The Case of the Invisible Candidate

, The 107th District state House race provides a mystery worthy of Dashiell Hammett

Like many tips, this one came at the racetrack. But it wasn't about a horse.
At a Hialeah Race Course fundraiser for Gov. Lawton Chiles, a young lawyer in suspenders came over with a story to tell. "Looking for something interesting to write about?" said the hotshot. "Check into the Democratic primary race for the state House of Representatives in District 107. Andres Rivero is a really good candidate," he went on, explaining that the former assistant U.S. Attorney would be one of very few Hispanic Democrats in the legislature if he managed to get elected. "He's being opposed by a guy no one's ever seen. He won't show up at any candidate forums, he won't answer questions from anyone, no one has even seen a picture of him. His name is Isaac Klayman, and it looks like he's a plant to draw Jewish votes away from Rivero. The rumor is he's a 300-pound Lubavitcher.

"If you find him," the lawyer added, "you'll have yourself a real scoop."
How hard could it be to find a 300-pound Lubavitch Jew who's running for public office? Very hard, as it turned out. This is Dade County, after all, where the political hardball players have more moves than a Niekro knuckle ball, and backroom methods of manipulation that make G. Gordon Liddy look greener than the waters of Biscayne Bay.

The district the pols are fighting over is a real prize. It comprises South Beach, Key Biscayne, eastern Little Havana, the north Grove, Brickell, and the neighborhood known as The Roads, even waterfront areas of the Gables. It's based on District 105 A State Sen. Alberto Gutman's old House district -- before the 1992 redistricting. The incumbent is freshman Republican Rep. Bruno Barreiro, who succeeded Gutman after he ran for state senate. Republicans (mostly Hispanics) hold a slight edge among the 107th's 33,400 registered voters. Not many Democrats bother with the Democratic primary (only 3800 voted in '92). The ones who do are overwhelmingly Anglo; nearly half are Jews, according to political analysts. In the 107th, Jews count for a lot.

Some suggested that had Klayman been inserted into the race to divert votes from Rivero, it would be impossible to nail down blame. "Any number of people could have arranged a phony candidacy," one Democratic official hedged, suggesting that Bruno Barreiro and his supporters were likely suspects. That official was in the minority; few political experts, Democrat or Republican, suspected Barreiro of having a direct hand in arranging Klayman's candidacy. "He's too politically naive to think up something like this," opined one GOP legislator. Barreiro emphatically denied any knowledge of how Klayman entered the race, and said of the use of planted candidates, "I don't run that kind of campaign."

One name in particular did keep recurring whenever conversations turned to the Klayman campaign: Al Gutman. Over the years rumors and suspicious incidents trailed Gutman like a barking dog. He and his allies had a legacy of alleged campaign shenanigans that led one Gutman-hater to note that "they have a feudalistic sense that this is their district, and turning it over to Andres Rivero is unthinkable."

Certainly the Klayman mystery had Gutman's M.O. all over it.
Steven Leifman, who ran against Gutman in 1990 and Bruno Barreiro in 1992, scoffed, "An extremely well-qualified candidate, Andres Rivero, is facing a totally unknown, unqualified candidate with a Jewish last name. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's going on here. It's outrageous."

Eladio Armesto III agreed, recalling a 1988 incident in which he stayed out of the Democratic primary after a Jewish candidate, Gary Alan Fried, filed for a spot. Two minutes after the filing deadline, Fried himself withdrew and asked state officials to refund his qualifying fee. (They did.) According to the Miami Herald Fried was the son-in-law of Gutman's close friend Alfredo Zayden, who has since died. Gutman, who faced no Democratic opposition that year, denied any improprieties. "They're doing the same thing they've always done," Armesto said of the Klayman candidacy. "They're experts at it."

In 1986 the fiancee of one of Gutman's business partners entered the Democratic primary against A.J. Daoud, Gutman's main rival. (Daoud is also the nephew of Alex Daoud, the now-imprisoned ex-mayor of Miami Beach.) Daoud won, but lost to Gutman in the general election. He said at the time that the primary race against Betty Malver had drained his resources.

Though he has publicly denied all such accusations, Gutman's name was also linked to campaigns that were notable for more blatant tactics. He and consultant Armando Gutierrez (a friend of Barreiro), served as advisors in Bruce Kaplan's nasty 1993 campaign for Metro commissioner against Conchy Bretos.

Asked specifically about Isaac Klayman's candidacy Gutman declared, "I don't answer to these sorts of ridiculous suspicions. I haven't gotten involved in that [District 107] race at all. When [his critics] have evidence, they can come talk to me."

Was there at least a vague connection between Gutman and the shadow candidate, as there had been in Daoud's and Armesto's campaigns? It would be difficult to find out without tracking down the elusive Isaac Klayman. After all, as his opponent Andres Rivero said, "This candidate is a mystery to me. I just don't understand why he's not doing any personal campaigning." Indeed, Klayman wasn't making any public appearances and declined virtually all interviews. To top it off, his roadside signs listed the wrong district number. If the candidacy turned out to be a setup, Rivero added, "it would be the lowest, sleaziest trick around."

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