An Army of One

No, Rosa Kasse isn't crazy to do battle with state Rep. Ralph Arza -- it just looks that way

Kasse notes, however, that Arza's contract ends February 28, just three days before the legislative session begins. To her the timing looks like tacit acknowledgement of a potential conflict: "I believe when you are an elected official, that's your priority every day of the year, not just during the session."

FIU, meanwhile, sent a letter inviting Arza to become a visiting lecturer beginning August 13, 2003, about a week before his official sabbatical at the school district began. College of Education Dean Linda Blanton was out of town at press time and couldn't be reached for comment. Her letter to Arza, however, describes his duties this way: "Provide guest lectures, advise and support the college's recruitment efforts, serve as a liaison with school district personnel and policy makers, and serve in an advisory role to the Dean and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs on matters related to teacher education curricula." Arza says his work at FIU has largely involved meeting with education faculty to share his experiences on the political side of the education equation.


Angry constituent and political novice Rosa Kasse 
takes aim at crafty and energetic state Rep. Ralph 
Arza
Jonathan Postal (left)
Angry constituent and political novice Rosa Kasse takes aim at crafty and energetic state Rep. Ralph Arza

In the cramped and frenetic offices of the Hispanic Coalition on Flagler Street, Kasse tries her best to run a modest campaign amid the barely contained chaos of a front-line social-service organization. Her dyed-blond hair is slightly mussed, and the gold polish on her nails a bit chipped. On the jacket of her green suit is a pin that announces her candidacy; a smaller gold pin on the lapel forms the word NICE. "I've been working with the people for fifteen years," she says. "I listen to their problems and seek solutions."

But it will take more than the common touch to upset the hegemony of the Cuban boys club that dominates the Miami-Dade legislative delegation. It will take money and relentless energy, both of which Arza has in abundance. "I like campaigning and I like campaigns," he practically grins into the phone from his Tallahassee office.

Arza had raised $147,883 as of December 31, the vast majority of it in the three months after Kasse entered the race. His list of campaign contributors is laden with construction companies, charter-school companies, health-insurance and food-service companies, among many others. Even old enemies give generously. For example, Demetrio Perez, Jr., against whom Arza lost a bid for the school board in 1996, has contributed at least $3000 through his various businesses, including the tabloid Libre and the Lincoln-Martí schools. In contrast Kasse had raised just $8500 by the end of the year, mostly from friends and family.

Like any aspiring politician, she dug out her book of contacts and began calling potential supporters. Because the Hispanic Coalition has always been involved in voter-registration drives, Kasse has come to know a lot of Miami's vote brokers over the years. Perhaps a bit naively, she thought her past efforts would mean something now. She tried old allies like former Miami Mayor and county Commissioner Maurice Ferré, former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence, even Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez. "At least [Martinez] didn't tell me to move out of Arza's district if I want to run for office," she recalls. "He said, 'I can't support you because [Arza's] family and my family come from the same city in Cuba and he's been helping us in Tallahassee.'"

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