one of the candidates, unnecessarily clouds the process for an organization that has done much needed work on GLBT issues in Miami Dade."


Brito, in photographs here with Kate Callahan and U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen at the SaveDADE Champions of Equality event in May, would not respond to a call or an email about this little repetitive conflict controversy. Except to write her comical "cease and desist" mantra and add that she never votes on any election endorsement, which as Ladra already explained, means nada. Her influence in that group is permeable. Ladra has sat in on meetings.

Sosa, however, was very defensive and told Ladra that her information was non-facutal (what information? It was a question) and that she lacked "understanding of the process" when she simply asked legitimate questions about Brito's role. His answer speaks volumes about his own guilty conscience and fear that I am asking the right questions, so I am going to include it in full, with the questions I asked.

Ladra: "How are you handling the process this year, seeing as how Vanessa is involved in several elections? And is there not a conflict of interest that your political director is also campaign manager for a candidate and working, possibly, on other campaigns?"

Sosa: "Once again your information is non-factual and lacks understanding of the process and issues involved in Unity CoalitionCoalicion Unida and how we have conducted our business since 2002. I will once again attempt to clarify it for you now.

"All individuals running for elected office & positions UCCU deems important and of subtance to our mission, are considered each election cycle - this one being no exception. All qualified candidates have year-round access to our questionnaire via our website and we do our best to reach them as well. Once they return their questionnaire, our board decides if they wish to meet them in person for consideration of UCCU recommendation. Any board member with any conflicts - personal or business - do not vote on recommendations - never have, never will. Our minutes & voting always reflect this."

"I hope this educates you once again on our process and I expect that any 'reporting' by you on this issue be fair, factual, complete & accurate. If you wish to report on issues really affecting our LatinoHispanicLGBT community, I am always available to inform you on the facts."

Ladra reports on politics and government, but since this group does make endorsements and could have influence -- and, just maybe, influence that is manipulated for political gain -- perhaps it is a good idea for you and I to meet and discuss your group's efforts, Herb. Please have the 990s from the last three years and the receipts from your Haiti earthquake relief effort last year ready so I can see them and ask questions about where the money went. Oh, and where the dozens of bottles of donated liquor that were left over went. (Ladra suspects that perhaps they coincidentally ended up at the campaign events that followed in the next week for two of Brito's clients). Maybe I could ask you about about LGBT groups that hurt the community -- of which I am a proud member, by the way, which I have to state because they are capable of turning this into something it is not and have before -- by capitalizing on their non-profit status to run scams that the board members financially benefit from?

When do you want to get together? Or should I send a questionnaire?

Gimenezes weigh in on Hialeah

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has been silent on the upcoming elections in Hialeah, where one of the mayoral candidates and several council wannabes worked hard for his campaign and recruited family members and friends -- even contributors.

But that silence will be broken before the Nov. 1 election.

Ladra had to find Gimenez at the Miami-Dade Young Democrats meeting Tuesday night-- where he spoke candidly and confidently about the budget cuts he had proposed (more on that later) -- because now that he's got the job, he is so busy with the budget and assembling his dream team staff he is much less accessible and never calls to chat. Sigh. They all forget the morning after. When asked if he was supporting any Hialeah racers, he said "Not yet."

Then he flashed that smile and repeated it. "Not yet."

Which means that he will eventually lend his support, either publicly or privately, eventually. "I had a lot of those people support me and work hard in Hialeah," Gimenez said. "I'd like to show my appreciation."

The candidates that helped Mayor Gimenez are all on the Back To The Future slate against all the incumbents (yes, you are supposed to hear the theme song in your head). It starts with former mayor Raul Martinez, who went on Cuban AM radio regularly to defend Gimenez and blast his one-time protege and successor, failed mayoral candidate Julio Robaina for something or other and who is likely to have former State Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla -- who was crucial to the Gimenez campaign's turnaround -- on his election team. The mayor may also show some loyalty to Professor Alex Morales -- a former city councilman and housing director who was fired by Robaina and did some research and put together some of Robaina's misdeeds for the media -- and former cop-turned-housing-official Danny Bolaños (in this photo in a Gimenez caravan on West 49th Street in June), who put his own campaign on hold to stand for Gimenez at early voting sites for a couple of weeks (as evidenced by a window of inactivity in his campaign finance report). Former Mayor Julio Martinez, who qualified earlier this month to run against former police spokesman Jose Caragol, and former councilwoman and teacher Cindy Miel, who qualified Monday for a rematch run against Council President Isis "Guttergirl" Garcia Martinez -- because someone has to stop Garcia's public chusmeria -- hosted a fundraiser meet-and-greet for Gimenez at La Carreta before the county runoff. Maybe Gimenez won't go out on a limb and support all of them. After all, there are some colorful characters on this slate -- which, by the way, could grow before it's all said and done.

Las malas lenguas tell Ladra that Frank Lago, the chief of staff to Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño who lost his bid to replace Esteban Bovo at the state house to Jose Oliva, could join the Back To The Future slate with Martinez, et al. Sources close to the two campaigns say Lago has been courting both Martinez and former State Sen. Rudy Garcia to share resources and my gut tells me he is working the Martinez slate harder (and was spotted chatting with Professor Morales at Maruch recently). The former mayor told Ladra he had not spoken to Lago in weeks but that he had yet to return a call. Lago has told Ladra he was never going to go with acting alcaldito Carlos Hernandez, but felt loyalty to Guttergirl because she helped him with his state house run. Well, that was then. This is now: Guttergirl and perhaps other incumbents urged Lago to switch groups and run against the unbeatable professor -- their only chance to keep Morales out of their hair -- rather than Easy-out Paul Hernandez, another rubber-stamper.

Then there is this telltale sign: Attorney Carlos J. Gimenez, lobbyist son of our new mayor and "absolutely" a Raul Martinez supporter, and his boss State Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, will host a fundraiser for Lago at their Coral Gables office Thursday, Sept. 8. Um... wait... Didn't Lago support and help Robaina and his clan and talk badly about his dad and work against them? "Yes. But then he found out what trusting that guy does to you," Gimenez Jr. said, adding that Lago, a fellow Christopher Colombus grad, helped his father in the runoff. "Was it disappointing to me that he would support Robaina even at first? Yes. But at the end of the day, the political reality is look at where he was running," the future county commissioner (you heard it here first) said about the state house race, which included most of Hialeah in its district.

The fundraiser next week is Lago's campaign kick-off, said Gimenez, who added that one thing became clear during the county mayoral campaign: "Hialeah needs a change for the better, a clean slate," Gimenez said. "It needs people who are competent and honest. That's what I want. That creates an even playing field."

In that effort, he said, there will likely be more fundraisers as Gimenez Junior reaches out to other non-incumbents, council candidates, who supported his dad's run for mayor.

"We are going to be supporting Danny Bolaños, Cindy Miel, Alex Morales," Gimenez told Ladra. "In coming months, hopefully we'll have events for all of them

Ladra just wishes that some of them had come before Lago.

