It's My Party and I'll Squash You If I Want To

Like an eighteen-wheeler on a bike path, Dade Commissioner Bruce Kaplan subtly makes his mark on local GOP politics

Antunez says he called Rodriguez-Chomat the next morning and announced that he had no intention of accepting a position on the zoning appeals board, no matter what Bruce Kaplan might have said, and that Rodriguez-Chomat should tell Kaplan the committeeman's race was still on.

Reached by telephone in La Paz, Bolivia, Kaplan spoke highly of Antunez. "It's a shame that two friends are running against each other," Kaplan observes. "[Antunez is] somebody we've tried to propel politically. I hope that we can bring Emiliano further along in the party." The commissioner acknowledges that he met twice with Antunez on August 11, and says he did attempt to convince his would-be opponent to step down for the good of the GOP. Kaplan, however, vehemently denies offering any sort of deal in exchange for cooperation. "That's bullshit," he says. "Not only is that bullshit, that's illegal."

Rodriguez-Chomat confirms that he received an August 12 phone call from Antunez but says he doesn't clearly recall what was discussed. "Emiliano seemed to be upset," Rodriguez-Chomat remembers. "Not upset with me, but just in general. He talked to me about some things, but nothing specific." Kaplan, he adds, has neither asked him to resign nor raised the possibility of Antunez replacing him on the zoning appeals board: "Bruce has not said a word to me about that."

In the end Kaplan and Antunez may be the only two people who know precisely what took place on the night of August 11. But Friday's election will yield an undisputable -- and very public -- certainty: One of the two candidates will emerge as a Republican Party committeeman.

Why might Kaplan be interested in a low-level GOP post? One of the party's rules might provide a hint: In order to attain a higher position within the local party organization -- such as the county chairmanship, for instance -- one must first serve as a committeeman.

Mary Ellen Miller, the current county chairman, says she's heard rumors that Kaplan is aiming for her job. "He even asked me if I would be seeking re-election in December," Miller recalls. (She says she has not made up her mind whether she'll run.)

"My goal right now is to be a committeeman and to help our chairman," asserts Kaplan, quickly adding that he has been approached about the chairmanship. "A lot of people say that that would be a good idea, but that's in the future," he remarks.

Meanwhile his supporters have been busy polling local committeemen to gauge their candidate's chances in the upcoming contest. While the commissioner says he doesn't know who organized the survey, he claims the results show him beating Emiliano Antunez by a two-to-one margin.

Kaplan is relatively new to Dade County Republican politics, and to the party itself. A registered Democrat until a few years ago, he even ran for office in New York as a Democrat. (He lost.) "I want to get more active in the party, to make it more meaningful than perhaps it has been over the last few years," the commissioner explains. "I think right now it's a moribund party. If I can help energize it, that is something I'm happy to do."

He has certainly succeeded in energizing debate. "People are very upset, very, very upset," says one member of the party's executive committee. "You don't start telling members that have been there for years that you're going to walk in and take over the party. You don't do that. He must have some major plans in the works."

Some speculate Kaplan intends to gain the county chairmanship as a way of amassing a power base for a run at the Dade mayor's seat in 1996, much in the same way Jeb Bush used the post to build support for his current bid for governor. "A lot of people have been talking about a lot of stuff," Kaplan notes dismissively. "I don't want to be the mayor of Dade County. I want to be a commissioner."

And, of course, a committeeman.

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