DC Update– 2 Days Away

January 18, 2009 - Leave a Response

  Washington’s weather warmed up a bit (thankfully, temps near 40, instead of the mid-20’s), and the atmosphere heated up quite a bit, in other ways.

  This afternoon’s concert– U2, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Springsteen (what a  lineup!)– also offered us something of a preview of coming gridlock attractions.  My photographer, Steve Paine, arrived at midday, just about the time that hordes of folks were heading to the Lincoln Memorial.  The result?  A two-hour ordeal navigating the Washington Metro from Reagan Airport to our workspace near Union Station– 30 minutes just to get a ticket to ride, then long lines for the trains themselves.

  I fear this is what Steve and everyone else staying in Virginia will face on Tuesday morning.  Bridges to and from Virginia will be closed to most traffic, so the pressure will really be on the Metro system. I may have to sketch Inaugural Day highlights, if Steve gets stuck.

  One prominent Floridian already in town– former Gov. & Sen. Bob Graham, who was taking grandkids to the “Newseum” today.  Sen. Graham (you address him as Senator here or anywhere else outside Florida, but in the Sunshine State, protocol demands you address him as Governor.  He told me that a few years ago.  Very few people pose that particular etiquette quandary.  His grandkids, as I recall, just call him “Doodle”).

  Other South Floridians are arriving.  I talked with Vivian Shelton today, the Miami-Dade schoolteacher who’s taking her granddaughters, age 5 & 7, to the inaugural ceremony.

  Jamaican-born Miami lawyer Marlon Hill is already here, jokingly describing DC weather as “wonderfully warm and cozy” in a text message
(and that was earlier, when temps were in the 20’s).

  And the Washington Post says one of the hottest Inauguration-night parties will be thrown by South FL developer Don Peebles, a member of Obama’s national finance team.  Peebles and wife Katrina will reportedly host a soiree at the Georgetown Club, Tuesday.  Peebles, a DC native, quoted as saying he’s made lots of new friends through the campaign and is hoping to “kind of help them in their transition.”

  I’m sure the transitioning will be  pleasant at the Georgetown Club.

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DC– 3 Days Away

January 17, 2009 - Leave a Response

  Some initial impressions of Washington (I’m not doing TV until Monday, but am in town visiting relatives).

  It’s cold.  Bone-chilling cold. We tried to check out the Lincoln Memorial today (only to find it off-limits, due to construction of the stage for tomorrow’s mega-concert featuring Springsteen, Beyonce, and countless others). After a four-block walk from the car, not only was my 8-year-old crying, but he reported that his tears were frozen on his cheeks.  For the record– bank thermometer signs read 25-degrees, and there was about a 10 MPH wind.  Sunday is expected to be 10-degreees warmer.

  The city is busy, but not immobilized by inaugural visitors– yet.  Satellite trucks line the streets on the Mall.  Lots of technicians are tweaking the TV equipment, and the Jumbo-tron screens on which most visitors will see the swearing-in ceremony.

  Indeed, while I’ve covered the mad scramble for the 250,000 Inaugural ceremony tickets, I can tell you that the folks in the back of the ticketed section will have a far worse view of the proceedings than those a little farther back, who can watch the Jumbo-trons.

  I don’t know what the final attendance will be, but it does appear that early reports that locals would get mega-money to rent their houses to Inaugural visitors were overblown. I’m staying with a cousin who, at first, said he was hoping to rent his townhouse (3 blocks from the Capitol, a prime spot) for $15,000 for the week.

  He tells me now that most of his neighbors planned to do the same thing, but deep-pocketed visitors never actually got around to making the outrageous offers they were hoping for.  He says all his friends are doing what he’s doing– opening their homes to relatives coming to the Inauguration.

   I don’t know if the lack of a big-dollar rental market means that fewer people are coming, or just that visitors are being frugal and creative in making their travel arrangements. Vicki Hall, a Miami union official who’d originally said she’d sleep in her car if she had to, to see the swearing-in, found a $100-a-night hotel room an hour away a few days ago.  I talked with Vicki Saturday afternoon– she and her husband were driving on I-95, just crossing the South Carolina border.