Seijas & Gimenez on mayor's job

Recalled Miami-Dade Commissioner Natacha Seijas has said several times since she came out of hiding a few weeks ago, first in an El Nuevo Herald and then on WQBA, that Mayor Carlos Gimenez -- who served on the dais with her for six years -- didn't actually run for his seat.

"He didn't run for mayor. He ran for manager," said Seijas, who is critical of his budget cuts and micro-managing.

Gimenez has not been as accessible or easy to get a response from since he was campaigning for office, so Ladra tracked him down at a Miami-Dade Young Democrats meeting Tuesday night at City Hall Restaurant downtown.

"Natacha Seijas should read the county charter," Gimenez said with that same sly smile he's had since his confidence returned just before the runoff and he got his sexy back.

"The voters of Miami-Dade eliminated the county manager's position and put those duties under the mayor," the mayor said.

"So, I did not run for manager. But I did not run for mayor," he said and smiled again.

"I ran for strong mayor."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Budget breakfast for Bovo & Seijas

Breakfast came with a side of budget matters Tuesday morning for a new county elected and his predecessor at a Miami Lakes Latin American cafeteria -- and Ladra is the luckiest dog in the world to have been put in the right place at the right time (more on that later).

Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban Bovo and veteran commissioner Natacha Seijas Millan, whose seat he snatched in May after she was recalled last March, met for about an hour over cafe con leche and Cuban toast and the mayor's proposed 2011-2012 budget, which Seijas brought with her in a tote bag, marked with post-its and inked notes in the margins. "You can't give up a bad habit," she later told me, referring to the obvious study she had made of the two-inch book which details in list after list after list the $7+ billion operating county budget. Bovo had asked for the meeting, both confirmed, to "pick her brain" -- even though it was a budget vote that put her on the recall chopping block and fast-tracked his eventual rise to what is known as the Hialeah commission seat, which was largely seen as his inheritance anyway. "This budget is such a big thing," Bovo said when I approached their table at the end of their meeting (photographed here, under the TV, very badly with my new 007 phone that I have not yet mastered) He was very surprised to see me. She, maybe not so much. (More on that later).

Apparently, Bovo turned to Seijas because he can't find anyone to cozy up to at County Hall. The former Hialeah councilman and state representative (R/District 110) seemed a bit lonely when he told the six-year Hialeah Councilwoman and 18-year commissioner -- as I listened from a table away -- that he did not know who to trust and that the administration, particularly department directors and supervisors, "know more than you do" and don't always provide the full picture. "We know as much as they tell us. Then you start realizing nobody tells you the truth," Bovo said, adding that people's body language changes when he walks into a room. The climate at Government Center is quite different from his days at Hialeah Hall or the State Capitol, he said.

"This is 13 gunslingers, all on their own," Bovo told Seijas.

Sitting in a short-sleeved PBA t-shirt and a pair of blue shorts with the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue logo, her hair pulled back in a ponytail and a face with no make-up, a noticeably slimmer Seijas sat up vindicated like she kept saying "I told you so," in her head. But, out loud, she simply told him he was right to be careful with his confidence. She gave him the names of a few "straight-talking" administrators in some key departments (Ladra will never tell) and told him about a few to avoid (Ladra will check them out, too). She was exceedingly nice to him, considering that he has kept a distance since he aligned himself with the familia -- because these people are like one, big, political mafia -- who betrayed her. That includes former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and the council, especially Council President Isis "Guttergirl" Garcia Martinez, who she felt particularly hurt by. (And, yes, Ladra may change nicknames from time to time if the mood strikes her and the reason is right).

"I told Julio one day during the recall, 'I feel like I have a knife in my back with your name on it. I don't know why. But one day I will,'" Seijas said later to Ladra as we sat on a bench outside the eatery on Northwest 154th Street. She told me she later learned that voters who lived in Hialeah housing were told they would lose their homes if they did not recall her (read: absentee ballot fraud). And everybody knows they didn't do this without Robaina making it happen through Housing Authority Director Julio Ponce, who headed a PAC that supported Robaina, who supported Bovo. The new commissioner also had some of the same consultants working for him as Robaina's campaign did -- including absentee ballot queen Sasha Tirador (paid about $90,000 by the Bovo campaign) and veteran media handler Julio Gonzalez Rebull (who billed $80,000 for "media buys"). Why did Robaina betray his godmother? Maybe because he thought he would be mayor and has become addicted to those "yes"es -- therefore needing Bovo for that fix. But Ladra thinks the shared consultants (read: more billing for basically the same work) also played a role as elections become more and more of a cottage industry, especially in the wake of the recalls -- and the threat of more recalls. And why would Bovo -- who helped her fight the 2006 attempt to recall her but did not even say how he voted in this recall -- betray Seijas? Maybe he lost patience and wanted to take his turn now. When asked why she would meet with Bovo after he allegedly threw her under the bus, Seijas downplayed his role -- even though he had raised $68,000 for his campaign for her seat by March 7, a week before she was ousted -- and said he only capitalized on the recall for votes in the commission race May 24. "I called him and asked him to stop talking about me in the campaign. Just not to mention me at all," she told Ladra, after breakfast was over and Ladra strolled over to their table to say hi and ask what they were doing. "We've been friends for years," Seijas said.

"Even through her recall, we had conversations," Bovo later told me in the parking lot as we walked to his car. "While I may not agree with that vote on the budget that got her recalled, she still has 18 years of knowledge. It would be foolish for me as an incoming commissioner not to have some kind of relationship. We disagree on some things, but we've always had a dialogue."

That dialogue Tuesday morning started late. Ladra, who had been so conveniently tipped off to the meeting, got there early and sat at the last table, where she had some angle on every other table. Seijas was on time and walked to the second to last table next to mine, then took a seat facing opposite me, in the same direction. It could not have been more perfect. Here I was with my sunglasses on and yesterday's paper in my face so I didn't scare them off and now I think she knew I was there all along. Bovo came about 10 minutes after -- and I don't think he had any idea that they would be watched and eavesdropped on. They chit-chatted about family and Hurricane Irene and, briefly, the efforts of Palm Springs North residents to incorporate into a new city. He mentioned the take-home car debate. "I don't know if it's a big deal or not," Bovo said. "The media sure seized on it."

Then the powwow started to get good.

Ladra was sitting at the table next door and overheard Bovo mention Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez's super-salaried staff in the midst of tough union negotiations that call for big cuts. "He's had a hard time justifying that," Bovo told Seijas. "And there's no justification. The more he tries to explain it, the more he confuses people."

Bovo said he and the other commissioners were "poring through this budget and trying to use the auditor's office to weed some of these things out." He said that services would have to be cut, but he wanted to preserve basic services, like police and fire and solid waste. "These are services that need to be defended. Everything above that has to be at the table."

Of course, the two veteran Hialeah politicos talked about the upcoming city elections. But later, each told Ladra that they were not supporting any candidate -- yet. Seijas said she would likely not support anyone publicly. But, if only because both mayoral candidates Carlos Hernandez, the acting alcaldito, and former State Sen. Rudy Garcia are tied to Robaina, whose betrayal she will avenge, Ladra expects her to help former mayor Raul Martinez. Bovo, who is reportedly leaning to supporting Garcia, said he might come out for one candidate but he wanted to hear the hopefuls talk about the issues instead of each other. "And I haven't seen that dialogue yet," he said. "Right now they are just insulting each other. It's like a family feud."

