Meek’s Free Ads
February 25, 2009

  Kendrick Meek’s nascent candidacy for US Senate in 2010 is getting a hefty on-air boost from a couple of DC-based national advocacy groups, both lauding him for his vote to expand the SCHIP children’s health coverage program.  The 30-second spots, paid for by “America’s Agenda: Health Care for Kids” and “Families USA”, have been airing over the last couple of weeks in the Miami-Fort Lauderale market. 

   The ads aren’t endorsements, of course.  They have that squishy language of the so-called “527” advocacy groups: “Call Congressman Meek and thank him for standing up for our kids.” 

  A spokesman for both 527’s  say only 3 Florida Democratic Congressmen are getting these televised pats on the back from her group– Meek, freshman Rep. Alan Grayson from the Orlando area, and Rep. Allen Boyd, from the Panhandle.  In all, 14 FL Representatives voted for the SCHIP expansion– all 10 Dems, and 4 Republicans (South Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balart brothers, among them).

  Why are SCHIP advocates buying ad time after the fact? The America’s Agenda folks say there will be further votes on expanding government-backed health coverage, and they want to reward their staunch Congressional allies with laudatory ads.  The PR folks for both groups insist Meek was not chosen because he’s running for Senate.  Maybe, but it sure doesn’t hurt that these ads are airing in counties that are home to about a quarter of Florida’s 4.7 million Democrats.

   And both 527’s get major financial backing by the Service Employees International Union.  SEIU just happens to be the first major union to have made an endorsement in the 2010 Senate race.  Yep, they’re backing Meek.

Turnaround Town
December 28, 2008

  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.

Miami Mayor not on Caucus List
December 3, 2008

  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

   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.

McCainomist Likes Obamanomics Team
November 25, 2008

   Tony Villamil usually has the ear of Republican politicians.  He was Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs in the George H.W. Bush administration, a top advisor to Gov. Jeb Bush, and recently an advisor to John McCain.

   But Villamil has near-universal praise for the rollout of the Obama economic team, particularly the bigger names.  He calls Treasury nominee Tim Geithner a choice “soothing” to the money markets.  Villamil’s even more enthusiastic about Larry Summers, who he thinks will be the real force behind Obamanomics, citing Summers’ writings in support of economic stimulus in the Financial Times newspaper, over the last several months.

   Obama says economists “across the spectrum” agree with him that a massive, shock-therapy stimulus package is needed.  Conservative economist Villamil agrees, saying that even though heart-stopping deficits will result, “when your house is on fire, you must put it out”.

   Villamil’s best guess is that Obama will delay his campaign-promise repeal of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy ($250k/yr and above), perhaps letting those tax cuts lapse on schedule in 2011.  He also predicts Detroit automakers will eventually get some sort of rescue plan.

Dems’ Musical Chairs
November 25, 2008

   You’d think So Fla. Democrats would just sit and bask in the glow for a while.  They delivered Broward and Miami-Dade for Obama, big time, and saw Florida finally go blue.

   But no– in both Miami-Dade and Broward and probably at the state level, too, there’ll be a fight over party chair posts.

   In Broward, 12-year county party chairman Mitch Ceasar gets a challenge from former Congressman Peter Deutsch. The Herald reports that Deutsch supporters blame Ceasar for the failure of Scott Israel’s campaign for Sheriff.  The Broward vote is December 7th.

   Miami-Dade Democrats will also have some competition to fill the county chair. B.J. Chiszar, who’s been working for the state party, organizing Miami-Dade and Monroe, faces off against Eric Copeland, a Miami lawyer who ran for State Ag Commissioner a couple of years ago.  Miami-Dade Dems will vote December 3rd.

   The Miami-Dade post is being vacated by Bret Berlin, who says he’s still weighing a challenge to State Party Chair Karen Thurman.

   Could be a continuation of the traditional Democratic circular firing squad.  Or it could be that Democratic registration gains make these party posts more attractive.

   Republicans will have their own intra-party tussles– St. Rep. David Rivera vs. political consultant Carlos Curbelo in Miami-Dade.  And it certainly looks like Jim Greer will face a serious challenge as the GOP state chair.

Hillary Helps Manny?
November 21, 2008

  
In the big game of Cabinet dominoes underway in DC/Chi, the now-deemed-likely prospect that Hillary Clinton will be named Secretary of State may boost Manny Diaz’s chances of getting a Cabinet post.

Choosing Clinton means that Bill Richardson– an hispanic- won’t be tapped for State,increasing the pressure on Pres-Elect Obama to pick an Hispanic for another Cabinet slot.  Richardson still gets mention as a possible Interior Secy (or Amb to China?), and there are other nombres being floated for other Cabinet and top staff positions.

The Washington Post’s Al Kamen suggests HUD is likely to be headed by an Hispanic, with Diaz a possibility: “At least four Latino candidates are said to be under consideration to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development: Miami Mayor Manny Diaz;Adolfo Carrion Jr., a longtime New York pol, and Bronx borough president; Saul Ramirez Jr., a former deputy HUD secretary; and Nelson A. Diaz, who has been a judge and a HUD general counsel.”

Inaugural Hot Tickets
November 17, 2008

Local Congress-folk are awed and a little disturbed by the fervor of constituents seeking tickets to January 20th’s Presidential Inaugural.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says she’s never seen anything like it– a nearly immediate explosion of inquiries about how to obtain tickets to the swearing-in of America’s first President of color.  Ros-Lehtinen’s office reports well over a thousand ticket requests, the number “growing all the time”. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’ office reports 603 people asking for 2000 tickets, as of this morning.

