Prestige Politics

Kaplan has several things going for her. She is a woman, and women tend not only to vote more than men in Dade County but to also vote for other women. She is Jewish and is expected to appeal to Jewish voters in Miami Beach. She has strong name recognition because of her husband. She is also likely to attract support from some of the groups that have been extremely loyal to her husband, including the gay community and the county's largest police union.

Helping to run her campaign are two of Barreiro's fellow legislators, state representatives Luis Rojas and Alex Diaz de la Portilla. "I think she can win," says Rojas, who has been a legislator since 1988. "She is really a sharp woman. She is articulate; she is tough and independent-minded. If there was ever a debate between the two of them, she would kill him."

Rojas and Diaz de la Portilla recently opened their own political consulting firm, Winning Strategies, and the Kaplan campaign will be their first foray into local elections. "Bruno is a very, very, very nice person," says Rojas. "I want to stress that: He's a nice kid. But he does not have what it takes to survive on the county commission. He gets confused. He doesn't have the depth and the competence to be a commissioner."

Barreiro will fall under the influence of his more assertive colleagues, just as he has in Tallahassee, Rojas predicts. "He will be a guy that will be easy to -- what's the word you use when describing a pile of clay -- malleable," he says. "He'll be malleable."

Malleable, of course, is just a polite way of saying Barreiro can be easily manipulated, which may explain another reason that Rojas and Diaz de la Portilla have taken an interest in this election. If Barreiro is elected, he'll become easy prey for commissioners such as Natacha Millan and Miriam Alonso, and, most important, Mayor Penelas.

Alex Diaz de la Portilla's brother Miguel sits on the county commission and is both Penelas's chief rival and a likely contender to run against the mayor in two years. Opposing Barreiro is another way of trying to thwart Penelas from expanding his power base.

Rojas denies that Penelas was a factor in their decision to run Kaplan's campaign. They simply need the business, he argues. "We talked to other people who were thinking of entering the race," Rojas says. "We even talked to Bruno, and if Bruno had hired us, we would be working for him. But Janitza hired us instead."

Whether or not Rojas wants to admit it, framing this election around the notion that Barreiro will simply become a Penelas puppet is one way Kaplan can raise money quickly. She hopes to pull in between $75,000 and $100,000 during the two weeks before the election, but the only realistic way she can do that is to have Rojas and Diaz de la Portilla successfully tap into the pool of anti-Penelas money that in the past has flowed so generously to politicians like Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez.

Barreiro says he hopes to raise about $150,000. Members of the Latin Builders' Association have already taken out their checkbooks to help him, as have most of the county's other major lobbyists. Add to that Penelas's fundraising machine and Barreiro should have little problem hitting his target.

Given the geographic boundaries of county commission District 5, there are always two races to be fought. The district includes all of Miami Beach south of 71st Street, downtown Miami, a small portion of Overtown, and Little Havana as far west as 22nd Avenue. Candidates generally ignore Overtown and wage their battles in Miami Beach and Little Havana.

Barreiro will likely have the edge in Little Havana, while Kaplan will have an advantage in Miami Beach. Even though Barreiro's current House district includes a small portion of Miami Beach (from Lincoln Road south), he is largely unknown in mid-Beach, where Kaplan resides.

Barreiro is expected to use his war chest to launch an ambitious direct-mail campaign to introduce himself to Beach voters. Kaplan, on the other hand, will try to undermine Barreiro's mainland support by appearing on Spanish-language radio.

The Barreiro-Kaplan race may end up having more subplots than a Quentin Tarantino film. It has become a civil war of sorts, pitting as it does political brothers against one another. There was a time when the machine that is now pushing Barreiro -- Al Gutman, Kiki Berger, Armando Gutierrez -- was Kaplan's greatest source of strength. Now Kaplan's wife is running against them, and the displeasure is apparent.

On Monday, May 18, the day before candidates could officially begin signing up for the commission race, Bruno Barreiro, Jr., and Bruce Kaplan met at the home of Miami Beach Commissioner David Dermer. Also present were Gutierrez and Beach Commissioner Simón Cruz. "They tried to strong-arm me to keep Janitza from entering the race," Kaplan claims. "Armando told me they were going to trash me. They were clearly concerned about the impact Janitza could have on the election."

Gutierrez denies it. "It was just a meeting of old friends," he says wryly. "There were no threats. How can you believe Bruce Kaplan?"

In this race, how can you believe anyone?

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