A family feud, indeed. A dysfunctional family feud. And Ladra sniffs a maternal rat in the home. Seijas waited for me as I walked with a surprised and somewhat jittery and concerned Bovo to his vehicle. She seemed unfazed by the fact that a political blogger and journalist had overheard her saying quite a few things. "It's a public place," she said, and shrugged. He is another story. Bovo very obviously did not know that I had been tipped off to the meeting and that I had gotten there early so I could spy. He seemed genuinely concerned about what he may have said, in confidence. He might find he can't trust anyone outside of County Hall, either. Seijas, who seems a little smarter or more politically savvy, did not seem surprised and, in fact, seemed downright giddy to see me. We had spoken on the phone a few times but had not properly met (not since I became Ladra). She was sitting on a park bench outside the restaurant and flagged me over when she saw me walking back from Bovo's car. In other words, she did not act like a veteran politician who would be visibly livid if a journalist eavesdropped on private conversation with her successor and then confronted her about it. She was calm, relaxed and seemed to be in control. We will name her guest director of this episode of As Hialeah Churns. Because I believe she may have always known that someone was watching and listening and might have sat down at that table right next to mine so I could see and hear better.

Some people as persistent and paranoid as Ladra might jump to the conclusion that the "tip off" about the meeting that put me there at the right time and place might have been arranged. It strikes me as unlikely that the tipster would betray the former commissioner's confidence without her express permission. In other words, I may have been used by Seijas and/or her supporters to burn Bovo back. But if this is what it is like to be used, can I go again, please? Again! Again! Because as Ladra is used by predators to try to exact some kind of revenge or advantage in some kind of political theater, I can also get real, authentic, unfiltered and unrehearsed perspective from the prey (in this case, Bovo). And a chance to show people the man behind the curtain.

So, political operatives take note: Ladra is willing (read: happy and eager) to be used as a minor supporting role in your payback political productions as long as I have the freedom to use the information I gather any which way I please -- and lift that curtain even higher.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Poll: Hialeah incumbents weak

A poll of 300 Hialeah residents paid for by the city's firefighters union puts former mayor Raul Martinez in the pole position for the mayoral race this November with a double-digit lead over incumbent mayor, Carlos Hernandez. But while former State Sen. Rudy Garcia has been in the number three position before, he is now double-digits behind Hernandez -- who has used the bully pulpit to promote his candidacy through a bunch of obvious campaign initiatives -- according to the poll by the same Freddy Balsera who was paid more than $200,000 for work on the county mayoral campaign of former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina.

Balsera reportedly only charged $5,000 for the poll for the fire union, who fiercely fought Robaina's mayoral bid and is likely not going to endorse his puppet alcaldito. The union leadership, which released only a one-page summary of the poll and not the questions or the numbers themselves (and, yes, I've asked for more and will press for full disclosure) chose Balsera's firm to give the poll credibility and commissioned it because, contrary to popular belief, not all the union members are as supportive of Martinez as the leadership may seem to be. The fire union screening is next week and the poll was commissioned by the leadership to help with the decision. But Martinez certainly has a few things on his side: He supported Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez -- and the firefighters built a rapport working with him on the same side of that -- and his slate has a few fire union friendly candidates, also from Hialeah Team Gimenez, that the anti-incumbent and increasingly influential fire union leadership will likely support. That includes former councilman and housing authority director (until he was fired by Robaina) Alex Morales, who also showed "a commanding lead" in the open seat in this poll after getting high recognition ratings in the poll commissioned last month by Frank Lago, a council candidate and chief of staff to Sweetwater Mayor Manny Marono. This poll says Lago is tied or within the margin of error with incumbent Paul Hernandez, whose seat he is seeking. In fact, all the incumbents are vulnerable and Cindy Miel and Julio Martinez are also tied or within the margin with Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez and Jose Caragol, who they are challenging, respectively. Miel is currently in the seat against Vivian Casals-Munoz with housing authority employee and son of the former chief Danny Bolanos. But Ladra is certain she will switch to rematch Gavelgirl -- and the fact that this poll pit her there instead of with Vivian shows that the fire union or Balsera may have had that inside knowledge.

The glaring omission in the summary is any mention about Bolanos against Casals-Munoz, who was cited as the least favorable incumbent in the Lago poll (which we still want to know how it was paid for). And the reason for that is because Danny Boy, who gets some negative points from past accusations when he was a police officer and his brother's bank robbery conviction, doesn't do too well in this poll. According to people who have seen the numbers, Bolanos has about a 14 percent approval rating or voter support, Ladra is not sure which -- but neither is good. And this is one place Ladra thinks the poll is flawed. And not just because Freddy didn't take Ladra into account, and my anti-incumbent bent is giving Danny his due. But, rather, mostly because we bet the 195 women and 105 men -- 86 percent of which were 56 years old or older -- were not told that Casals-Munoz may have "her fingerprints on everything" that federal investigators are looking at in the Ponzi scheme investigation and the inquiry into Robaina's allegedly questionable loans and business dealings. Even if Vivian-- whose highlights and new hairdo get a thumbs up -- is not eventually implicated officially, some of her role has already been documented. The Miami Herald lists her in an April story about shadow banking allegations against Robaina as one of the creditors who loaned $25,000 to a man that also borrowed more than $1 million from Robaina's partners, Mercy and Rolando and Robertico Blanco. And she is apparently the notary public for most of the Blancos' and Robaina's loans, as well. Ladra is not too sure, but we think that the pending resolution of that federal inquiry will come before November and change that race just a tad. One way or another.

What likely won't change between now and then is the way voters feel about the state of their government. According to the summary released, 65% of those surveyed said the financial condition of the city is either average or poor and 26% cited waste and corruption in government was the top issue followed by property taxes and crime & safety.

Being commissioned by the fire union, there were naturally questions to gauge voters moods toward city employees, who are being blamed for the financial emergency and having contract issues with the administration. "Quality city services" was rated as the fourth most important issue to voters, but the poll doesn't say fourth out of how many. Not surprisingly, 86% of those questioned said the Hialeah firefighters -- who have taken a more visible role in political matters lately after contract negotiations with the former administration basically dissolved -- are doing a a good or excellent job. They are, after all, firefighters. Hello. It's like puppies. Who doesn't love puppies? But, again, what the poll summary does not say is whether those polled were asked if the firefighters were doing a good job saving lives or a good job educating voters and exposing concerns with the current administration's policies and management. Or both.

One thing Ladra would add: They are doing a good or excellent job staying politically relevant. But if they don't show the rest of the poll, it's going to be questioned and misconstrued by their enemies, whose approval rating is not 86 percent. Not even close.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

ABC in Hialeah: Anyone But Carlos

Hialeah voters should tune into Actualidad radio tomorrow (1040 AM) and hear acting alcaldito Carlos Hernandez defend his flip flops on financial information and lack of transparency and his false accusation that I am a paid staffer of the Raul Martinez mayoral campaign.