Reps in largely African-American districts, perhaps not surprisingly, are seeing the highest demand.  Spokesmen for Kendrick Meek & Alcee Hastings report requests received soaring over 2000.  Hastings chief of staff, David Goldenberg, said he had three interns going through the day’s requests, as we spoke (he says the photo below shows one of three boxes overflowing with ticket requests).

hastings-box

The problem?  Each Congressional office is likely to receive only about 200 tickets to distribute, though no one seems to have an exact number.  Most offices say they have yet to decide how to allot the scarce tickets, though Wasserman-Schultz’ office thinks “probably a lottery” for requestors who reside in her district, while Ros-Lehtinen’s folks figure it’ll be “first-come, first served” .

The Republican Congresswoman told me she is setting aside some tickets for her now-retired Democratic colleague Carrie Meek.  They were friends in the FL Senate and in Congress.  I did point out that Carrie Meek could probably count on her son Kendrick to come up with tickets.  Ros-Lehtinen laughed, but said she wanted to make sure Carrie was taken care of.

Indeed, the tradition seems to be cross-aisle cooperation on this ticket thing.  Democrats apparently provided extra tickets to Republicans for George W’s inaugurations, but Republicans may be hard-pressed to return the favor this year, given the massive demand.

Indeed, Cong. Hastings, according to his staff, put out feelers to 80 of his Republican colleagues, asking if they might spare more tickets from their allotments.  The response so far– 2 tickets from a GOP committee colleague from Michigan.

Lots of Capitol Hill aides I talked to worry that the ticket frenzy is way overblown. Their major concern is that constituents desperate to “share in history” will get ripped off by people selling Inaugural tickets over the internet, and they argue that there are other, easier ways to enjoy the start of the Obama era in Washington.

The 240,000 tickets to be distributed by members of Congress will get you access to the actual swearing-in at the Capitol, but hundreds of thousands of others will watch the ceremony on giant TV screens along the Capitol Mall– no tickets or lengthy security lines required, possibly a better view.

Hundreds of thousands of others may opt to Tivo the swearing-in and instead get prime viewing spots for the Inaugural Parade, from the Capitol to the White House– again, no tickets required.

About those internet offers of hot Inaugural tickets– the system will be designed to thwart scalping.  The tickets themselves will only be distributed to Congressional offices a few days before the ceremony, and constituents who get the tickets will be required to come to pick up the tickets in person.  In addition, Congress is apparently passing a law making it a crime for any Capitol Hill staffer from making money selling a ticket.

“Miami Nice” Politico Steps Down
November 17, 2008

Mary Ellen Miller, who’s chaired Miami-Dade’s Republican party for 15 of the last 17 years, is not seeking re-election.  She wants to catch up on the rest of her life.

Mary Ellen is unusual in many ways, in political circles.  She’s not in love with being in the limelight.  I may check in with her more often than anyone else in the local GOP, but I can count the times I’ve put her on camera on one hand.  She’s much more likely to refer me to someone else, and even supply me a contact number for them.

She is completely accessible, though– amazing in this age of universal Blackberrys– the best way to find her is to dial her home phone (if she can’t pick up right away, she returns calls quickly). Mary Ellen is generous with her time and knowledge, and doesn’t demonize political opponents while arguing her party’s position.

Her longevity of service defies the usual rules in So Fla politics– an “Anglo” re-elected chair of a party that’s overwhelmingly and increasingly hispanic, in a town where “Vota por lo Nuestro” (“Vote for our own”) is a familiar slogan.

Two candidates have jumped into the race to succeed her– State Rep. David Rivera (Miami-Dade’s Rep to the GOP State Executive Committee) and political consultant Carlos Curbelo, fresh from success running the re-election bids of the Diaz-Balart brothers.

Where There’s Buzz…
November 12, 2008

   Miami media’s full of “buzz” about a possible Obama Administration job for Mayor Manny Diaz.  The New Times has blogged about a different potential post every day this week.  All the TV channels have mentioned the possibility.  And today, the Herald speculated about Mayor Manny’s DC prospects, quoting the Mayor as saying “It’s nice to be in the mix”.

   The problem with all this is, it appears based largely on “buzz” at City Hall.  Indeed, virtually every article I’ve read about Manny Diaz and the Obama Administration contains the word “buzz” (or City Hall being “abuzz”).  None of the lists of potential major appointees coming out of DC contains the Mayor’s name (AP & MSNBC update their list of appointment prospects daily– neither has listed Diaz).

   Diaz and his people could be trying to create a little buzz, of course.  Hizzoner is termed out of the Mayor’s job in less than a year.  A major appointive post in Washington would be a great place to park oneself while weighing a run for Congress/Senate, and the Obama folks will feel some pressure to appoint some Hispanics to major posts. 

   The Mayor, after announcing support of Hillary Clinton right before the January primary, did not come into the Obama fold quickly.  Indeed, he spoke at the Denver convention without having endorsed Obama (the Diaz camp argued that– as head of the US Conf. of Mayors– he was just trying maximize the group’s clout with both parties).  Still, once committed, Diaz proved to be an enthusiastic Obama advocate. 

   The buzz at Miami City Hall may not be the doing of Diaz or his minions.  One ex-Dinner Key aide suggests that Commissioners who want to be Mayor have an interest in talking up Diaz for a Washington appointment.  If he goes, the City Commission would name someone to fill out his term.  Both Tomas Regalado (an announced mayoral candidate for ’09) and Joe Sanchez (unannounced but interested, by most accounts) would love to have the chance to serve out Diaz’ term, and run next year a a sort-of incumbent.

   This ex-aide– who still follows city politics avidly– says another potential mayoral candidate is sniffing around.  That would be St. Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who will be term-limited out as of 2010.