Riding the Tiger

This flaw has become more apparent in the past few weeks. For example when Penelas enraged Anglos and blacks with his comments about violence and the president and attorney general, Diaz de la Portilla could have spent time meeting with people in those communities, introducing himself and lining up their support. Instead there he was standing in front of Elian's Miami home while Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan held their press conferences. That was the last place I wanted to see Diaz de la Portilla. And I wasn't the only one to notice.

If the mayor's race remains a contest between Diaz de la Portilla and Penelas, the question becomes this: Will Anglos and blacks vote for Diaz de la Portilla, or will they simply sit out the vote? And if they simply don't vote, can Diaz de la Portilla beat Penelas in a head-to-head contest among primarily Cuban voters, with Penelas outspending him by as much as 4-1?

Some argue that the violent raid on the Gonzalez home actually helps Penelas, because it shows he was correct in attacking Reno and the federal government for exacerbating tensions. Penelas hopes this will win back some of his support in the Anglo community, particularly after it was revealed that community leaders such as Tad Foote and Aaron Podhurst also felt betrayed by Reno.

Ron Silver (above), Katy Sorenson (below), and Maurice Ferre (bottom) are all well positioned to run for county mayor
Ron Silver (above), Katy Sorenson (below), and Maurice Ferre (bottom) are all well positioned to run for county mayor

But suppose for a minute that a third candidate enters the race, someone Anglos and blacks could rally around, someone who could also draw significant numbers of non-Cuban Hispanics, voters who would otherwise be turned off by a contest between a pair of Cuban Americans. Three names are being mentioned now as possibilities: former county Commissioner Maurice Ferre, current county Commissioner Katy Sorenson, and state Sen. Ron Silver. Each has strengths and weaknesses.

Silver, a Democrat, is facing term limits in Tallahassee. He is very popular among his constituents in North Miami-Dade and would likely energize Anglos and at least present an appealing option to blacks who might be inclined to sit out the race. He also could raise money quickly. His greatest strength, though, is his ability to run for mayor as an outsider, persuasively arguing that county hall is a mess and needs a fresh face. His principal drawback is that he is not well-known across the county, and it's unclear how much support he could win among non-Cuban Hispanics.

Heading into her sixth year on the county commission, Katy Sorenson has learned the ins and outs of county hall, and certainly is ready for prime time. Throughout her tenure her integrity and honesty have never been questioned. She is the moral and ethical heart of the commission, and the fact that she often is in the minority on votes only shows how far astray the rest of her colleagues wander. A number of groups have contacted Sorenson's office in recent weeks, begging her to run for mayor. (Sorenson didn't want to discuss it when I called her.) But sources say she is interested. Besides appealing to Anglos and blacks, Sorenson could also find advantage in the gender issue. As the only woman in the race, she could gain support from a significant percentage of women across all racial and ethnic lines.

A Sorenson candidacy has two major downsides. First, she would have trouble raising funds. To run a credible campaign against Penelas and his money machine, a candidate will need to raise between $600,000 and $750,000. That would be a tall order for Sorenson, whose honesty and independence don't endear her to wealthy special interests looking to buy influence. The second problem is that win or lose, Sorenson would have to resign from the county commission. With Diaz de la Portilla also leaving, Sorenson's withdrawal from the dais would seriously drain the already shallow pool of integrity that exists at county hall.

In 1980 Maurice Ferre ran for mayor of the City of Miami using the slogan, "A mayor for all Miami." The time may be right to dust off those old signs. Ferre probably is in the best position to run against Penelas and Diaz de la Portilla. He has strong name recognition throughout the county. He would appeal to both Anglos and blacks. But even more important, Ferre, who is Puerto Rican, would also attract non-Cuban Hispanics to his campaign. Finally, unlike Sorenson, he would have no problem raising the needed money.

The framework for a Ferre victory is fairly straightforward. While Diaz de la Portilla attacked Penelas on the right, Ferre would close off any move by the mayor to the left. Penelas would then become marginalized among a very narrow band of voters, which could be characterized as Cubans who aren't pissed off at him, blacks he can buy, and South Miami-Dade Anglos who favor his stand on turning Homestead Air Force Base into a reliever airport.

Diaz de la Portilla's base also is somewhat marginal, consisting primarily of Cubans who are pissed at Penelas.

That would leave a lot of votes open for Ferre. In this scenario he might be able to draw 60 percent of the Anglo vote, 80 percent of the black vote, and perhaps as much as 20 percent of the overall Hispanic vote.

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