He told me that to my face at Tuesday's meeting after he refused to answer some legitimate questions about finances and policy and campaign fundraising. "I am not going to talk to you because you work for Raul Martinez," he told me and moved quickly away. At one point, Hernandez did turn around at me and said "Don't touch me." But I was standing several feet away and had no intention, naturally, to lay a hand on him. I am not stupid. Ladra knows Police Chief Mark Overton would have her in a muzzle in a Milander minute. Everything he did makes me feel like Ladra is on to something. And it seems that Hernandez is campaigning against everybody: Martinez, former State Sen. Rudy Garcia, another mayoral candidate, former councilman and council candidate Alex Morales and, now, yours truly, Ladra. Today, Felix Guillermo was kind enough to have me on the morning show to talk about working as a political blogger and what it is like, in the wake of the city of Miami's decision to ban Al Crespo's blog from its computers and block him from a public building . I added how difficult it is to get public records from cities like Miami Lakes and Hialeah and how Hernandez never responds to my inquiries or calls. And I mentioned the incident at Hialeah City Hall -- which my colleague Rene Pedrosa immediately denounced and said that it was Hernandez who, perhaps, was not a real mayor because he had not been elected as such. Thanks, Rene. After El Nuevo Herald reporter Enrique Flor called in and confirmed what happened (thanks, Enrique), Felix said he would invite us back with Hernandez to debate what we called a lack of direct answers or transparency. But when he called Hernandez, the interim alcaldito (I nickname everybody and maybe that is not one of my best but it is because he is a junior mayor, having been appointed and not elected) said he would go on with Flor but not with me because I was not a journalist. He said I was a "publicist" and that I "represented" a candidate. "He did not say which candidate," Felix told me, adding that he, too, protested and said that he knew about my track record and history and that he respected me. Thanks, Felix. I told him that Hernandez had accused me of working for Martinez and that he was a liar and that he knew that I was not getting paid by anyone. I further explained that everybody has access to me and that I call Hernandez almost daily but never get a call back. I said he is making these false allegations to deflect from the questions I am asking, which he has simply decided not to answer. I told him that the alcaldito's mentor, former city mayor Julio Robaina, and his campaign people had accused me of working for Carlos Gimenez on the countywide mayoral campaign. It's an easy out for them, I guess. But it's made up and the worst part is that they know it.

I called Hernandez three times after the show. He finally called back but clearly did not know who it was, again, until I introduced myself. He was getting ready to hang up when I became adamant that he hear me out. I told him that he knew I was not working for anyone, that I pay my expenses and that this blog costs me money. I called him a liar. He actually tried to deflect responsibility with me, saying that he heard that Danny Bolanos was telling people that I was on the payroll. Yeah, I laughed out loud, too. Not only is that ridiculous, because Bolanos would never do anything like that -- not because he likes me but because Raul would be very unhappy about it, especially if it were true but even now when it's not -- but it shows how stupid the mayor is and how desperate he has become to hang on to that $190,000 job. Either that, or you are being lied to, Carlitos. I told him I did not believe him. That his lies just multiply. And I am documenting it here so that everyone knows exactly how stupid he really is. Now we can all call him on this lame excuse: That he heard it from someone who heard it from a candidate in the slate against him. Yeah, right. How convenient. I guess he's decided to campaign against Danny, too. Maybe that is their strategy, since the rest of the incumbents are far more vulnerable. But I won't know for sure. He won't tell me.

"It does not say in the city charter anywhere that I have to give answers," Hernandez told me after we finally spoke for three minutes on the phone. "What?!?!" I may have yelled. "Not to you," he finished. (Thus I am providing my questions to all the journalists I know). But not only do I not receive any compensation from Martinez or any candidate in any election, nor any representative thereof, as I responded to Responder -- a former Robaina staffer now working for Garcia -- I also have not yet decided whether I will support anyone in the mayoral race. I have simply reported that Martinez leads the polls so far, because he does. The Dark Prince -- a name I did not invent (this time) but use despite the fact that he doesn't like it, by the way -- is leading in two polls, neither one done by him. He is the front runner. I am simply reporting it as such. Do I think he will win? Right now, I do. But not because I want him to win. Well, okay, the telenovela writer in me thinks As Hialeah Churns would only benefit from that plot twist. But I am not ready to write Garcia off the show just yet. Especially since Ladra has become ABC: Anyone But Carlos.

Today, after interviewing Martinez about his role in the water plant -- which I will write on when it is fully reported -- Ladra took a walk to the campaign headquarters of the only other candidate as far as I'm concerned, former State Sen. Rudy Garcia. We spoke about a number of things. I'm still on the fence about him, too. He's been less chummy and natural with me than Martinez, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. And I think he's warming up to me. Most normal people with nothing to hide do. But he's guarded. With good reason: He's dead last in the polls and I am not saying that because I support anybody. I say that because it's true. And Ladra likes polls. Even flawed polls.

Martinez seems less guarded with me, and I am completely aware that he is not telling me everything, either, but more like what he wants me to know. "Nothing is off the record," he scoffs in a sarcastic manner, not admiringly. And I can get more elsewhere. If people saw Martinez and I when I question him without having to give other journalists my story (read: outside of city hall), they would know instantly that I couldn't possibly work for him. I'd be fired in a hot Okeechobee second. I have challenged him and my voice has escalated (read: I may have yelled) about some things. I called him and his cohorts "just another gang" when he used that term to describe Robaina and his bandidos. I believe he has called me, and I quote, "a pain in the ass" (which I take no offense at). He has told me, but only once, that the subject I was writing about was irrelevant and I laughed in his face and told him not to tell me how to do my job. I think that may have been one of the "escalating voices" episodes. Let's put it this way: Other people nearby inched their chairs backward. He has called me "that f*&$ing woman" to a third person at a table -- while I sat across two feet away -- because I don't just swallow whatever he tells me and, probably, tells his inside circle when I'm not around that he has me exactly where he wants me. I'm not stupid. But he called me "that effing woman" (which I took no offense at) as he went through his phone looking for a text message to prove his point and a phone number to give me. And I am absolutely going to take advantage of the fact that he is open and honest and transparent and accessible and answers questions -- even narrowing his eyes when he doesn't like them -- and provides me with independent confirmation leads that I then independently reconfirm. He treats me with respect.

Yet, I cannot say that I support or endorse him in this race.

But perhaps what Hernandez and his drones see is that Ladra is pretty much ABC: Anyone But Carlos. While I am not ready to decide whether I will support either of the other two mayoral candidates, it has become increasingly apparent that I cannot support el alcaldito. Sure, there is still a tiny little chance that he suddenly come to his senses and apologize for making those defamatory remarks and invite me into his office to go over the budget, explain away the concerns, provide public records that document his arguments and obtain information on what he doesn't know. He would also, however, have to stop speaking in that condescending manner like the attempted intimidation of a frustrated former cop.

And he would have to answer the following questions:

How much money is in the bank and how much of that is in unencumbered funds that are NOT earmarked for particular expenses but can be used in the general operating fund?

How much does the city owe its vendors in outstanding bills? And why?

Why does the city keep going to the water department to get funding to shore up its budget?

