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

Assistant County Manager Bill Johnson called it "too many loose ends" in a recent Miami Herald article that reported the county nixed a $15 million loan to ABDA. The county's director of the Office of Community Economic Development, Tony Crapp, told the Herald in 1999 that "highly irregular actions" in ABDA's contracting process prompted him to withhold a $489,000 loan for the nonprofit's Ralph Plaza One townhouse project at the corner of NW 38th Street and Seventeenth Avenue. ABDA has now received the money, but the housing project remains uncompleted.

More devil-speak from Ros about Gonzalez: "Remember that gentleman Obregon and the $800,000 Humberto Hernandez got and all of that? These are the same people."

The gentleman is Hector Obregon, who was sentenced to a year and a half in prison in 1999 for bribing Hernandez, who was a city commissioner at the time. (Obregon also received a one-year sentence and a $1000 fine for his role in the voter-fraud case.) ABDA, while Angel Gonzalez was deputy director, contracted with Obregon for the Ralph Plaza One project under a city-administered $1.1 million federal grant. But in January 1999, Miami City Manager Donald Warshaw cut off funding after several workers complained they were not being paid. An investigation of the project by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found "obvious flaws" in ABDA's system for ensuring public monies were properly spent. (ABDA has received about $3.3 million from the City of Miami since 1995.)

Ros also had the gall to suggest that perhaps Gonzalez and his supporters were demonizing her. "These people are making like we're doing a horrible campaign against the wife and the kid, and if you listen to my ad, it's not true!" Ros said, referring to her radio spot in which a male announcer boasts of her endorsements by Jeb Bush, Florida GOP chief Al Cardenas, and other Republican Party leaders. One of Gonzalez's radio ads featured his daughter Elizabeth saying she had been subjected to "terrible comments at school" because of defamatory attacks on her father. (She is an education major at Florida International University.)

Ros was gone by the time Gonzalez pulled his ruby-red Mercury Grand Marquis into the Residential Plaza parking lot late in the afternoon on election day. His entourage included his wife, Maria Elena; Fernando Casanova, a 71-year-old marketing specialist at the Miami-Dade Transit Authority; and Rolando Gaston, a garbage man with the city's solid-waste department. They mingled with poll workers and other supporters, posed for photos, and Gonzalez outlined his priorities: "We are missing a lot of sidewalks. Most of the streets are terrible. We have a lot of illegal dumping. We have many, many areas where lighting is not appropriate on the streets."

He said Warshaw's decision to halt funding of Ralph Plaza was the result of a "political vendetta" by Joe Carollo. "Carollo stopped the project," Gonzalez charged, "because I supported Xavier Suarez back in 1997."

Already smelling victory (he would end up with 4682 votes to Ros's 3664), Gonzalez showed no remorse about his electoral-fraud conviction. "There was no ballot fraud," he proclaimed defiantly. "What we were accused of was witnessing some absentee ballots. I witnessed 87 ballots. Out of the 87, four very old ladies claimed that they could not remember me signing as a witness." Unrepentant, he said he would have pleaded innocent but he didn't have the $20,000 it would have cost to mount a legal defense.

The new commissioner also has vowed to remain executive director of ABDA despite a finding by the Florida Commission on Ethics that to do so would be unethical and could lead to violations of state law. "The bottom line of the opinion was that there would be a prohibitive conflict of interest were he to serve on the city commission and were the city to enter into new contracts with the Allapattah Business Development Authority," explained Philip C. Claypool, the commission's general counsel and deputy executive director. "It appeared that his employment [by ABDA] would be either directly or indirectly compensated as a result of the contracts with the city." Gonzalez can avoid a conflict, Claypool noted, if ABDA does not seek city money while he is commissioner. If it does, Gonzalez could be penalized with fines up to $10,000 and removed from office by the governor.

Among the local officials who dropped by to congratulate Gonzalez on election night were City Manager Carlos Gimenez, the commission's sergeant at arms Pedro Pidermann, Commissioner Joe Sanchez, and outgoing District 1 Commissioner Willy Gort. Also in attendance was Republican state Rep. Manny Prieguez, who had campaigned for Gonzalez. State Rep. Gus Barreiro and Commissioner Tomas Regalado, who had made radio talk-show appearances for him, were there in spirit. After celebrating for a couple of hours, Gonzalez drove over to Radio Mambí (WAQI-AM 710), where he denounced the Democratic and Republican parties for "doing nothing" to support the exile cause of a Castro-free Cuba. "There's no bigger terrorist in the entire world than Fidel Castro," Gonzalez roared. "One day Fidel Castro is going to plant a bomb and blow us all up. And no one does anything." He repeated that he was the victim of the dirtiest campaign he had ever witnessed. "I'm very happy because I defeated my opponent," he crowed. "I defeated a certain group of frustrated people who have never been anything in their lives."

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