Say Hello to Your New Commissioner

Miami voters weren't going to let conflicts of interest or a two-bit felony conviction stop them from electing Angel Gonzalez

"Lord, thank you for Angel. Thank you for this family that stood beside him every moment and suffered so much, Lord. The will of God has manifested itself in the face of so many immoral things that have occurred. Let us say blessed is the Lord." Thus spoke Rev. Guillermo Revuelta, an evangelical Presbyterian minister and director of the anti-Castro group Municipalities in Exile. By his side was Angel Gonzalez, who less than an hour earlier had learned that a majority of voters in Allapattah and a swath of Miami north of Little Havana had elected him the new District 1 commissioner for the City of Miami.

"Amen!" shouted many in the flock of about 50 friends and supporters who stood in a circle under a tent at the city-owned Melreese Golf Course just east of Miami International Airport.

"We ask you humbly, Lord, that you bless all of those who are here and help them. And that these years in which they are going to govern might be blessed years so that your glory may manifest itself in the City of Miami through our brother Angel Gonzalez."

"Amen!" the crowd yelled and erupted in cheers and applause.

Gonzalez, who refers to Revuelta as one of his "spiritual guides," lifted his bowed head. A crucifix and American flag were pinned to the lapel of his blue blazer. The intense 57-year-old spoke into the microphone with a raspy voice, worn out from the election battle. "This has been a very, very difficult campaign," he began. "We have suffered enormously, my family as much as myself. I am a Christian man and first and foremost a man of the Lord in all of my things. I have no rancor or hate, but I will never be able to forget the evil damage to my daughters and my wife that this woman has brought upon my family." (Everyone knew he was referring to his defeated opponent, Liliana Ros.) "I will put it into the hands of our Lord, and I know that our Lord Jesus Christ will exact justice for me and will correct all this evil that has been done to my family."

Gonzalez then called on everyone to pray for the salvation of another wicked opponent, radio commentator Alberto Milian, who had the temerity to declare on WWFE-AM (670) that a 1999 felony voter-fraud conviction made him unfit to hold public office. But Gonzalez doubted the Lord Jesus Christ would forgive such a "vile and despicable" man. (Radio station owner Jorge Rodriguez sure didn't; he sold Milian's airtime to Gonzalez during the campaign and then permanently canceled Milian's show.)

His was a triumph for the "decent people" of District 1, Gonzalez continued, and "a victory that sent a resounding “No' to campaigns filled with mud and dirty personal attacks."

What in God's name had Liliana Ros done to warrant eternal damnation? Maybe, like Milian, it was her remarks about Gonzalez's deep involvement in the election fraud that eventually led to the removal of Xavier Suarez as Miami mayor. That sordid affair made headlines nationwide and heaped embarrassment upon Miami. "I know that according to the Miami Herald, he signed an absentee ballot for a guy who lives in Tampa. If you want to run city government, you ought to know that that's illegal," Ros scoffed earlier in the day in the parking lot of Residential Plaza, a high-rise home to scores of low-income senior citizens. The 59-year-old Republican activist, in a smart black pantsuit with white pinstripes, was greeting people as they arrived at the complex to vote.

Though Gonzalez didn't single them out, there were others besides Ros and Milian who felt strongly about his tampering with the democratic process. "The voter-fraud scandal arising out of the 1997 Miami mayoral election was a shameful episode in the city's history," said Joe Centorino, head of the public corruption unit at the State Attorney's Office. "Anyone connected with that episode bears some responsibility for the outcome." Centorino added he was barred from commenting specifically about Gonzalez's case because the new commissioner had secured a court order sealing his file and expunging his record.

"I'm very disappointed that someone who has been tainted by voter fraud has used the system in his favor and been elected to office," sighed Hugh Cochran, a private investigator and political consultant who spent three months leading a comprehensive probe of the 1997 election. "Gonzalez is very well-versed in using the demagoguery required to get votes from Spanish-language radio." (A former FBI special agent, Cochran is president of Campaign Data, Inc., and worked as a pollster for Manny Diaz's successful mayoral bid.)

Ros had other hellish things to utter. For example she had the nerve to question the integrity of the Allapattah Business Development Authority (ABDA), a nonprofit organization whose record of financial mismanagement prompted city and county officials to cut off funding. Angel Gonzalez is ABDA's executive director. "I don't think it operates at all," Ros sniped. "They got a lot of money and don't have anything to show for it. In Cuba we call it a botella. I don't know what you call it in English."

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