How is the efficiency law that he introduced to the council not a violation of the South Florida Building Code?

What are the private companies that donated funds to the city so that the parks could open and how much did each of them give?

How much money did Jesus Navarro and the other maquinita interests in the city raise for his campaign at the fundraiser two weeks ago?

Have the 16 illegally firefighters been made whole, as legally ordered, and why has he threatened to lay off more firefighters. Isn't the city in danger of losing millions of dollars that they would have to reimburse from federal homeland security grants if the staffing is decreased?

Oh, and have you yet provided testimony in the grand jury case against Robaina and your role in the shadow banking operation written about in the Miami Herald, which noted a bankruptcy document that listed a $50,000 loan from you to a Recaredo Gutierrez, the developer who also borrowed from Robaina and former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas?

So, yeah, fat chance he'll answer and, therefore, why Ladra is ABC. Oh, and also because of all the flip flops and the lies and the double talk and because he does not respect anyone at all who does not agree with him. Which leads me back to the radio show.

Ladra won't be on the air this morning, despite Felix's original invitation. Hernandez is afraid of me and wouldn't share the time, so in the best interest of the truth and the debate, I am fine with that. I will tune in and, I hope, Enrique and Felix will ask Hernandez to either back up his claims or apologize for his baseless accusations. Then they should ask him some of the questions above.

Maybe he will answer them. Anybody wanna make a bet he doesn't?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gonzalez exits mayor's race--for now

Though he has been a non candidate for weeks, State Rep. Eddy Gonzalez formally dropped out of the Hialeah mayoral race Thursday with a statement on his facebook page that took a swipe at the interim incumbent running for re-election.

What it didn't say is that Gonzalez still plans to run for the seat -- in 2013.

But that's what he told Ladra in a candid cellphone chat earlier today -- that he still hoped to run for mayor of Hialeah in two years, which was his original plan anyway before former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina resigned mid-term to run (unscuccessfully, it turns out) for the county mayor's post. And since Gonzalez may end up running against one of the three current candidates after all, he doesn't want to throw his considerable support behind any of them for this election.

"I don't know that I would have anything to gain from it," Gonzalez said. "Because I may have to run against that person."

He did say he would likely help one candidate in a council race: Incumbent Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Munoz, who may either be defending herself against an indictment or providing testimony by then. "Because she has been helpful to me and has always supported me," he said, adding that she also went out on a limb and supported cigar czar Jose Oliva in the race for the state rep seat in district 110 vacated by Esteban Bovo, now a county commissioner, when the rest of the administration was throwing its support behind Frank Lago, the chief of staff for Sweetwater Mayor Manny Marono, who is now running for a Hialeah council seat. He said the opportunity to serve with Oliva also played into the "tremendously difficult decision."

But despite deep rooted ties with former Hialeah mayor and front-running candidate Raul Martinez -- who he served with during his eight years on the council before he became a state rep -- Gonzalez said he was not going to support his old friend. He says he won't back fellow Republican Rudy Garcia, the former state senator who is also running for mayor, either. And Gonzalez has sat on the sidelines before -- during the 2008 Congressional race between Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Martinez. He couldn't back Martinez because it would be a slap in the face to his party, a decision Martinez never forgave him for, despite the fact that he also refused to back Diaz-Balart out of loyalty for his old friend. "I asked him what my mother's name and my grandmother's name was. He didn't know," Gonzalez said. "I told him 'This guy knows my whole family' and that I couldn't publicly support him. It was a difficult decision because I wanted a Republican there."

One thing is certain: He won't help acting alcaldito Carlos Hernandez. In fact, Gonzalez hinted in his statement that diluting the vote and giving Hernandez a chance at a run-off may have played into his decision. "During a time when the current administration has demagogued the issues, a budget deficit is looming, and our economy is still shaky, I feel a contested primary would be a distraction," Gonzalez wrote (though there may also have been other factors, like maybe a poll showing he had an uphill climb). "While a serious debate about the fiscal condition of our city is needed...the heavy hand of a populist administration will not allow this debate to continue. This special election is slowly but surely focusing on personality clashes, personal agendas and not what is most important for the future of Hialeah."

Gonzalez, 41, had wanted to come back to his hometown because it has been hard to be away from his young family as a father of two young boys and a 2-year-old girl. But he said he had important work to do in Tallahassee as the only senior member of the Dade delegation this year, especially with redistricting on the horizon, and could "better represent my community by remaining in the state capitol," he wrote. "If this were only about me, I would go on...but it has never been about me. I entered this race because I love Hialeah, it is where I was raised and have resided all my life, and more importantly, because it is the place where my children will grow. In this time of fiscal uncertainty, I shall stay the course and continue my growth in the House of Representatives for the well being of our residents and for our beautiful City of Hialeah."

If that wasn't enough of a campaign hint, he ended with this: "I will continue to be involved and work hand and hand with the people of Hialeah towards rebuilding confidence, growth, and stability. A future return to the city I love is still very much alive, as it is a dream I intend to see realized."

He thanked his volunteers and the contributors to the campaign, which had raised more than $130,000 because he had begun in January, before anybody else. He may have to return those funds, however. He is seeking a legal opinion to see if he can keep it open for the 2013 election and open another campaign account for his state house re-election in 2012. If he can't, then he will write each of the donors to see if they will allow him to transfer the funds from one account to the state house campaign account. Most will, Ladra predicts. His supporters want him in office, here, there, anywhere.

But Ladra suggests he sit that 2012 race out if he seriously intends to run for mayor in Hialeah a year later. Why waste the voters' time and patience running for a seat you have no intention of serving out? Find a replacement to groom now. If the simple removal of any perception of conflict of interest doesn't sway you, think practically. Look how that two-month session cramped your campaigning and fund-raising efforts in this trial run, Eddy! Martinez and Garcia both caught up to you easily because you had to lay low and stop campaigning -- actually prohibited from raising funds for more than 50 days -- so you could actually work for a while.

And Ladra has another prediction that will let you go ahead and help your friend, Raul: Martinez may not run again in 2013. Mr. Mayor, who has always had his sights on higher political office, said he wants to just fix the city's financial fiasco, which he is uniquely qualified to do. Then, Ladra says, he will likely take another lick at a federal seat -- or maybe the governor's mansion.

And he can support your bid for mayor. That is, unless Professor Alex Morales runs.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

First slates, now staffs stiffen up

Campaign teams are forming as paid political operatives attach themselves to candidates and slates in the upcoming Hialeah elections.

Most recently, interim alcaldito Carlos Hernandez and Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez were spotted at a Starbuck's on West 49th Street Thursday morning with absentee ballot queen Sasha Tirador and gypsy con artist and Tiradorita-in-Training Vanessa Brito. "It was a private meeting," Garcia told Ladra when we asked earlier this afternoon. "And I don't have to talk to you about anything." After the call was mysteriously disconnected, Garcia-Martinez returned a subsequent phone call and, in a much more friendly and open manner, told Ladra that Tirador was her campaign manager and that Brito -- who did not return several phone calls, as usual -- was "doing numbers and stuff for me.

