In an unpublicized maneuver prior to the federal court ruling that created Dade's new voting districts, Gersten managed to alter the proposed boundaries of District 5, according to sources familiar with the process. Gersten bargained for and got a change that added to District 5 two key precincts in Overtown, from neighboring District 3. Together those precincts represent about 2000 black voters.
Gersten is hopeful of attracting black voters in a close race. Because of past patterns of discrimination, according to some political insiders, black voters would be less trusting of the media and the claims of prosecutors that Gerstan may have violated the law.
If that seems coldly calculating, it would be in keeping with Gersten's determination to vindicate himself at the polls. And it is no more calculating than the essential effort of modern politics: raising money.
Gersten has been working hard at that. His campaign chest is more than three times larger than any other candidate in District 5; as of February 26, he reported he had raised $251,000. Challenger Conchy Bretos is a distant second to Gersten, with a reported $81,000, $30,600 of which was a personal loan to her own campaign.
A significant portion of Gersten's money A more than 36 percent A has come from businesses and individuals outside Dade County, including major contributions from Wall Street bankers and bond dealers, among them the county's long-time financial advisor, W.R. Lazard & Co. Other contributors include American Airlines (which recently won approval from the commission for a major expansion at Miami International Airport) and members of the Latin Builders' Association. For example, LBA president Sergio Pino and his family have donated more than $3000. In addition, John J. Brunetti, owner of Hialeah racetrack, and his family have contributed at least $5000.
In announcing his intention to run in District 5, Gersten noted that he was born in Miami Beach, so he felt he knew the people and they knew him. But of the 369 individuals who contributed to his campaign between October and the end of February, only five listed a Miami Beach address.
With a bankroll in place, Gersten sought to put together his old team of political consultants, including Phil Hamersmith. But this time Hamersmith said no. He is managing Conchy Bretos's bid to unseat Gersten. "He did not listen to me," Hamersmith says of his advice that Gersten return quickly from Europe last spring in order to address the crack-and-hooker allegations. "He ruined his own career. He didn't have to be so arrogant and evasive and mystical and all of that crap. But that's Joey."
Even Gersten's most ardent supporters are equivocal about his chances of winning. "I consider Joe Gersten to be a good friend of mine," says lobbyist Stuart Rose. "I think he's been a good commissioner for this community. If you look past all the garbage, you will see a record of dedication to the community, and I believe he deserves to be and I think there is a strong possibility he will be re-elected."
During a recent commission meeting, Gersten may have inadvertently explained his reasons for seeking office amid such personal controversy. To provide what he described as inspiration for his fellow commissioners, he launched into a soliloquy from Act Two of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "Cowards die many times before their death; the valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, that neccessary end, will come when it will come."
As he finished he smiled, thrust his arms into the air, and awaited the reaction from those in attendance. What he got was a smattering of applause, a few chuckles, and the dumbfounded stares of his colleagues, who were hungry and ready for lunch.