MAYOR X

There are good reasons to vote August 31, but the county mayor's race isn't one of them. Here are five reasons why.

Benjamin Bishin, a political science professor at the University of Miami, is an astute observer of local politics. Here's what he says: "I think it's actually hard to develop an agenda for these races. You want to do it before the race starts, otherwise you risk being labeled a flip-flopper, or someone who doesn't believe in anything. At the same time, you don't really know what anyone thinks before the race starts, so you have to go off what you know about the community. That's why you see things like ethics and transportation and development. I mean, those are all sort of obvious issues here."

Kennedy, the political veteran, can tell you about issues. Obvious or obscure, they will not punch your ticket to county hall's 29th floor. "It's popularity, name recognition, campaign organization, and how much money you've got," he says. "Because it's a money game." - Kirk Nielsen

What will you do about global warming?Alvarez:

Jonathan Postal
Alex Penelas squandered the power of the “executive mayor” position, then voters decided to give most of it to the thirteen members of the county commission
Courtesy of Miami-Dade County
Alex Penelas squandered the power of the “executive mayor” position, then voters decided to give most of it to the thirteen members of the county commission

As a mayor of Dade County? Not much.

Cancela:

We're going to eliminate hairspray from all the supermarkets in Dade County.

Diaz de la Portilla:

Let me get back to you on that.

Ferré:

Support the Democratic Party and Al Gore's original policies, which have now been adopted in the Democratic Party platform.

Morales:

At the county I've been supportive of and we've moved forward on hybrid vehicles to reduce emissions.

4. They're All Financed by the Same Elite and Hire the Same Political OperativesRunning for mayor of Miami-Dade County is an expensive endeavor. According to Dario Moreno, director of Florida International University's Metropolitan Center, a county mayoral candidate must raise at least one million dollars to mount a successful campaign. "How do you reach an electorate with 950,000 registered voters?" Moreno asks rhetorically. "With large sums of money." Five viable candidates are now competing for the office, so it may come as no surprise to learn that this mayoral election is expected to be the most expensive in history. José Cancela alone has raised more than $1.4 million in campaign contributions -- and that's just for the August 31 primary.

Where does all this money come from? It does not come from corporations, which are prohibited by county law from making political contributions. And it does not come from vast numbers of people giving very small amounts. The political ambitions of Carlos Alvarez, José Cancela, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Maurice Ferré, and Jimmy Morales are being financed by the usual suspects: attorneys, business executives, developers, bankers, and a smattering of other white-collar professionals.

Mayoral candidates' campaign finance reports from 2003 to April 2004 show that at least 1000 attorneys are among the 8000-plus individuals who had donated $250, the maximum allowed under law for the primary. (They can contribute another $250 after the field has been narrowed to two candidates for the November 2 runoff.) More than 270 accountants and more than 380 real estate executives also donated the $250 maximum to one or more candidates. At least 800 architects, bankers, developers, engineers, and general contractors also have contributed. Spouses of these professionals account for roughly another 1000 campaign contributions. "In a race this wide-open," Moreno says, "the candidates are hitting the same people over and over again. There is only a small pool of people who give money."

If there is any difference between the five candidates' fundraising efforts, Moreno observes, it is that one may draw more heavily from a specific business sector than another. Jimmy Morales is an example. Moreno believes Morales is in a better position than his rivals to collect money from the legal community. Why? Because he's a partner in the high-profile law firm of Stearns Weaver. "Cancela and Diaz de la Portilla," Moreno adds, "probably receive more money from the real estate industry than the other candidates based on their relationships with some of the community's biggest developers."

According to his campaign reports, Morales indeed has done exceptionally well raising cash from lawyers. Celebrity criminal defense attorneys and partners Roy Black and Howard Srebnick each gave him $250. Six attorneys from the Ferrell Schultz firm, Roy Black's neighbors on the 34th floor of their downtown high-rise, kicked in a combined $1875.

Cancela enjoys the support of developer Sergio Pino, CEO of Century Homebuilders, who has acknowledged raising thousands of dollars for his friend. Diaz de la Portilla is favored by commercial developer Armando Codina and principals at residential giant Lennar Corporation. Another common characteristic of the elite group of people financing this season's mayoral campaigns is their propensity to hedge their bets. At least 270 people, including a number of very prominent businessmen and women, are supporting more than one candidate. (That figure has increased since April.) During the 1996 county mayoral election, Moreno recalls, the business community galvanized behind Alex Penelas, who was being challenged by Arthur Teele and former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré, who only recently entered this year's race. "They had a stronger consensus that Alex was the candidate," Moreno says. "But in this race there is no clear frontrunner, so people are hedging."

For example, Total Bank chairwoman Adrienne Arsht, architect Hilario Candela, bankers Adolfo Henriques and Jay I. Kislak, Perry Ellis CEO George Feldenkreis, former Ryder chairman M. Anthony Burns, and business executive Rosa Sugranes, among others, contributed $250 to both Cancela and Morales. Another well-known local architect and developer, Willy Bermello, contributed $250 each to Alvarez and Morales. Cancela, Morales, and Diaz de la Portilla received individual $250 contributions from attorneys Cesar Alvarez, CEO of Greenberg Traurig, and Simon Ferro, former ambassador to Panama (also of Greenberg Traurig).

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