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Both Suarez and Carollo have much to fear from an open election. After weeks of the two of them slinging mud at each other -- debating, really, which one of them is crazier -- a third candidate could enter the fray with a notable advantage.
"People are still against Carollo, and Suarez has not made too many friends in the 50, 60 days he's been in office," Humberto Hernandez reasons. "I think if a third candidate came in, he'd be a viable option."
Hernandez's name is often mentioned. Like Raul Martinez in Hialeah, Hernandez remains popular in his district despite a litany of legal troubles. He returned to the city commission in November after a five-month absence begun after federal authorities indicted him on 23 felony charges of bank fraud and money laundering. What's more, Hernandez has run for office so regularly he would probably have little trouble reassembling his campaign machinery. And he has never disguised his desire to sit in Suarez's seat.
But Hernandez insists he won't toss his hat in the ring right now, despite his ambitions. "The timing is wrong with me," he says. "I've got to get rid of this other mess first."
Callers to Tomas Regalado's program on Spanish-language radio station WCMQ-AM (1210) say it all the time: If there is another election, Regalado should run for mayor. The commissioner swears he doesn't plant these calls, but he does recognize that if an open election is held, he'd be well positioned as a candidate. With all of Suarez's mistakes, and with Carollo's controversial reputation, he could step in as a paragon of level-headedness. Will he listen to his callers? Will he run?
"No, I don't think so," he replies. "I don't think it's fair to the people of Miami to come out and probably do another sort of negative campaign, because that's what it would take. I'd have to say that, you know, you got a choice between me and two other people who in their time as mayor did things that are not normal, you know? It wouldn't be fair.
"Would I like to someday be mayor?" he asks himself. "Yeah, sure. But not this time."
In just a few months at city hall, former county commission chairman Art Teele has distinguished himself as the Miami commission's most active player. "I think he's trying to make as much movement as he can," says Hernandez, "because he wants to run for Congress, for Carrie Meek's seat." Teele knows that as a black man in largely Hispanic Miami, he has little chance of winning a mayoral election, but he is busy sounding out possible third candidates.
One exchange reportedly took place at Joe's Stone Crab restaurant, which Teele visited after the Orange Bowl parade. Running into Victor De Yurre, who was leaving the restaurant, Teele asked the former commissioner if he was interested in returning to Dinner Key, perhaps as mayor. De Yurre, who lost his commission seat to Carollo, politely demurred. Teele and De Yurre both declined comment for this article.
The name receiving the most play, though, is Maurice Ferre. "A lot of people have approached me," the former Miami mayor and county commissioner acknowledges. "I've had a lot of people call me in the last month. Some are asking if I plan to run. Some are encouraging me to run." He pauses to chuckle quietly. "Some of my best friends are encouraging me not to run. They're all saying, 'Don't let yourself get sucked in.'"
Despite the advice, Ferre is not ruling himself out as a candidate. He has infamous histories with both Suarez, who defeated him in a mayoral election in 1985, and Carollo, who has ambushed him politically (most famously when Ferre called a press conference in 1983 to announce that his mayoral campaign had received Carollo's endorsement. As the television cameras rolled and the blood drained from Ferre's face, Carollo withdrew his support and denounced Ferre for running what he called a "racist campaign of hate.") Moreover, he says he's terrified that a full four-year term for Suarez could undo the accomplishments of his own twelve years at Dinner Key, which began in 1973.
"I will see how things develop," he says. "I think it's just bad style to even think about it or discuss [running] until after the judge makes a decision. We'll see. My opinion is that the judge will follow the Hialeah precedent [and limit an election to Suarez and Carollo]. If he does that, why should I antagonize anybody?"
Hernandez recognizes Ferre as a strong contender should Judge Wilson open the election. "He lives in the city," Hernandez notes. "He falls under the residency requirements. He'd be a very interesting candidate. He'd probably be able to move quickly enough to muster enough money to run. If Ferre comes in, I think this election is up for grabs."
If the election is not open and there is simply a runoff between Suarez and Carollo, Suarez still has a good chance of winning -- despite a stain of absentee ballot fraud discoloring his political resume. Raul Martinez came back to defeat Juri in Hialeah. Hernandez came back to reclaim his Miami commission seat after Gov. Lawton Chiles kicked him out of office. Suarez is clearly banking on his core support in the Hispanic community, a faction that sees the embattled mayor as a victim of his political enemies and the inimical Miami Herald.