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At the time he first met with Clinton, Herrera hadn't donated any money to the Democratic Party, but not long after, his contributions began to roll in. His partner, Pedro Adrian, has also become an unlikely Democratic contributor. A recent Federal Elections Commission report notes that in addition to contributing to Republican stalwarts such as Jesse Helms, Alfonse D'Amato, and Dan Burton, Adrian has also given money to the Clinton-Gore campaign and to liberal Democrats such as Patrick Kennedy.
Herrera's contacts with powerful Democrats locally have aided his successful navigation of the party's power structure. First there is Hawkins, whom sources say has been acting as an advisor to Herrera. "Larry Hawkins is a friend," Herrera asserts, "but Larry Hawkins is not paid as a consultant, and is not going to become a paid consultant to HABDI. He is just a friend."
Hawkins refuses to talk about his role with HABDI or Herrera. "That's really my business," he says, "but I'm not being paid by HABDI." However, Hawkins has collected money from Herrera for the Democratic Party, including a $25,000 donation for the dinner at the Biltmore. "I've raised money for the DNC from a lot of people," Hawkins acknowledges, though he stops short of confirming Herrera's recent largess. "You'll have to check the records." Has Hawkins helped Herrera with contacts in Washington? "I just don't have anything to say about it," Hawkins demurs.
"Larry really hasn't done that much for me in Washington," Herrera says. "I've made most of the contacts myself through the DNC." Among his contacts is Marvin Rosen, a main partner in the Miami law firm Greenberg Traurig and national finance director of the DNC. "Marvin has always been great," says Herrera, who hired Greenberg Traurig to provide legal counsel to HABDI.
Rosen is also a long-time, close friend of Ted Kennedy, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which holds jurisdiction over both the defense department and the base conveyance process. Kennedy's wife works in Greenberg Traurig's Washington office. Last year Herrera attended a dinner party at Kennedy's house in Washington, where he met Secretary of Transportation Federico Pe*a, whose department oversees the FAA. Since that first meeting, Herrera and Pe*a have met on a couple of other occasions, Herrera says.
Most recently Herrera and Pena met in the secretary's office this past April 3 to discuss HABDI. "With my contacts and the help of certain senators, I called and I got a meeting," Herrera recalls. "The guy is accessible. I wanted to tell him where we stood on the lease itself and to tell him that we were going to be meeting with the FAA soon to get their approval. I just wanted to give the guy a face-to-face briefing. He listened, he said he was glad we had gone up to see him, and to keep him informed."
Pena's office confirms the meeting. "It was a courtesy meeting that the secretary gave," says Wendy Burt, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation. "The secretary meets with a lot of people on a lot of sides on a lot of different issues."
Herrera bristles at the suggestion that he is trying to somehow improperly influence the decision-making process before the lease has been formally submitted to the federal government for review. He doesn't even think of his efforts as influence A improper or otherwise. "Why is it influence?" Herrera asks. "Just because I talk to someone, does that mean I have influence with them? He listened and that's all he did. This is a big deal for them. They want HABDI to succeed."
He says his most recent meeting with FAA officials from Orlando, who will be reviewing the lease, and who have already seen drafts of the document, was very encouraging. "They said it was a hell of a good lease," he boasts.
"I work within the system," Herrera continues. "The Democratic Party is great, they've always been willing to listen. The doors are open.