  A bus company executive I spoke with a few days ago thought the tough economy had scuttled a lot of plans to attend the Inaugural festivities.  He was figuring on running 15 buses up to DC from south Florida.  He wound up filling five.

Senate Race Starting Gun

January 13, 2009 - Leave a Response

Cong. Kendrick Meek– in.  St. Sen. Dan Gelber, near-certain to enter the fray next week.  Cong. Alan Boyd, pondering a run for Senate.  State CFO Alex Sink, saying she’s doing due diligence, promising a decision soon, chuckling that the tension is killing her.  Cong. Ron Klein might also be interested.

And that’s just the Democrats.

Meek was first to announce.  He’ll have the backing of Bill Clinton, he said, and it appeared that one of Clinton’s financial angels is on board already.  Hugh Westbrook, who made a fortune in hospice care and was a six-figure political donor last year, was in Meek’s home just prior to his announcement.

Meek steadfastly refused to put a price tag on his Senatorial bid.  Gelber estimates a good primary run will cost $4-5 million.

Meek insisted that Barack Obama’s Florida victory was not a big factor in his decision to run.  He claimed Floridians have been ready for some time to elect diverse candidates, though Obama was the first African-American ever to carry the state.

Obama’s Florida campaign-meisters will face off against each other in this Senate contest.  Meek said he’s hired Steve Hildebrand– who was National Deputy Director of  Obama’s campaign– to strategize his senate campaign.  Hildebrand was dispatched to Florida during the fall, and teamed with State Director Steve Schale to put the Sunshine State in the Obama column.

Schale, meanwhile, is likely to run Gelber’s campaign.  He teamed with Gelber in 2006 , engineering a seven-seat pickup for the Democrats in the State House of Reps.

If  all possible contenders get in, this is a race that could be won with 30% of the vote, or even less.  Remember, there’s no second primary.

Each candidate would have clear strengths.  Boyd’s a panhandle blue-dog Democrat.  Sink’s a woman from the I-4 corridor (she’d be Florida’s second female Senator ever).  Meek would dominate the African-American vote.  Gelber and Klein would run strong with South Florida’s Jewish voters.

The Republican field– now that Jeb Bush is out of the picture– could be equally crowded.  Former House Speaker Marco Rubio is a near-lock to run, having told associates that if Jeb was out, he ‘d be in.

Others eying a bid–Attorney General Bill McCollum, who’d be making his third try for Senate;  Cong. Connie Mack III, hoping to succeed his father in the Senate; ex-House Speaker Allan Bense; House Majority Leader Adam Hasner; Sarasota Cong. Vern Buchanan.

It’s pretty wide-open on both sides, one reason why the declarations of candidacy have already begun.

“No We Can’t” Cruise

January 7, 2009 - Leave a Response

  The “Yes We Can 2009” cruise to the Obama inauguration has been spiked, due to anemic sales.

  Volunteers in the Lauderhill Obama for President office had dreamed up the cruise from Port Everglades to the Port of Baltimore, after realizing they needed places to stay and a way to get to the Inaugural Festivities on January 20th.

  They leased a cruise ship and gathered a travel-packaging corporate partner, but their efforts finally ran aground late last week.  Joseph Namphy, one of the organizers, said people just didn’t have the $1800 and 8 days to spend on the “Yes We Can” cruise.

  Namphy and the other Lauderhill Obamites have found an alternative for getting to Washington, though.  They’ve rented a bus that will take them to hotel accommodations outside DC.  The cost– about a third of the cruise tab.

Turnaround Town

December 28, 2008 - Leave a Response

  The Dolphins are in the playoffs, completing an astounding turnaround.  Their ghastly 1-15 record of last year has somehow morphed into an 11-5 season, and their first post-season berth since 2001.

   The Heat are poised to make a similar turnaround, having already surpassed last season’s win total.  16-13 isn’t setting the world on fire, of course, but it sure looks good after the 2007-08 disaster of 15-67.

   South Florida’s non-athletic numbers are far less encouraging.  Unemployment in Miami-Dade and Broward hovers at 6-7%, better than the statewide average, but two points above last year.