"Vanessa and I have been friends for a long time and we worked the Frank Lago campaign together," Gavelgirl said referring to the state rep race where the chief of staff to Sweetwater Mayor Manny Marono lost to cigar czar Jose Oliva. Brito, as chair of Miami Voice, had simply endorsed Lago and was not supposed to have worked the campaign professionally, but she does that all the time. She also said Tirador was on board. "She's always been in my campaign," Garcia-Martinez said before Ladra reminded her that she had not raised much and Tirador is a pricy professional. "I always raise funds and pay her," Gavelgirl said, adding that she had done some fundraising since the last reporting deadline.

Tirador was a little more comic and cryptic about it.

"The meeting was in reference to a blouse that Isis and I are going to buy at Macy's," she said, thrilling Ladra with a reference to an earlier blog post (She likes me! She really likes me!) and proving that political operatives can have a sense of humor, too.

The meeting was a follow up to a proposal that Tirador made to the two incumbent candidates, she told Ladra. She said she met the group there and, though she worked with Brito in the recall effort against former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Millan -- both she and the Miami Voice PAC chair (who she thought was a "volunteer" until Ladra told her) were paid consultants for Norman Braman -- she said she did not make a partnered pitch with Brito and was surprised to find herself at the same table. "I went to a meeting. I didn't know who was going to be there."

Tirador, widely rumored to be working for Hernandez already, said she had made proposals to both the acting alcaldito and former State Sen. Rudy Garcia (Rep., District 40), though certainly not former Mayor Raul Martinez, who she helped beat in the Congressional race where she worked for Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and who she repeatedly called an obscenity, daring me to quote her (more on that later and I will). But since she is on board with Garcia, and Garcia said she was definitely on slate with Hernandez, Ladra is going to go out on a limb and say the absentee ballot queen, who has worked with both incumbents in past races, is on his team too.
Besides, Garcia said he hasn't met with Tirador in weeks. And, while the veteran state legislator guardedly answers questions in some secret agent language that you don't exactly know if he answered your question or not (read: not), he seems to indicate that she will not be working on his campaign. "For the time being, she is not part of the team," Garcia said, again insisting that he has not hired anybody. Everyone else in the biz -- the same malas lenguas who say that Tirador is already with the incumbents and that council candidate Lago is part of the slate -- says Garcia has got Ana Carbonell, Al Lorenzo and Dario Moreno. Garcia-Martinez said Lago was not necessarily part of the slate -- yet. "I like him. He's a great guyy. But we don't have a slate yet. We'l work that out in the next week or so."

Not to be outdone, of course, is Martinez, a political powerhouse who already has Jeffrey Garcia (who helped Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez and is now working on the Miami Commission incumbent campaign for Marc Sarnoff) on board and will meet with former State Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla next week. The DLP, who Ladra has a love/hate relationship with, has been rumored for a couple of weeks to be on the Martinez side but Mr. Mayor had denied any connection -- until today. Martinez said the former senator -- a brilliant if somewhat offbeat guy -- called him as he recovered from back surgery last week (that's why he was MIA from the Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez supporter thank you shindig at the Big 5 Club, which turned into a Hialeah campaign stop, last week).

"He's bright, he's respected," said Martinez (and Ladra might add reckless and unstable but mighty good-looking). Mr. Mayor already got a $500 contribution from the Becker Poliakoff lawfirm where the Dean's brother, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (Rep. District 36) works. "I've known them since they were kids. I knew their father," Martinez said.

So this could turn out to be a big rematch between Dean Diaz de la Portilla, who worked on the pivotal Gimenez run-off, and Tirador and Carbonell who were on the same team in the county mayoral race working for former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina. The Dean, who had worked with Brito on the Gimenez campaign and, we hope, didn't teach her too much of what he knows, won that one. It will also put Jeff Garcia and Brito against each other in a second November race: Brito is working on the campaign for candidate Kate Callahan against Sarnoff. As Ladra has mentioned, it is an incestuous business. Even Emiliano Antuñez of Dark Horse Strategies, who represents a third of four candidates, Dona Milo and worked against the Dean in the race for the Miami-Dade Commission District 7 seat but with him in the Gimenez run-off -- but against him and with Tirador in the Robaina primary -- may also team up with Brito Tirador (anew) on the Hernandez team in Hialeah.

Ladra has to go now. There are new flow charts to draw.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hialeah slate spotted at City Hall

Looks like the slate of recycled politicians running for office again is a full house in Hialeah: two former mayors and three council campaign veterans makes for a very nice hand. I'll stay.

So what if they did not drive in together to the Hialeah city council meeting Tuesday? If it looks like a slate, acts like a slate and feels like a slate, it's a slate. The incumbents are likely going to join forces as well on another slate, but this one is the slate that makes the next three months downright decadent for a political junkie like me. Ladra likes to call them The Back to the Future Five and, yes, I think they should use theme song. The B5s (for short) are led by former mayor and current mayoral candidate Raul Martinez (the boss) and Professor Alex Morales (the brains). Former cop-turned-housing employee Danny Bolaños (the brawn) is the only other original band member. Former councilman and mayor Julio Martinez (the backup), a known boss ally who registered last week to run against councilman Jose Caragol, and former councilwoman Cindy Miel (the beauty) just round out the slate. It was nice to see them all, for what Ladra thinks is the first time this campaign season, at City Hall Tuesday. Because they are a slate.

"What slate? There is no slate," said Martinez, the boss, who does readily admit to anybody -- like anybody needs reminding -- that running against Morales or Bolanos would be a bad idea. My words, not his. I think his were "Don't mess with Alex. Don't mess with Danny."

"There is no slate," the professor is tired of telling me. I explain to him, as the eager student trying to impress, that there is, indeed, a de facto slate, a natural alliance because of their parallel pasts. Although Bolaños is the only one who has not been elected before, he was robbed in that race and his tortured Greek tragedy story in the city as son of the revered, longest serving police chief makes him Hialeah nobility and one of them. The Back to the Future Five all talk about the same issues. They are all going to count on an anti-incumbent wave they are all going to fuel. They are likely going to be on the same side of the campaign war as the nasty battles break out. They're a de facto slate.

"Oh, well, if you want to know whether when I'm campaigning, I will urge people to vote against all the incumbents, the answer is yes, of course," Morales said. So do I get an A? Wait, let me expound on more evidence.

Everyone talks about "campaign HQ" referring to the storefront on West 49th Street -- in that shopping strip space the acting alcaldito had red-tagged for no real reason except political harassment (more on that later) -- that was opened up by Morales when Martinez was in Bimini. The other Martinez, who Ladra met at a fundraiser for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez at Hialeah's La Carreta, was first mentioned by one of the B5 as a coming-soon candidate to Ladra weeks before he was on anybody's radar and in exactly the group that Julio Martinez signed up for. And campaign fundraising consultant Irene Secada, who worked on Miel's past campaigns and put together that fundraiser at La Carreta, was spotted wooing Morales this week at Maruch, which is where the three original band members of the Martinez Municipal Machine regularly meet to practice.

It's a slate, professor, Mr. Mayor. And, Ladra will venture to say that if the momentum keeps up the way it has so far, it could be a winning hand.

