"I'm not telling you that Suarez is through," Phil Hamersmith concedes. "I won't tell you that he can't be charming. And I'm not telling you that Carollo isn't going to have to fight."
Suarez's most enthusiastic fundraiser from the November election, Sergio Pino, promises to back him if another election is called. "Of course!" declares the developer and former president of the Latin Builders Association. "I support Xavier and I support his agenda. I really think that if the Miami Herald left him alone, he'd be doing a great job."
In the odd universe of Miami politics, those Herald attacks that Pino bemoans may actually help Suarez come election time. "I think the Herald is doing its job," says Hernandez, no stranger to journalistic criticism. "By going after him, I think they've hurt him in the Anglo and black communities, but everyone knows [those communities] don't go out and vote. Fortunately for him, the Cuban community sees him as a victim. And that's who will vote.
"If you've been around here long enough, you know that nobody gives a flying fuck if you ran a clean campaign," Hernandez continues. "Nobody gives a shit if you were involved in absentee ballot fraud or what have you. The bottom line is that you won. People don't care about all this bullshit talk about ballot fraud. The bottom line is Joe has disappeared from the planet. Suarez is cleaning up the streets; he's busy meeting people while the other guy's in a bunker."
But some observers say that's exactly where Carollo should be. With Suarez on the front page every other day, Commissioner J.L. Plummer explains, it's smart for Carollo to remain out of sight. "Carollo's handling this perfectly," Plummer says. "He's doing exactly the right thing. He's lying low, concentrating on the trial. What does he need to stick his neck out for? If it came down to an election between Suarez and Carollo, I'd guess that Carollo walks in without a campaign."
Plummer stresses that his handicapping is nonpartisan. It's just that after nearly 28 years in office, serving under mayors Ferre, Suarez, and Carollo, he's developed a feel for the city's electorate.
In fact, those paying close attention at a commission meeting earlier this month might have heard Plummer commit a revealing Freudian slip. With the clock ticking toward lunch, Plummer attempted to tack one last item onto the morning agenda. From his seat on the far edge of the dais, he called for the attention of commission chairman Hernandez, who sits to Plummer's right. "With your permission, Mr. Mayor ..."
Hernandez pricked up his ears. "Um, that's chairman," Hernandez corrected quickly. "You said mayor."
Catching his flub, Plummer laughed hard enough to bounce in his padded leather chair. "Oh, it's just a matter of time," he cracked. "February's only a few weeks away.