  And the real estate prices that had so many of us feeling wealthy on paper a couple of years back are still hurting.  Median home prices, in the mid-to-high $300K’s a year ago, are now in the low $200K’s, off about 35% in South Florida counties.

   Never has a community needed athletic triumph more, as a morale-booster.  So– GO DOLPHINS and GO HEAT, and may 2009 bring better numbers for the rest of us, as well.

Big Dough Donor from Doral

December 18, 2008 - Leave a Response

The list of big South FL contributors to the Obama Inaugural doesn’t contain many of the “usual suspects”– those who raise mega-sums for campaigns every election cycle.  Indeed, the only max contributor ($50,000) from our area is a guy who– as far as I can tell– had never given to a campaign before this year.

His name is Raul Pedraza, and he owns a global shipping/transportation company, Magno International, located in Doral photo from the web site’s below).  Magno is certified as a Minority Business Enterprise by the government, and appears to have lots of government contracts.  Pedraza’s bio says he’s Harvard-educated, a veteran– but, before this year, not much of political donor.

pedraza

I found no records of any donations until February of this year.  Since then, Pedraza’s given about $25,000 to the Obama campaigns and various allied committees, and now, 50-grand to the Inaugural committee.

Say What?!

December 11, 2008 - Leave a Response

     Strangest quote from a political press release in recent memory arrives this evening from the City of Miami, crowing about the approval of land leases for the new art and science museums slated to go in Bicentennial Park.

      City flacks quote the reaction of Commissioner Marc Sarnoff:

      “A vacuous park will be charged with energy and inquisition for those Miamians and visitors who yearn for science and art in the new  park.”

      Funny– Commissioner Sarnoff was speaking pretty good Enlgish when I interviewed him about an unrelated subject this afternoon.  He apparently turned into Prof. Irwin Corey some time around 3 PM.

On Board for Obama

December 5, 2008 - 3 Responses

  I spent the day talking to people searching– without much success– for a place to stay in Washington during Inauguration week.  Attendees could number in the millions.  Hotel room run in the thousand.  You do the math.

  Just got a room myself.  NBC didn’t have hotel rooms set aside.  I’ll lodge in a studio apartment, sleeping on a fold-out couch, for $750 a night.  Still, I feel lucky– Obama volunteer Dan Jonas is talking about campaign out, in a tent. Vicki Hall says, if all else fails, she and her husband will bunk in their Chevy Armada.

   But late in the day, I got wind of an interesting alternative for the lodging-less Obamaphile– the “Yes We Can Cruise”.  It’s being put together by Karen Phillips, an event planner in Broward, among others.

   Phillips and other backers have put a deposit on a cruise ship– the Caribe 1, pictured below.

caribe-1  

   525 cabins available.  The price, $1100 a head, with all cabins double occupancy.  Pretty good, compared to $750 a night for fold-out accommodations, but you have to be willing to invest some time.

   The “Yes We Can” cruise, set to depart on Friday, January 16th from Port Everglades.   Scheduled arrival in the Port of Baltimore, Monday at 3PM.  The next morning, buses would take the cruisers from Baltimore to a Metro stop in Maryland, for the commute into DC.

   Organizers I talked with– Phillips and Lauderhill Commissioner Dale Holness, who met each other working as volunteers on the Obama campaign– promise plenty of entertainment on board, though they concede the swimming pool might not get much use after a couple of days of cruising north.

   On the return trip, the Caribe 1 would stop in Freeport on the evening of Friday, January 23rd, before cruising back to Port Everglades on the morning of the 24th.

   Though deposit money’s down, it’s not a totally sure thing yet.  Still, Phillips and Holness expect to tour the ship Monday, and hope to unveil their web site– www.yeswecancruise.com— then, as well.

   We’ll keep you posted.

Miami Mayor not on Caucus List

December 3, 2008 - Leave a Response

  The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, pressing Barack Obama to name more hispanics to top jobs in his administration, sent a letter with some suggestions to the Pres-Elect. The letter listed 15 names for 10 as-yet unfilled positions.  

   One name not on the CHC list– Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who has said he’s “in the mix” for a Federal job.  Diaz has gotten mention as a possible Secretary of Transportation or HUD.