But we still haven't seen the cards held by mayoral candidate and former State Sen. Rudy Garcia, who could start to stack his own slate and raise the pot with a Frank Lago or a Ramiro Sicre or -- does Ladra dare say it? -- a Rafael Perez, the popular Hialeah homeboy who lost a bid for state house in May to Jose Oliva. While Perez has only been helping in the Garcia campaign, the qualifying deadline is in September and there could be more surprises.

Maybe a card or two up someone's sleeve.

Ante up, everybody.

AB queen prowls for new job

Hialeah's city council meetings are not only wonderful classes on city history and political plotting, they also provide us with little unexpected treats that may shed light on upcoming elections.

Imagine Ladra's delight surprise to find campaign consultant and absentee ballot queen extraordinaire Sasha Tirador -- who couldn't get former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina the win at the county level despite the Tirador-typical AB turnout in Hialeah -- at the council meeting Tuesday. She didn't speak on any item or accompany any candidate. She was, Ladra believes, trolling for a job: Acting alcaldito Carlos Hernandez and council members Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez, Vivian ("I can notarize that") Casals-Muñoz, Paul Hernandez and Jose Caragol are all up for re-election. She was in a power suit, prowling up and down, at one point sitting in the front row with her legs crossed staring straight at them. Other times she sent text messages at lightning speed. We can't help but wonder if she was texting the council while they were in the meeting.

Sasha to Isis: "Hi there! That blouse does NOT favour you, m'hija."
Sasha to Carlos: "Carlitos, mi hermano. Raise more money. You want me to work for Rudy?"
Sasha to Vivian: "Oye, decide. Are you in or are you out?"
Sasha to Caragol: "No little rhymes this time, viejo verde."
Sasha to Paulito: "Hi, you don't know me yet. But I already talked to your boss, Felix Lasarte. Don't worry."

Isis to Sasha: "Ay, chica. I need to go shopping with you."
Carlos to Sasha: "Don't worry, mi reina. I'll be loaded after tomorrow." (More on that later).
Vivian to Sasha: "I'm in."
Caragol to Sasha: "Si no te gusta si--ar, para que me quieres hablar?"
Paulito to Sasha: "Um, ok, um... What did he say?"
Isis to Sasha: "Can Macy's be a campaign expense?"
Carlos to Sasha: "Really. Tons of money. Like I hit a jackpot o algo asi :)"
Vivian to Sasha: "No, wait, I'm out."
Caragol to Sasha: "Heh, heh, heh."
Paulito to Sasha: "Wait, do I need to call him now?"

Man, it would be great if those texts were on city-owned phones and Hialeah was a city that respected public record laws. I'm going to have to update my request for cell phone records (which reminds me to ask about those today).

In all fairness, I didn't readily recognize Tirador and had forgotten -- until she reminded me -- that we had met once before when I was interviewed for a job by a panel of political campaign operatives that included Steven Ferreiro on the Katie Edwards state house campaign, which she lost last year (but I'm not sayin' it's because they didn't hire me) to State Rep. Frank Artiles (REP District 119), who I hear he finally moved to a new home inside his district (Ladra may have to go for a walk). I'm disappointed in my own recall ability and thank goodness several other people did recognize her, including former mayor and current mayoral candidate Raul Martinez, who Tirador trounced in the Congressional race for District 21 where she worked for Lincoln Diaz Balart. She was investigated for absentee ballot fraud allegations (again) in that race. Last year, the state attorney's public corruption office closed the two-year investigation but the close-out memo -- which she reminded me that I had posted on the blog (maybe Carlitos turned her on to the Cortadito) -- doesn't completely exonorate her.

"While the circumstances provide ample basis for suspicion 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, who has reportedly delayed his move to the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics to tie up a few loose ends. Hopefully Robaina is among them, but Ladra keeps hearing that one case will be about U.S. Congressman David Rivera (Rep., District 25), who also happens to have worked with Tirador on his campaigns, which do very well with absentees.

Anyway, among the findings in the investigation closed last year were two ballots apparently tampered with that may have originally been marked for Martinez but changed for Diaz-Balart. That is just one of the reasons why I didn't believe Tirador when I asked if her presence meant she was working for Hernandez and she said she didn't know and could end up working for Martinez. Yeah, I did double take, too. Not only because Martinez is the type of heavy who would never forgive you for that kind of thing, but also because Ladra is certain he has his own AB plan. In fact, the heavy rumor is that he hired or is thinking of hiring former State Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, which could set up a wonderful rematch between the AB queen and king after the county mayoral race in which Diaz de la Portilla played a crucial role for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Yeah, I know Ladra has had some issues with the guy. He's unstable, careless, ethically-challenged and just plain mean. But he is also brilliant and charming when he wants to be and very entertaining and knowledgeable and funny and did I say brilliant? If former Hialeah councilman and current candidate Alex Morales is the professor, Alex DLP will have to be called the Dean of South Florida politics.

Martinez denies having the DLP on his team, which he did say included his old buddy Jeff Garcia, who ran his congressional campaign, and Jorge de Cardenas, who most recently won the Coral Gables mayoral election for James Cason. Fundraising consultant Irene Secada, who also worked on the Gimenez campaign, has been seen around Hialeah and Ladra knows she is dying to work for Martinez so we are going to go out on a limb to say she will help Mr. Mayor and his slate.

But of all of those people, Tirador is the one that Ladra most wants to interview and follow. I asked her if she would show me how she runs her absentee ballot campaign. She said for me to ask Martinez. "He's won every election in Hialeah with absentee ballots," she said, which also shows just how much she is really trying to work for him.

Martinez opened his eyes wide when Ladra told him that Tirador had said she might work for him. "Let's go talk to her," he said. He is as atrevido as Ladra, who followed.

"I can't afford you," Martinez told Tirador and both laughed.

Professor Morales' Tuesday classes

If every Hialeah City Council meeting from now until November is going to turn into a political showdown between incumbent candidates and their climbing competition, well, you know where you'll find Ladra every other Tuesday. This free entertainment is too good to pass up.

Besides, I'd hate to miss it when former councilman, current candidate and Professor-At-Large Alex Morales is thrown out of council chambers. Or arrested.

Yeah, yeah, former mayor Raul Martinez, who is normally the most colorful and quotable guy in the room, any room, took a few jabs at acting alcaldito Carlos Hernandez, who always looks like the cat that ate the canary. The Prince of Darkness asked some questions and raised concerns about a housing project refinancing deal and the $16 million credit line, but it was clearly the professor's domain Tuesday as he turned council chambers into his classroom.

