Democratic Mayor or Republican Mayor?

The county mayor's race is nonpartisan -- on the surface

But with passions rising across the red-and-blue chasm, can Cancela really be all things to all people? Bendixen hands off the phone to Cancela himself, conveniently in his office to talk strategy. "This community is divided enough," Cancela insists. "We don't need to bring partisan politics into the fray."

Back at the Morales campaign headquarters, those are fighting words. "We are going to partisan this race," Newton promises with a discernible touch of spite. "Cancela's insistence on not choosing a side in the presidential election is horrible. Democrats are not going to understand why you go to Democratic clubs, why you stand with Carrie Meek and throw around your Democratic Party registration card, and then you go write a check to the president."

Jimmy Morales (left) and his campaign manager, Derek Newton
Jonathan Postal
Jimmy Morales (left) and his campaign manager, Derek Newton

For Miami's political junkies, divining the Herald's election endorsements is a complex science worthy of vintage Kremlinology. Depending on your personal spin, the paper is either a shameless apologist for el exilio or deeply biased against any Cuban American who would dare challenge the Anglo power elite. Long before the drama of Elian, as far back as 1985's mayoral victory of Xavier Suarez over Raul Masvidal, the Herald's political editor, Tom Fiedler (now its executive editor), wrote that "the rumor going around Little Havana is that the Herald really preferred Suarez the best and only used Masvidal as a feint. Follow this reasoning, now: Because the newspaper knows that its endorsement actually hurts candidates in Little Havana, it endorsed Masvidal with the knowledge that Suarez would be the beneficiary of a backlash.... Clever, huh?"

Conspiracy buffs got a fresh burst of inspiration when the Herald's editorial board sent detailed questionnaires to each of the county mayoral candidates, called in the field for a personal meeting, and then placed the candidates' questionnaire answers on the paper's Website on Sunday, July 25. The kicker? The questionnaires were inadvertently posted with one editorial board member's pithy comments handwritten in the margins.

According to José Cancela, those scrawls belonged not to just any board member but to the editor of the Herald's editorial page, Joe Oglesby. (During his meeting with the editorial board, Cancela witnessed Oglesby writing his thoughts on the questionnaires.) Accidental or not, posting Oglesby's notes, Cancela says, "was very inappropriate. They're going to be making an [endorsement] decision pretty soon. Those comments are out of line." Following a perplexed call from Cancela's campaign, scrubbed versions of the questionnaires were online by the next morning.

For the curious, Oglesby was impressed by Cancela's call to remove from the county commission the ability to award contracts. "Will ruffle feathers," he wrote alongside that idea. He was less moved by Cancela's proposal to secure higher pay for teachers and implement the state constitutional amendment calling for smaller class sizes: "How pay for this?"

Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's string of endorsements from Hispanic pols was met with "Any outreach to other groups?" And his glib call to "remove lobbyists from the equation" drew a big circle and a "How?" Carlos Alvarez also drew skepticism with his vague pledge to "restore faith in county government." That got a "details please." Alvarez no doubt has other issues on his mind, such as buying a caller-ID machine. Like his fellow mayoral candidates, the former Miami-Dade police chief's home address and private phone numbers were also posted online, serving up some tempting crank-call fodder.

If the raw number of written remarks is any indication, Oglesby seemed most taken with Maurice Ferré, starring and highlighting several of his passages on civic policy. (Neither Jimmy Morales nor fringe candidates D.C. Blue and Dave Slater received a single comment.) The questionnaire asked Ferré for his "special skills." He answered by touting his record as "president of a construction material company from 1963 to 1978, taking it public to the American Stock Exchange and turning it from losses to profits, with sales of over $100 million per year and almost 2000 employees." That achievement garnered an "impressive" from Oglesby.

Yet Ferré left out the punch line: In 1976 he drove his family's construction company, Maule Industries, into bankruptcy, throwing its workers onto the unemployment line and leaving behind millions in debt. Then serving as mayor of Miami, Ferré also claimed to be broke himself. His unpaid creditors spent the next decade scratching their heads over his still-comfortable lifestyle, a mystery finally solved in 1989 when a Miami court found that Ferré had hidden $1.4 million in "consulting fees" in a bank account under his wife's name. He was ordered to hand over the entire sum.

Perhaps Oglesby, a Herald reporter in 1976, was merely being sarcastic with his comment. Indeed plenty of snarky words come to mind in describing Ferré's business maneuvers. But the only thing "impressive" is the degree of chutzpah required of such an individual in seeking a return to public office.

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