   The Hispanic Caucus has two suggestions for HUD– Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, and Saul Ramirez, a former Deputy HUD Secretary during the Clinton years.

   For Transportation Secretary, the CHC suggests Carrion or banker Maria Contreras Sweet, who once served as California’s Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing.

Senatorial Dominoes

December 2, 2008 - One Response

   Decision ’10 is on, with a bang.  Mel Martinez’ decision to vacate his Senate seat after just one term has the Florida political world buzzing about potential replacements, and speculating as to how the electoral dominoes will fall.

  On the Republican side, it all starts with the Gov and the ex-Gov. 

  Few expect Charlie Crist to go after the Senate seat.  His campaign “maestro”, George Lemieux, is quoted as saying he expects Crist to run for a second term as Governor.

  But Jeb Bush might be interested.  His spokeswoman put out a statement saying Bush “has not given serious consideration to running for Senate…at this point.”   That sort of squishy prose certainly won’t discourage speculation Bush is interested, and at least one Bush intimate is spreading the word (to the Herald and NBC 6’s Tom Llamas, among others) that Bush is seriously considering a Senate run, and may decide by early next year.

  The Senate would be an odd fit for Bush.  He’s used to running things, and might chafe in a legislative role.  He can be harsh in disagreement, whereas the Senate’s tradition is clubby and collegial (less so now, but still…)

  The Senate would be a great platform for a guy who says his focus is “advocating ideas and policies to get the conservative  cause back on track”— that’s the back half of the statement put out on Bush’s behalf. 

   If Jeb doesn’t want to run, it could open the floodgates.  Attorney General Bill McCollum says he’d been planning a re-election bid, but will weigh the possibility of a Senate run.  Former Speaker Marco Rubio calls the Martinez seat a “unique opportunity” for someone like himself– “obviously interested in statewide office”, as he put it.  Rubio’s a Bush acolyte, but if Jeb’s not in, he almost certainly will be.

   Another ex-Speaker, Allen Bense, will think about a run.  One current lawmaker thinks Senate President Jeff Atwater might make a run, as might the ex-Senate Pres, Ken Pruitt.  Those in state office don’t have to resign to run for a Federal office, thanks to a state law passed a couple of years ago.

   Congress-folk wanting to move up to Senate would, however, have to relinquish their safe seats in order to make a run.  Republican Reps mentioned as potential Senate candidates include Adam Putnam and Connie Mack (son, of course, of a former Senator).

   State GOP chair Jim Greer says his phone’s ringing off the hook.  He expects lots of Republicans to investigate a Senate run, but figures that the price tag ($25-million?!) and the time investment required will scare away many.

   Democrats had seen the Martinez seat as a potential pick-up all along (a Quinnipiac poll showed Sen. Mel running 4 points behind a generic Democratic opponent).  Just this morning, Politico.com had reported that the leading Democratic challenger– CFO had decided over Thanksgiving weekend, noat to run.  Sink isn’t talking now, in the wake of Martinez’ announcement, but some think she’ll reconsider.

  Just-elected State Senator Dan Gelber’s looking a US Senate run, even pointing out his web site’s already entitled “Gelber for Senate”.  Gelber, who worked on the staff of the Senate Investigations Committee, says he’ll be talking over making a run with his wife and kids, but he sounds enthusiastic about the prospect to me.

  Again, a guy like Gelber could run for Federal office without giving up his State Senate seat.  US Reps like Kendrick Meek, Ron Klein, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Kathy Castor, and Allen Boyd would have to resign to run… and several of them have a lot to lose.

  Wasserman-Schultz, for instance, has had a high profile as an Obama talk-show surrogate, and is on Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team.  One Capitol Hill aide familiar with her thinking says Wasserman-Schultz is almost certainly out “unless there are no good Democrats running and the Republican opponent is Katherine Harris.”

  Boyd– a blue-dog Dem from the Panhandle– says he’s thinking about mounting a Senate bid.  If a number of more liberal South Florida Democrats get in the Senate race, Boyd could get the nomination–  remember, there are no runoffs.

    Any Democrat other than Sink would have to get going soon, to build statewide name recognition and a lot of campaign cash.