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

The stakes are high for all candidates. In Teele's case, as it is impossible for the black vote alone to carry him to a runoff, and because he can't expect more than token support in any of the Hispanic categories, he must win a combined total of between 17,000 and 20,000 votes in the Anglo groups (Jews and non-Jews). And because the Jewish vote is comparatively small, he must win the bulk of it here by capturing 25 to 30 percent of non-Jewish Anglos.

Teele's activities make it clear he recognizes the gravity of the situation. On that same Sunday he preached at the Baptist church in Overtown, he also addressed the predominantly white congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Miami. When he kicked off his campaign, he roared down to South Dade in a trio of helicopters and, using Homestead as a backdrop, reminded the public of his efforts to help rebuild that community after Hurricane Andrew. And with the exception of Katy Sorenson, no one has been a more outspoken critic of the development plans for Homestead Air Force Base, a political position that has endeared Teele to the many South Dade residents who also oppose the plan.

One advantage Teele will have over Suarez is money. Last week Suarez's campaign reported it was nearly broke after having initially raised close to $200,000. Teele, who brought in more than $300,000 in just two weeks, has almost all of that still in the bank. And while Suarez, Ferre, and Penelas will have to air commercials on both Spanish- and English-language radio and television, Teele can concentrate all his money on English-language stations.

Neither Penelas nor Ferre needs to do as well as Teele or Suarez among non-Jewish Anglos in order to survive, but neither can afford to languish. Each needs to pick up about twenty percent of the vote, and there is no reason to believe each couldn't do considerably better. This segment of the voting public contains more "undecideds" than any other.

Of course, Teele isn't the only one with money to spend on advertising. Both Penelas and Ferre have hired nationally renowned media advisers to produce their commercials. Penelas in particular appears prepared to spend a small fortune raising his profile in the Anglo community.

The one key variable money can't buy is the Miami Herald's editorial endorsement, which may be announced as early as this week. Penelas says he has ruled out any chance of gaining the paper's support, and believes it is a contest between Teele and Ferre, a sentiment shared by many. For both of those candidates, as well as for Suarez, the Herald's endorsement is estimated to mean between five and possibly eight percentage points in the Jewish and non-Jewish Anglo communities, and a slightly lower figure in the American-born Hispanic community.

In terms of total number of votes within those three segments, the Herald endorsement could be worth an additional 5000 to 8000 votes on the journey to 75,000.

Registered Voters: 60,000
Projected Turnout: 40 percent
Expected Votes Cast: 24,000

Once the dominant power in Dade County politics, the Jewish vote has steadily declined over the years and is now primarily concentrated in the high-rise condos of Aventura and the retirement centers of Sunny Isles and Miami Beach. Despite its failing political health, the Jewish bloc is a segment candidates desperately covet, as signaled by the brazen dealmaking that recently occurred between Penelas and Commissioner Gwen Margolis. In exchange for her endorsement, Penelas pledged that if he is elected, he will appoint her chairwoman of the county commission.

Margolis's ability to deliver the so-called condo vote remains in doubt, however, and Penelas is expected to spend a considerable amount of money on advertising to reach Anglo voters overall, and Jewish voters in particular. Among Jews, a good showing for him would be 25 percent of the vote, or about 6000 ballots.

In order for Ferre to make the runoff, he will have to do much better than Penelas in the Jewish community, securing closer to 35 percent of the vote, or about 8400 ballots. Toward that end, Ferre has lined up the support of half of the newly elected Aventura City Council, as well as its mayor Art Snyder. He also counts long-time activist Ginger Grossman and State Sen. Ron Silver among his allies.

If Ferre decides the overall race is so tight that he needs to stretch his lead in the overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish community, it is almost certain he will attack both Penelas and Teele for their ties to the Republican Party. Ferre is quick to recall Penelas's trip to New Hampshire last winter in support of Bob Dole. (Penelas, a registered Democrat, says he was just tagging along with his wife and isn't endorsing anyone for president.)

And Ferre gleefully describes the image of Penelas embracing conservative U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms during a recent banquet in Miami sponsored by the Cuban American National Foundation, a photograph of which ran in Diario Las Americas. "Oh yeah, I plan to use it," Ferre says of the picture. "You can't embrace Jesse Helms in one community and then, when it suits your purpose, act as if you are a staunch Democrat in another community."

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