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That ambivalence is apparent today. "I've been surprised his campaign hasn't been more effective," says Warren, who has been at FIU since 1980. "There is something curious about his persona. He is seen as someone who is supposed to be bright, and having graduated from Harvard you would think he should have all these ideas, but he doesn't seem interested in coming up with them or in articulating them in a thoughtful way."
Instead, in political forum after political forum, Suarez harangues his opponents, citing a litany of commission boondoggles: an ineffective sound barrier at the airport, a tracking system for Metro buses that doesn't work, trees that mysteriously shrink. He declares that if he had been on the commission, he would have prevented all of these mistakes. Suarez's negativism, of course, has the enviable benefit of hindsight. More significant, however, is his inability to say what he is for.
"He's trying to seize on discontent, but by itself voter discontent is rarely enough," observes Warren. It is also difficult for Suarez to run effectively as a political outsider as he was mayor of Dade's largest city for eight years. And he is having trouble running as an accomplished technocrat because his opponents consistently are able to tar him with the arena debacle. (It was under Suarez's smaller-is-better brand of government that the construction budget for the Miami Arena was slashed, thereby rendering it obsolete just eight years after it opened.)
"I'm a micro-manager," Suarez said recently during a candidates debate, "and I'm proud to be a micro-manager." He has promised that if he is elected mayor, he will never conduct a national search to fill a county position. And he has railed against the high salaries of county staff, particularly members of the county attorney's office, who he said could be replaced by far less expensive recent law school graduates.
Suarez's Perot-like oversimplification of government has a folksy appeal that is unrealistic in practice. His own campaign is proof. Eschewing the help of political consultants, Suarez supervises every aspect of the effort, and until recently balked at raising or spending a significant amount of money. The result: He was dead last in the Herald's most recent poll.
The same year Suarez left the mayor's office, Ferre mounted a comeback from political oblivion and won a seat on the newly expanded county commission where, once again, he has basked in the role of visionary. Now he's given up that to run for county mayor.
Ironically, despite Suarez's and Ferre's differences, they both draw the same type of voter, notes Dario Moreno, another political science professor at FIU. "They both appeal to middle-class-and-higher Anglos and Latins," he says. "Neither of them are populists. Ferre is a patrician, a Latin aristocrat. Suarez went to Harvard and is the son of a college professor." Moreno warns that both Ferre and Suarez could be in serious trouble on election day, because not only could they split this vote, but it is also the segment of the population most likely to stay home and not vote at all.
Although nearly a decade has passed, the rhetorical jabs between Suarez and Ferre remain the same. Suarez attacks Ferre for living in the future. Ferre belittles Suarez for being a mindless technocrat. Even most of the players remain the same. "Can you believe it?" Moreno laughs. "Even Joe Carollo is back.