By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
He argues that all he wants is a chance to sell his plan to the voters. "If [the commissioners] are so sure that I am wrong, put it on the ballot [themselves]," he urges. "Embarrass the upstart from Tallahassee, but they won't do it. I think they are afraid of the electorate."
In addition to Moss, Commissioner Katy Sorenson is a fierce critic of the plan. Sorenson fears it would politicize the system to remove the role of an apolitical, professional manager. "If one commissioner is out of favor with the mayor, and the department heads know this, the citizens might not get services," she worries.
The Diaz de la Portillas cast Lacasa's changes as a Trojan horse for Penelas, who must step down in three years owing to term limits. They point to Lacasa's relationship with the mayor and speculate that under a new government, Penelas could skirt his term limits and run again. "I suppose Penelas could argue that it is a whole new position," admits Lacasa. "It's not my intention."
A chorus of fellow legislators at the Fairchild meeting, from Democratic state Sen. Daryl Jones to Republican state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, defended Lacasa's vision, drowning out the commissioners' protests. Without minimizing the desire of his colleagues to stay on the chairman's good side, many genuinely believe the county has outgrown its charter and the commission is incapable of fixing it.
As they went around the room, fellow legislators backed Lacasa's changes as a solution to a variety of problems. Senator Jones pointed out that $6000 per year as a salary for a county commissioner creates a bad environment that could encourage corruption. Several others voiced doubts that the commission would ever have the political will to increase its salary since voters had defeated it on several occasions. Sen. Ron Silver voiced his hope that Lacasa's changes would speed incorporation, which his constituents want.
Still, despite their support, none of them would have been as audacious as Lacasa in fighting for the changes or as confident that his proposals are an inevitability. "I just dove in," Lacasa declares matter-of-factly. "If I get it on the ballot and it doesn't pass, I will still have won, because eventually we are going to get there."
Those unaware of the feud between Lacasa and the Diaz de la Portillas learned about it in the media the day after the November 2000 election. At about 1:30 a.m., as results were still being tallied, Lacasa's father, Armando, went on Radio Mambí (WAQI-AM 710). His son had just squeaked to victory against Ana Alliegro, Alex D's girlfriend. (Alex ran her campaign and more recently the one Alliegro just lost to Lacasa favorite Rebeca Sosa in a special election for Pedro Reboredo's vacated commission seat.)
During the race the Diaz de la Portillas made an issue of Armando Lacasa's brief but controversial tenure as a City of Miami commissioner from 1979 to 1981. Appointed to the seat, Lacasa quadrupled his net worth, according to the Miami Herald,in his first seventeen months in office. In 1981 he lost an election to Demetrio Perez, Jr., after a series of scandals. Now Lacasa returned the favor, attacking Miguel Diaz, the father of state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and state Rep. Renier Diaz de la Portilla. (Unlike the elder Lacasa, Diaz had never run for elected office himself.)
Renier Diaz de la Portilla was listening in his car as he drove home from watching the election results with his brothers at a local union hall. He became so incensed he sped to the station to demand equal time to defend his dad.
When the then-29-year-old Renier banged on the glass of Mambí's building, radio host Marta Flores panicked. According to a Herald account, Flores exclaimed on the air: "Hail Mary, Mother of God, the Diaz de la Portillas are out there! They want to beat up Armando Lacasa!"
Carlos Lacasa and his brother, already tuned to their father on the soundtrack of political Cuban Miami, quickly rushed to Mambí themselves to confront Renier Diaz de la Portilla. A hysterical Flores shouted, "Somebody call the police!"
The resulting phone barrage temporarily crashed the 911 system.
Both combatants claim the other threw the first punch, but it was Lacasa who ended up on his back with a bloody nose. He says Renier charged him. While each side claims the other was drunk, only Lacasa waited around for police to arrive.
A feud that had simmered for years dramatically burst open, finding its natural level of discourse in the process. According to several in the Miami-Dade delegation in Tallahassee, the intense hatred both sides share is more about personality than anything of substance. For the Diaz de la Portillas, who relish their role as an "underdog opposition," Armando and Carlos Lacasa are caricatures, corrupt mandarins who are the embodiment of all that is bad about Miami-Dade politics. They point to the father and son's business ventures, particularly those that involve public assets such as an airport baggage concession and management contracts for city-owned marinas on Virginia and Dinner keys.
"[Carlos Lacasa] has a pattern of using public resources for private gain," insists Alex Diaz de la Portilla. "He doesn't understand that we are custodians of the government, we don't own it."