Archive for November, 2007

Miami Beach Mayoral Runoff– An Off-Air P.S.
November 13, 2007

Did a TV piece on the mayoral runoff today– about a newly-released list of lobbyists who donated thousands to the benignly-named “Citizens Coalition, Inc.”, a group that paid for lots of ads and fliers attacking candidate Simon Cruz. The lobbyist involved are some of South Florida’s best-known– uber-lobbyistRon Book, former state lawmakers Miguel de Grandy and Manny Preiguez, and Dusty Melton.

Cruz claims that their contributions highlight hypocrisy in the campaign of his opponent, fellow City Commissioner Matti Bower… that her claims that he’s a captive of “special interests” are gutted by this revelation.

Bower still claims she knew nothing about the group or its donors. Book, the only lobbyist of three we called who’d say anything substantial, claims he was approached by someone other than Bower, and that he gave without any agenda in mind.

Cruz himself says he doesn’t have any theory about what the lobbyists’ agenda might be. None of them are registered to lobby the Beach commission. A Cruz supporter, St. Rep. Luis Garcia, suggests Miami-Dade county might be behind the “Citizens Coalition, Inc.” effort, because the county is interested in taking over fire service in Miami Beach. Garcia, who used to be the Beach Fire Chief, pointed out that County Commission chair Bruno Barreiro’s backing Bower.

Firefighters and police unions have endorsed Cruz, and when a debate this morning focussed on budget matters, it wasn’t hard to see why.

Cruz said budget cuts should focus on the city’s executive structure, because “that’s where the salaries are. You need your workers to be out on the street.”

Bower, in contrast, said tough budget times ahead might demand re-opening issues of pay for cops and perhaps firefighters. “Unions are special interests”, Bower said at one point in debate. She told me afterward that the average police salary on the Beach is now $108,000.

But if Bower’s incurring the wrath of police and fire unions, her cause is drawing good money from another arm of labor. The biggest donor to “Citizens Coalition, Inc.” is another vaguely-named group, the “Community Strength Coalition”. Cruz said– and Bower didn’t challenge him– that that was an arm of the Serive Employees International Union. He said the SEIU’s trying to unionize condo workers up and down the Beach, which will lead to higher condo fees for residents.

Bower responded that those workers needed a union– that some condos pay ridiculously low wages.

She’d appear to be in pretty good shape, going into next Tuesday’s runoff. She led last Tuesday’s vote 47%-44& over Cruz, despite his huge fund-raising advantage (Cruz did get LOTS of contributions from developers and their reps, though he points out that those hard-money gifts were in the public record well before election day, unlike the soft money funneled through “Citizens Coalition”).

That money imbalance will even out, in the runoff. Bower says a lot of folks who dismissed her mayoral bid as hopeless are now coming to her with checks in hand. Nothing draws cash like a win at the polls.

Just a taste of some topics I couldn’t fit into a 2-minute TV piece.