Morales went to the podium at least three times to illustrate how much more he knows about the city's operations, procedures, policies, laws and finances than any of the sitting council members or the strong mayor. He was ready to trip the mayor up on the pension item that would prohibit elected officials to draw pensions while in office while former employees who are elected, like Hernandez -- a onetime cop who draws a $50,000 or so pension -- would not be affected. Or maybe they could be. "It's complicated," City Attorney William Groddnick said, unable to make a summary distinction at the public meeting that was clear to me. Martinez, who is the obvious target of this move, would likely not be affected either, according to a legal opinion from an outside counsel. "I haven't issued an opinion yet but it may not apply retroactively," Groddnick said, apparently conspiring with el alcaldito to drag this out as long as possible. After all, the words "pension reform" -- even when it's pretend pension reform -- is good campaign chatter. Except that Hernandez, as usual, doesn't really know what he's talking about. He once said that his pension was different from Martinez's because he contributed into his. But that's not true. The 7 percent that was taken out of Hernandez's police officer paycheck went to an annuity that was paid to him when he retired. Morales was trying to get Hernandez to make that mistake again so he could embarass him at the public meeting, but Groddnick, who pointed to a 28-year-old policy that was rewritten in 1998, kept answering the questions for him. This seems like a new strategy and Ladra likes it because Groddnick talks openly while Hernandez sits there with a canary-toothed smile, resting his chin on the tip of his index finger.

"Do you think you're going to trap me into something? You're leading me with 100 questions. Get to the point," Groddnick said, adding a little sarcastic emphasis to "Let's be transparent."

Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez -- who did not use the gavel once so I wonder if we should rename her -- had to weigh in, as usual, with her little jab: "And your emails couldn't be more transparent," she told Morales, leaving everyone to wonder what she is talking about and Ladra to make yet another public records request, this time to see what nuggets of knowledge the professor has been imparting on the council against their will. At Tuesday's meeting, the lesson seemed to be about equality -- at least as far as the pension policy. "What's good for the goose is good for the gander," said Morales, who has told Ladra that one of the first things he will do if elected is undo the law he sponsored when he was a councilman that gave the electeds in Hialeah better pension benefits. "It was a mistake," he said, and he said that even before Groddnick started using the ordinance to defend the acting alcaldito's obviously targetted swipe at Martinez, who he once endorsed as a candidate for Congress. The city attorney said Hernandez's move was in line with a 28-year "safety net" policy that he said was undone with a 1998 law (read: mistake).

"I wrote that," Morales said.

"No, I wrote that," a territorial Groddnick said.

"I told you how to write it," Morales countered.

"I wrote the ordinance," Groddnick repeated, apparently enjoying the debte. Maybe he should run for office.

"You wrote it for me. Under my direction," the professor reminded him and I don't think I've ever seen two government guys go at it with such gusto to claim authorship of a "mistake."

Hernandez broke it up and finally came to the defense of his mouthpiece.

"I'll put up with your cheap theatrics and waste three to five minutes... but let's talk about transparency," Hernandez said, and then publicly challenged Morales' residency, saying that not only did he live in Miami Lakes but that he lived in Broward before that and had not lived in Hialeah in 10 years. "You have a very beautiful home in Royal Oaks," the mayor said, and we can't help but wonder if that is first hand knowledge because he drove by to stake it out or something he read in that unreal ragblog that only responds now to these posts.

Morales, who has admitted to moving back to the city specifically so he could run for office, said he was registered to vote at his West 29th Street apartment, where he has been living for more than a year, and reminded the council that he announced his new address to them at a public meeting last year. "You've seen me there. You have me surveilled," he told Hernandez. "You are welcome to drop by and sit outside. I'm not letting you inside." He also called the mayor's bluff about the homestead exemption, which Morales does not claim on his house. The professor then gave el alcaldito a big "F" in research because he had found another Alex Morales and had not bothered to check employee records to find out that his legal first name is Sean. (Morales was director of the Hialeah Housing Authority until former mayor Julio Robaina fired him).

"Well, then your paperwork doesn't have your legal name," Hernandez shot back, calling his residency claim an "insult to the community" and a fraud. "Nobody believes that you live in that one-bedroom apartment and that once a week your wife visits you for fun night," he said.

And just like that he reminded us why Hialeah -- where Councilman Jose Caragol once campaigned with an oral sex slogan -- has an X-rating when it comes to politics.

But the other significance of that is that el acting alcaldito, despite telling folks he doesn't read Political Cortadito, not only follows Ladra but misquotes her. I used "date night" not "fun night," which as has already been established, is every other Tuesday. I was still gloating inwardly when Gavelgirl, who I hope returns to her little hammer habit, told Morales they had "read all about it on Political Cortadito." (Well, we just want to give a shout out to Gavelgirl and any other council members/closet Political Cortadito readers here today. Hello everybody!).

And while it's a shameless, classless statement that involves an obviously patient and highly tolerant woman who has no blame in the professor's planned return to politics, Ladra has to say it's fair play. After all, critics of Hernandez had already started to use the name "Nancy-the-Stripper" (referring to Hernandez's wife) to leave comments on websites and blogs. And what's good for the goose, right professor? See? Ladra learns fast.

That's another reason not to miss these council meetings: Because they have turned into accelerated classes on political posturing. And we have a lot to study before the big test in November.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lago officially joins Hialeah race

Frank Lago, the chief of staff to Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño, has officially filed to run for Hialeah council -- challenging the weakest of the council members on the dais. That is, if Paul Henrnadez -- appointed two months ago to fill the vacancy created when the council president was appointed mayor -- even runs. As of Wednesday, he had not indicated he would.

Lago announced his candidacy Wednesday morning at the same time he released a July 13 poll that indicates he has high name recognition and would beat either Hernandez or Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz. Or as he put it, it "shows that I can win and do so by a large margin."

The pieces of the poll Lago released -- not the numbers reflecting the mayoral race -- show his name recognition, on the heels of a failed run for state rep, is twice as good as Casals-Muñoz. snd those are better odds. Hernandez has not filed to run for election to the seat, but activist and former water department employee, Daisy Castellanos, has marked Group 6 as her race (who violated campaign laws by spending money on t-shirts and a banner out of her own pocket. More on that later).

"I am the best candidate for this position," Lago wrote in an email to the media. "My experience as an administrator is what our city needs in these uncertain economic times. I reached the decision to run after numerous conversations with different residents and neighbors and most importantly, after consulting with my wife and family."

His wife, Liz Iglesias, lost a bid for council in 2007 despite some help from former mayor and current candidate Raul Martinez. But nobody knows who Lago will align himself with.

"Hialeah faces a difficult time and needs a new voice on the council, one that will advocate for fiscal responsibility and business development," Lago said. "Hialeah has long been a city known for its strong work ethic and industrial skill. Given that fact, I intend to work with the Mayor and fellow councilmembers to revitalize our business sector to spur job creation and investment. I also intend to ensure that we have a government that learns to live within its boundaries and serve as a model for our neighbors."

The announcement highlighted some of the figures in the July 13 Dario Moreno poll of 300 people that likely helped Lago make the decision:

"Frank Lago enjoys favorability that is on par with or exceeds incumbent members of the Hialeah City Council." Big deal? El manicero guy on 49th St. has more favorability.

"Frank Lago would easily defeat either Vivian Casals-Muñoz or Paul Hernandez for Hialeah council." Again, one would hope he could beat a two-month incumbent after spending $100,000 to get his name out during the race for the state house.

"Lago, along with Alex Morales, will be the favored to win the open commission seat." Now, what exactly does that mean? That Lago is trying to tie his name to Morales, whose numbers were also not released but who reportedly can get elected against anybody.

Now, Lago against Morales -- that would be much more closer to even contest and more fun to watch.