Sore Winner

Bruce Kaplan won his county commission race this past spring, but don't look for him when hey're handing out the Mr. Nice Guy awards

Basha turned down Kaplan's invitation. Instead she has written him a letter demanding that he publicly retract his statements about her. Besides copying the letter to every county commissioner, she also has sent a videotape of her appearance on the television show to Art Teele and to County Attorney Robert Ginsburg. And she has retained attorney Joel Hirschhorn to counsel her about possible legal recourse against Kaplan.

"It is widely known that I was one of Conchy Bretos's paid media consultants during the campaign," Basha wrote in her letter. "I was her friend before the campaign and I am still her friend today. If you have a problem with my personal and professional relationship with Conchy Bretos, I suggest that you confront me as a private citizen, instead of abusing your position as an elected official."

Having reviewed his copy of the videotape, Teele says he is furious with the way Kaplan acted. "Ms. Basha is just one in a long line of people who have been embarrassed or maligned by this commissioner, who is making it his business to conduct political vendettas from the dais," says Teele. "This is just a crybaby, knee-jerk reaction by a person who is clearly unable to be magnanimous in victory."

Kaplan feels the incident is being blown out of proportion. He says that within a few days of the November 3 commission meeting he told Teele he no longer objected to Basha's appointment. In a seeming reversal of his previous statements, he adds, "Jackie Basha is a very qualified person. She does a lot of very good work."

Teele's remarks about Kaplan, however, highlight a phenomenon that is not unique to Jacqueline Basha. Indeed, as those who keep a close eye on Dade's political machinations have noticed, people with ties to Bretos have undergone unpleasant experiences involving the man who won the District 5 commission race.

First there was Conchy Bretos herself. During the campaign, Kaplan drew sharp criticism for his smear tactics, including the fact that he and his supporters labeled Bretos a Communist in Little Havana and an anti-Semite in Miami Beach. On election eve, he took to the Spanish-language airwaves and charged that Bretos wanted to get rid of public housing and centers that served meals to the elderly. "My opponent," he declared on Radio Mambi, "wants to throw old people out of their homes to build condos." By the time Bretos had a chance to debunk the allegations, Kaplan had won the election.

Bretos, who was serving as executive director of the Dade County Commission on the Status of Women, was fired by her boss, Community Affairs Director Ari Sosa, only two months after Kaplan took office. The firing received thunderous publicity, with Bretos claiming the ouster was a political act of retribution orchestrated by Kaplan or his ally Natacha Millan, a fellow county commissioner. Although Sosa denied he had been pressured to fire Bretos, he was at a loss to adequately explain his reasons. Both Kaplan and Millan denied having had anything to do with Bretos's dismissal.

Since Bretos's firing, Gov. Lawton Chiles has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the dismissal. The prosecutor also is examining the windfall of absentee votes that vaulted Kaplan into the runoff (nearly 25 percent of the votes Kaplan received in the primary were of the absentee variety).

And then came Jeff Donnelly. A 54-year-old high school teacher, Donnelly is one of the founders of the South Beach New Democrats, a group that last spring devoted a great deal of time and energy campaigning for Bretos over Kaplan, who is a registered Republican. When the City of Miami Beach needed to designate two official representatives to serve on the Dade County Library Board, both of City Manager Roger Carlton's nominees were unanimously approved by the Miami Beach Commission. One of those nominees was Donnelly. The library board also expressed its approval of the choices.

But in October, when the appointments were forwarded to the county commission, only one nominee was officially voted onto the board. Donnelly's name was placed in limbo -- neither confirmed nor rejected. The reason: an objection by Commissioner Bruce Kaplan.

Sources within the City of Miami Beach and Dade County say Kaplan blocked the appointment because of Donnelly's participation in the Bretos campaign.

As of this week, Donnelly's name remains in the netherworld of Dade politics. Sources say Miami Beach officials are privately meeting with Kaplan in an attempt to expedite the matter. Kaplan says he expects to meet with Donnelly in the near future. The reason he initially blocked the appointment: "I had been told that [Donnelly] sent some sort of a mailing around saying I was a homophobe." That information proved to be false. Kaplan says he hopes the whole matter will be cleared up soon. Donnelly, meanwhile, is saying little. "I've not heard from the county commission, I've not heard from the library board, I've not heard from anybody in writing," he says.

One former Bretos supporter has managed to gain appointment to a county committee. Bobbie Mumford, a political consultant who advised Bretos on strategy within the black community, has been named to a special task force to welcome the National Association of Television Program Executives, which holds its annual conference in Miami Beach next January. More than 15,000 TV honchos are expected to attend. But according to several sources -- both within county government and outside it -- Bruce Kaplan didn't make it easy.

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