Battle for Congress
November 12, 2007

Allen West, Republicans hope, will help them win back one of those hotly-contested Congressional seats the GOP lost a year ago. West is a very interesting candidate– a warrior (former Lt. Colonel in the Army), an African-American, and a very strident conservative. He’s the kind of guy who, in blogs sent from Afghanistan, calls liberals “kids who never got picked to play”, and divides up humanity into three groups: “There are wolves, guard dogs, and sheep. Sheep always make the same incessantly annoying sound, kinda like our left wing liberal Americans.”
In other words– he’s a candidate not afraid to mix it up, and turn a vivid phrase. That may or may not be a good thing for the Republicans’ hopes of winning back District 22.
District 22 runs along the coast from mid-Broward into Palm Beach. John Kerry carried it in 2004, and West’s probable opponent, Cong. Ron Klein, carried it with 50.9% of the vote a year ago.
Klein beat Clay Shaw, who’d been in Congress for 26 years. A pretty moderate Republican, politically and in demeanor, too. The campaign ad that seemed to me to do Shaw in focussed on Iraq: “3 1/2 years…$300-billion spent…thousands of American lives lost… and still, Clay Shaw refuses to question George Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq.”
Allen West does question the war, in some ways. He says we probably shouldn’t have gone in when we did, probably shoul;d have focussed on the hunt for bin Laden. And he says, we’re trying too hard to fight a “humane, politically-correct war”, and ham-stringing the troops, in the process.
View those comments in light of West’s own departure from military service. In 2003, he was questioning an Iraqi policeman he thought knew about plans to ambush his troops. “I faked that I was going to shoot him”, West told me. “I fired over his head… after that, he gave names, he gave locations.” West says the info saved American lives. The Iraqi cop reportedly claims he gave no info of value.
In any case, that kind of behavior–which West terms “coloring outside the lines”– violates Army regs. Facing court-martial and a reported 11 year sentence, West plea-bargained, retiring from the Army with his pension intact, but paying a fine for lesser violations.
His campaign web site glosses over the episode (“When it was time to retire from more than 20 years of service in the US Army, Allen brought his wife and two young daughters to Broward County.”). But clearly, the episode says a lot about why West thinks the war effort is less than it should be, though he says the troop surge is helping some.
Should the U.S. use waterboarding and other interrogation techniques that some term torture? “I don’t want us telegraphing what we’re not going to do.”
And West feels we shouldn’t hesitate to chase terrorists across national borders, into– say– Pakistan. He says Alexander the Great had the right idea when his eliminated insurgents in Afghanistan, centuries ago: “He denied the enemy sanctuary. And he was finally able to corner the enemy in one specific place. He brought his army back together, and he defeated them. That’s what you have to do with this enemy.”
He’s also critical of the Administration’s attempts to make a clear case as to why we’re in Iraq and Afghanistan: “We have to get to the point where we’re putting out our message, our information, to fight against their (Sunnis and Shiites) propaganda. That’s the number-one thing we’re not doing very well.”
He charges Klein and other Congressional Democrats are giving aid and comfort to the enemy by talking of timetables.
Klein’s position on Iraq? “We’re in a civil war there. We need to find a strategic way of getting out. That doesn’t mean immediate withdrawal.”
It’s unclear just what it does mean. But it’s not hard to argue Klein’s studied vagueness may be more in sync with the moderate 22nd District than a candidate who can be portrayed as favoring “coloring outside the lines” as the best way to win the war on terror, not ruling out waterboarding or US forays into Pakistan, and characterizing those with concerns about such practices as liberals bleating like sheep.
The National Republican Congressional Committee sends me several e-mails a week, decrying Klein’s positions on nearly everything. He’s definitely a major target for a party anxious to make some gains (or at least limit losses) in next year’s Congressional elections.
West will be talking to the NRCC soon about helping his bid to unseat Klein with substantial money. He’ll need it– Klein raised $4-million plus when he ran against Shaw, and already has about $1.4 million in the bank (he’s one of the top 10 fundraisers in Congress, thus far).
It’ll be interesting to see whether the NRCC thinks this blunt warrior is a guy who can win, worth putting a lot of resources behind, or whether they decide his free-wheeling style is a lost cause in District 22.

Decision ’07// Candidacy ’09
November 6, 2007

Miami Commissioner Tomas Regalado voted to re-elect himself this morning, but was talking mostly about his run for Mayor in ’09. His comments were conditi0nal– “If everything goes well today…”. But nobody thinks Regalado will have trouble beating perennial candidate Evaristo Marina.
Regalado’s the most consistent commission critic of Mayor Manny Diaz, but he isn’t running against Diaz, who’s term-limited out of office in ’09. Still, expect Regalado to campaign against Diaz’ policies on zoning and growth, even if Diaz himself isn’t on the ballot.
So who else might run for Mayor in two years? City Commissioner Joe Sanchez seems a good possibility. So, perhaps, is City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, though given Miami’s demographics, it’s hard for many to envision an “Anglo” winning a city-wide race.
Two County Commissioners might get in– Carlos Gimenez, who had a long city career as a firefighter, fire chief, and city manager before getting elected to his Metro job. And Bruno Barreiro, whose County Commission district contains a good chunk of central Miami.

Ethnic Voting on Miami Beach
November 6, 2007

Unless there’s a HUGE surprise at the ballot box, Miami Beach is about to get its first Hispanic Mayor. City Commissioners Simon Cruz and Mattie Bower are in a close race, but some Beach-watchers are saying– there’ll be a runoff, strictly because of pockets of anti-Hispanic feeling remain on the Beach.
Two other City Commissioners (not Bower or Cruz) suggested this to me off-camera, as I toured polling places today. Their reasoning? There are still voters who don’t want to cast votes for a candidate with an Hispanic name.
My sources said little-known mayoral candidate William Smatt might get a lot of those votes– they each said Smatt was pulling as much as 8% of the vote (I assume they were citing exit polling). Smatt is Jamaican-born, and has focussed much of his campaign on the quirky notion that if casino gambling comes to the Beach (something they Mayor can’t really achieve), he would abolish property taxes for city residents.
There’s another minor candidate, Raphael Herman– but my commissioner/sources said the name “Raphael” would keep Hispano-phobes from voting for him (Herman is not, in fact, Hispanic– he’s Israeli).
The politicos figure– if minor candidates get 5% or better of the vote, that could well mean a runoff for Cruz and Bower. All indications are, they’re running very close together.
Whatever anti-Hispanic feeling there is on the Beach, the city’s population is now 53% Hispanic, and the election of Bower or Cruz will mean a comparatively quick political coming-of-age for Hispanics in a city where, less than a generation ago, they had very little clout at the ballot box.