Will He Stay or Will He Go?

Manny Diaz succeeds so well in the city that he may get drafted for the county mayor's race

Moreno, who also works for Campaign Data as a part-time consultant, believes the people who want Diaz to run, namely lobbyists like Chris Korge, Rodney Barreto, and Brian May -- who have ties to current county Mayor Penelas -- are not thrilled with the current slate of mayoral candidates: county Commissioner Jimmy Morales; school board member Marta Perez; former county Commissioner Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. (Another name that's gaining steam is Dexter Lehtinen, the former U.S. Attorney and husband of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.) But for the record, Korge et al. have not come out as publicly supporting anyone.

"In his own quiet and deliberate way, Manny has moved the city forward," Moreno says. "He's made the city important again. Part of the reason is that he's a normal businessman, and not Carollo or Suarez."

Diaz has already shown that he can raise gobs of campaign money. In 2001 he generated a little over one million dollars. Just about everyone with political juice supported him, donating thousands of dollars personally and through their corporate entities. For instance, real estate developer R. Donahue Peebles gave $6000. Architect and Grand Prix Americas goddaddy Willy Bermello kicked in $4500. Anthony Mijares, a residential builder, donated $5000, and commercial developer Alan Potamkin popped for $3000. "No one has the appeal that Manny has right now," Moreno says. Hill adds that the poll shows Diaz would be the front-runner among all three Miami ethnic groups. "I've never seen that before," he says.

Bill Cooke
Mayor Manny Diaz has avoided serious scrutiny during his first eighteen months in office
Steve Satterwhite
Mayor Manny Diaz has avoided serious scrutiny during his first eighteen months in office

Still Diaz and his inner circle, including Winton and Lorenzo, insist Diaz is more likely to stay put than run. The allure of the county mayor's race lies in becoming the leader of a local government with a $5.5 billion budget serving more than two million people. Moreover, the county mayor has power over vital economic engines such as Miami International Airport and the Port of Miami. The downside is the cauldron of Miami-Dade politics. Despite the real and perceived reforms that have taken place at county hall, M-D government remains a Southern poster child for public-corruption scandals and government waste and mismanagement. Then there's the fact that the current county commission stripped away much of the county mayor's power during the last general election. The mayor can no longer appoint the commission chair or appoint commissioners to serve on committees. As a result, the mayor can't set the commission agenda as Penelas did prior to the 2002 elections. And Diaz would have to deal with the personalities of thirteen commissioners, as opposed to the mere five in the city. So there is no guarantee that Diaz, even if he won, could duplicate the harmony he's established in Miami. Yet he does have an ace in commission Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler, a long-time friend and confidante.

Winton says he and Diaz have debated his entering the county mayor's race. "I don't believe he's going to run," Winton says. "But he doesn't put a silence to all the rumblings."

Lorenzo says he's certainly not pushing Diaz. "I don't think I can objectively tell Manny to stay or go," he says. "Both jobs have their pros and cons. I think he has a lot going for him in the city. He's getting the job done. The county is a whole different ball game." Still, Lorenzo grinningly admits, he's been holding out on doing campaign work for other candidates. "I haven't made a commitment yet."

Diaz's failure to declare so far only stokes the rumor mill. But he truly doesn't seem to know which way to jump, to get to what political friends and less-than-friends alike project as his ultimate goals: governor, or maybe even U.S. senator. "I don't want to be called a liar, so I am not going to say never," Diaz says. "But my inclination is to stay where I am."

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