Cobo attempts to turn this UTD support into a liability for Pepper by drawing a sinister triangle that connects her to UTD and a health-insurance provider promoted by lobbyist Ric Sisser. During a candidates forum held at the Kendall Village Center on June 11, a man in the audience asked Pepper about that connection and fundraising for her campaign. "Yes, Ric Sisser is raising money for me," she snapped, blond topknot quivering briefly. "Ric Sisser raises money for nearly every significant politician in Dade County."
The question was legitimate if unwelcome. But it turned the juice in Pepper's veins from jalapeño to habanero because it was not the first such confrontational query to come from certain members of the audience during that two-hour session. Pepper believed she saw the clever hand of Frank Cobo at work. "I am very uncomfortable with this crowd," she grumbled. "There are some other hands up here who are not these planted people."
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
Frank Cobo (top) and Jacqueline Pepper (bottom) may be the declared candidates, but the phantom candidate is the school district itself
Expect more tough questions before June 26 from a public that is fully awake and paying attention to the school board for the first time in years. The election will do more than settle the issue of District 7 representation; it also will serve as a civics lesson to other members of the board already looking ahead to races in 2002. Jackie Pepper has the misfortune of being forced to run so soon after a rash of scandals, and as a result she may pay for problems she did little to create. But if fundamental changes are not made in the way the school district manages its affairs, new scandals most certainly will emerge, and more board members will feel the sting of public rebuke.
How the candidates see the issues:
1. Would you vote to fire Cuevas? Pepper says no. Cobo says no, he wants to evaluate him first.
2. Do you think the board should conduct public evaluations of the superintendent and board attorney? Pepper says yes, if the rules are changed to allow it. Cobo says yes.
3. Do you think deputy superintendent Henry Fraind should be fired? Pepper says no, because board members can't fire staff. Cobo says yes, he will ask Cuevas to fire Fraind.
4. Do you think the school district needs an inspector general? An ethics commission? Pepper says yes to both. Cobo says yes to both.
5. Would you vote to name a school after a sitting board member? Pepper says probably not. Cobo says absolutely not.
6. Do you think state oversight of the school district's finances is warranted? Pepper says yes, but it shouldn't be seen as a threat. Cobo says yes, it worked for the City of Miami.
7. Would you vote to require lobbyists to disclose their fees? Pepper says yes. Cobo says maybe.
8. What is the single greatest problem facing the school district? Pepper says overcrowded classrooms. Cobo says overcrowded classrooms and the teacher shortage.