Either Argue or Cut Debate

It's like when you go to a concert and some no-talent wanna-be is standing outside the auditorium singing a song and hoping you might drop a few coins in his empty guitar case. Nobody goes out at night intending to see the guy on the street, but once in a while you hear one you like and you toss him half a buck. Likewise, if candidates such as Manny Crespo and Andy Hague can panhandle a couple of votes from each mayoral event, they might be wearing judicial robes by autumn.

"I absolutely love that these guys have to go through this," says Dade Democratic Party Chairman Joe Geller, eschewing the view held by many that judges should be appointed, not elected. Geller argues that if judges and their challengers didn't have to run for office, they would be even more arrogant and out of touch than they already are. Now, he says, not only do they have to humbly ask people to support them, they have to stand there and smile while complete strangers "assault them with their bad breath" and wave "bony fingers" in their faces. "I'm telling you," he says once more, "I love it."

After several weeks of polite sparring, the mayor's race took its first ill-tempered tack during the debate hosted by the Downtown Bay Forum last month. Suarez began the affair with a rambling and alliterative opening statement, derisively summarizing his opponents' records as "Ferre's follies, Penelas's pandering, and Teele's temper."

Penelas opened up on Ferre by saying that what the mayor's office needs is "a leader of the future, not a leader of the past." But Penelas saved his best attack for Suarez, who had earlier in the debate criticized Penelas for being tied to special-interest groups and lobbyists. Penelas called Suarez a hypocrite and noted that the former Miami mayor was himself a lobbyist. Adding to his barrage, Penelas read a letter from Miami Beach Mayor Seymour Gelber to Suarez complaining about Suarez's conduct as a lobbyist. "'This is to advise you that you are no longer welcome in this office,'" Penelas read from Gelber's letter, as Suarez stood by dumbfounded.

"The gloves are off," said one Penelas advisor after the debate. When Penelas was asked about his new aggressive stance, he pointed to a black three-ring binder one of his aides carried and explained that it contained damaging information about all of his opponents. If in the future they choose to attack him, he promised, he will gladly respond in kind.

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