The Ethnic Chopping Block

To win the most important election in Dade County history, the top mayoral candidates have hacked the voting public to pieces

He has far more money than any of his rivals, thanks largely to the fundraising abilities of the so-called three amigos: attorney Christopher Korge, lobbyist Rodney Barreto, and former Latin Builders Association president Sergio Pino.

But holding on to his base will be a challenge. In no other voting bloc will any candidate face such stinging attacks as those Penelas can expect from Cuban voters. His greatest foes, however, won't be rival candidates (at least not directly), but other local Cuban politicians, most notably the obstreperous Joe Carollo, who is on the verge of being elected mayor of the City of Miami, and Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, who has been a long-time supporter of Ferre and is expected to continue that support in this election.

"With Joe beating on Penelas from Miami and Raul working on him in Hialeah, Penelas could begin to feel that squeeze," says political consultant and former Miami mayor David Kennedy, an adviser to Ferre's campaign.

While Ferre's camp knows that it is impossible for him to win 40 percent of the Cuban vote, they also realize that the closer they can draw to 30 percent, the more likely it is those votes will be coming from Penelas -- which may well explain why Ferre, after supporting the gas tax for years, finally buckled under the pressure of a Spanish-language radio blitz and supported a reduction.

A strong showing among Cubans for Suarez would be between 30 and 35 percent, but Suarez will have to rely on a door-to-door, grassroots, get-out-the-vote effort because he has virtually no money left in his campaign coffers and cannot afford to produce or air commercials on either radio or television. While such community-oriented campaigns are not impossible, they are extremely difficult, especially when facing such well-financed candidates.

For Teele, every vote he receives from Cubans is manna from heaven. He does have friends in the Cuban community, however, and he may try to exploit the fact that he is the only registered Republican in the field, even though this is a nonpartisan race. If Teele could win even four or five percent of the Cuban vote, he'd likely do cartwheels down Calle Ocho.

Registered Voters: 75,000
Projected Turnout: 30-40 percent
Expected Votes Cast: 23-30,000

There are more than 12,000 registered voters from Colombia in Dade County, plus another 2500 from Spain, 2500 from Honduras, almost 6000 from the Dominican Republic, 1500 from Mexico, 3000 from Chile and Venezuela, and almost 20,000 from the rest of Central and South America. Add to that nearly 25,000 registered voters from Puerto Rico and the prevailing view that all Hispanic voters in Dade are Cuban comes tumbling down.

This is a segment of the community in which Maurice Ferre should do extremely well. Without having to say a word, Ferre, who was born in Puerto Rico, becomes the standard-bearer for all non-Cuban Hispanics. And on election day, he benefits from the festering anger and resentment (some might argue jealousy) many of these voters may harbor toward their Cuban brethren.

But how this group votes, and more important if this group votes, is wholly dependent on Ferre. In the same way Teele needs to generate a large turnout in the black community, and Penelas must secure a substantial base among Cubans, so Ferre's chances of making the runoff increase sharply if he can boost the vote count in areas such as the Puerto Rican stronghold of Wynwood and the Central American havens of Little Havana. His goal is to push the turnout to 40 percent (about 30,000 people), and then capture at least 15,000 of those votes.

Penelas and Suarez understand that this segment of the Hispanic vote is Ferre's, but each will nonetheless try to walk away with between 5000 and 6000 votes. Teele, still last in line for Hispanic scraps, will hope to take between 2000 and 3000 votes.

Registered Voters: 200,000
Projected Turnout: 30-33 percent
Expected Votes Cast: 60,000 to 66,000

When Steve Clark became ill and it was obvious he would not run for county mayor, the search for a Great White Hope began in earnest. Surely, the pundits reasoned, there must be an Anglo candidate who could mount a serious bid. After all, historically Anglos have trounced Hispanics and blacks in countywide races. Up until 1993 Anglos controlled seven of the nine county commission seats. Indeed it was that apparent unfair advantage by Anglos that led a federal judge four years ago to declare Dade's system of electing commissioners to be a violation of the rights of Hispanics and blacks.

So where's that unfair advantage now?
A few well-known Anglo politicians were available, among them former state representative Mike Abrams, former county commissioner Charles Dusseau, and current commissioner and former state senate president Gwen Margolis. But none was willing to enter the fray, and so there will be no white knight. That leaves non-Jewish Anglo voters in something of a quandary. It also has the potential of turning those voters into kingmakers. "They will choose the next mayor of Dade County," predicts pollster Rob Schroth. "They are the swing voters."

None of the candidates can get to his magic number of 75,000 votes without help from non-Jewish Anglos. "Right now, there is a tremendous reservoir of goodwill in that community that still exists for Suarez," says Schroth. "The question is whether or not he will be able to hold on to it." According to recent polls, this is the only category of votes in which Suarez has a commanding lead -- upward of 35 percent. If he loses that lead, it will be extremely difficult for him to make it up in any other category.

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