Lehtinen for Mayor

Unless Manny Diaz tops him, Dexter is the hottest candidate for the 2004 county race

Lehtinen made a lifelong enemy of Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez when his office revived a corruption probe that ended with Martinez's conviction for extorting bribes from developers. The conviction was later overturned on appeal, but Martinez believes Lehtinen's office came after him to keep him from running for the congressional seat eventually won by Lehtinen's wife. So if Lehtinen does run for mayor, expect ugly things behind the scenes from both politically connected camps. Especially if the main matchup turns out to be Lehtinen vs. Diaz de la Portilla, scion of another heavy political family. That could prompt cronies of Alex Penelas to throw their support to Lehtinen, and Martinez's to Diaz de la Portilla, since the mutual hatred between Penelas and Martinez is infamous. It would be ugly, vicious, and wildly entertaining.

Probably Lehtinen's most enduring imprint on South Florida courts is the landmark Everglades cleanup suit he launched -- and that he continues to try to enforce through his legal representation of the Miccosukees. He's currently enmeshed in a tribal challenge to prevent the state of Florida from undercutting the Everglades restoration plan by delaying the cleanup of polluted water flowing into the Glades.

The key to a successful campaign will be whether Lehtinen can patch together enough votes from the fractured, often-warring constituencies that make up the county. Can this law-and-order Republican with the Cuban-American populist wife and a Native American clientele do it? It all depends, says Moreno. If Lehtinen were the only Anglo in a field of Hispanics, he'd stand out. And if Ileana were willing to pull out all the radio and TV station stops and other traditional campaign moves with her husband, her great clout might very well rub off on him. "What would hurt him is if he cannot translate his wife's popularity into support," Moreno cautions. "And if Katy Sorenson jumped in."

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's husband Dexter, a Vietnam War vet and former U.S. Attorney, would bring some excitement to next year's county mayor race
Steve Satterwhite
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's husband Dexter, a Vietnam War vet and former U.S. Attorney, would bring some excitement to next year's county mayor race

Also the Lehtinens are rusty when it comes to the kind of operation it takes to win a tough race in Miami. Ileana's last serious opponent was in her first congressional race in 1989. And Dexter hasn't kissed any babies since 1986. Meanwhile the other candidates have been in perpetual campaign mode for years. Still if there's one thing Lehtinen has, it's moxie. "I think he's a sharp, capable guy," says former city mayor Maurice Ferre. "I don't think he's through with public service."

A former prosecutor in Lehtinen's office recalls a quotation the old Army Ranger tacked up for the edification of his civilian troops: "On the plains of hesitation lie the blackened bones of countless millions who at the dawn of victory lay down to rest, and in resting died." "That's [Dexter]," he sums up.

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