Dollars to Doughnuts . . .

And auto repair, and the occasional nephew. . . An edifying look at Miami City Commission candidates' financial statements

Sometimes such family modifications can get a person in trouble. Stephen Helfman is a respected and well-connected lobbyist for Burger King, BellSouth Mobility, and other concerns. In April Helfman donated $500 to De Yurre's campaign. His firm of Weiss, Serota & Helfman also donated $500, as did partners Joseph Serota and Richard Weiss. "Housewife" Jaclyn Weiss ponied up $500.

Stephen Helfman's wife also contributed $500. Problem is, Gerri Helfman is no "housewife"; she's a news anchor at WTVJ-TV (Channel 6). And like many other news organizations, NBC does not "allow conflicts of interest in any sorts of activities," according to network spokeswoman Beth Comstock. Reached by phone last week at her New York City office, Comstock flipped through a policy manual to find the exact network position on staff politicking. "'NBC News employees may not participate in outside activities that could interfere or even appear to interfere with their NBC News assignments or compromise them as NBC News employees,'" she read aloud. The manual goes on to state that reporters can't contribute money to a candidate without approval of the news president. Summarized Comstock: "I think it's pretty clear that we would frown on anyone who entered into some activity that would compromise them as a journalist."

Gerri Helfman was reached last week at her station. "I didn't cover the election," she said. "Why did you call me?" Told that she was contacted because she apparently contributed $500 to De Yurre's campaign, she said, "Victor is a friend of ours and I supported him. There is not a conflict of interest, because I didn't cover his election."

Thirty seconds after hanging up the phone, Helfman called back. "I just pulled out my checkbook. The entry in my ledger is from my husband," she tooted. "The contribution was made by my husband out of our joint checking account, so therefore there is no conflict. I didn't write Victor a check -- my husband did."

Stephen Helfman, of course, had already donated his own $500. If the donation was made by her husband, then Gerri isn't in trouble with NBC News. But Stephen might be in trouble with the law for exceeding the maximum legal campaign donation.

City of Miami employees, unlike most journalists, are allowed to donate to political kitties, though few ever do for fear of backing a loser and suffering retaliation. Three former assistant city attorneys claim they were fired two years ago after they supported losing mayoral candidate Miriam Alonso over winner Steve Clark.

Eduardo Rodriguez, director of the department of asset management, found a novel way to contribute money while cloaking his identity. When he gave $250 checks to incumbents Plummer and De Yurre, he didn't identify himself as a high-level city official. Instead he went by his legitimate alter ego: a Surfside city commissioner. "Put down that as an elected official, I support my elected officials. Something like that," begs Rodriguez, who now must answer to a commissioner he didn't support. "I don't want to get into any trouble."

Rodriguez would have been safer donating to Seth Galinsky. The perennial Socialist candidate works for CSX Transportation in Jacksonville, but ran for the Miami City Commission by claiming to live at Pathfinder Bookstore on NE 54th Street. (Actual telephone conversation: "Does Seth Galinsky really live at the bookstore?" "Ah, no, but he spends a lot of time here.") Because Galinsky ran against De Yurre as a member of the Socialist Workers Party, he successfully argued to the city clerk that the names and addresses of his contributors were confidential. Every person who donated A most contributions were in amounts of ten dollars or less A to Galinsky's grand total of $669 remains completely anonymous. Galinsky received 345 votes.

Right below Galinsky in the vote total was Rosa Green. Her 341 votes are remarkable for two reasons. First, she raised virtually no money. Second, she wasn't even running: Green pulled out of the race a month before the election, on a day when one of her campaign finance statements was due at City Hall. She explained in a letter to City Clerk Walter Foeman that she didn't "feel she had sufficient time to raise enough money to continue in the race for a city commission seat." That's an understatement. On September 22, the day she officially entered the race, Green went out and won the financial support of a family named Gordon. Charles Gordon, Mary Gordon, and Frank Gordon, all of NW Twelfth Street, donated a total of $500. Contributions petered off after that: Nobody added another cent.

The champion in the votes-per-dollar category was William Callaway. The actor, model, and De Yurre challenger raised even less money than Green. Substantially less. Zero dollars, in fact. He loaned his campaign $200, which covered the $175 application fee, his only expense. Callaway, whose sole platform was the secession of Coconut Grove from the city, still garnered 478 votes. That's an amazingly economical 37 cents per vote. If De Yurre had been that efficient with his campaign money, his $436,184 would have translated into 1,213,288 votes, enough to win Miami and probably Chicago as well.

The last-place overall vote getter was Manuel Gonzalez-Goenaga, also a De Yurre opponent. The pugnacious gadfly, who was listed on the ballot by his nickname of Boom Boom, didn't raise any outside money, either. Like Rosa Green, he also missed a deadline to submit financial statements. His reasons went beyond mere lack of financial support, though. In a scribbled letter to the city clerk, Gonzalez-Goenaga explained that he missed the deadline because of his long-running feud with Miami City Manager Cesar Odio.

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