The X Man Returns

Are you sitting down? Ready for this? Try saying it out loud: Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez

Throughout his political career, Suarez has done best with grass-roots campaigns that give him face-to-face contact with voters. He's in his element when engaging people, and they seem to respond well to his gregariousness. In Cuban venues like the Latin American Cafetería on SW 27th Avenue just off U.S. 1, people still refer to him as nuestro alcalde, our mayor. Even opponents acknowledge Suarez's strength of personality. "He's definitely the better campaigner," says political consultant and former Miami mayor David Kennedy, a Gimenez supporter. "Gimenez is a little bit too withdrawn."

Suarez typically shuns the use of consultants and paid campaign staff, relying instead on a loyal handful of volunteers, chief among them his 27-year-old son Frances. "We'll be fine with our 60 non-paid volunteers," says the younger Suarez, explaining that their emphasis in the runoff is to target two groups of people: those who didn't vote in the primary but who are expected to do so November 2, and those who did vote on August 31 but skipped over the District 7 candidates. "There were a lot of under votes," the son notes. "We want those voters. If we can mobilize voters like we did in the primary, we can make it a close race."

During the meeting at Harambourl's home, Suarez hands out copies of a voter-registration list Andres Rivero provided him. It contains the addresses and phone numbers of voters in several District 7 precincts who cast their ballots for Rivero in the primary. "I'm sending those voters letters notifying them of Rivero's endorsement and asking them to vote for me," Suarez says. "I've also got volunteers calling them." Suarez hopes those voters, predominantly affluent Hispanics and Anglos, will complement his strong support among black voters in South Miami and west Coconut Grove. (In the primary, Gimenez won 10,706 votes to Suarez's 8050 and Rivero's 5059.)

Suarez: "I hold malice toward none. I look forward to having a great working relationship with everyone."
Jonathan Postal
Suarez: "I hold malice toward none. I look forward to having a great working relationship with everyone."
Clockwise from top left: Alfred Balsera, Maurice Ferré, Katy Sorenson, Johnny Winton, Frances Suarez, Jorge Luis Lopez
photos by Jonathan Postal
Clockwise from top left: Alfred Balsera, Maurice Ferré, Katy Sorenson, Johnny Winton, Frances Suarez, Jorge Luis Lopez

Voter turnout November 2 is expected to far surpass the primary's 37 percent. Experts say the presidential race will draw between 60 and 70 percent of registered voters to the polls. Capturing as many Rivero supporters as possible will be essential if Suarez hopes for an upset, but the prospect of nearly twice as many voters means both candidates will have to work twice as hard. "Frankly, I don't believe Xavier has the time or money to do that," says Ric Katz, a consultant who helped Suarez become Miami mayor in 1985.

Nevertheless Suarez is brimming with confidence. "I've been on radio nonstop for three straight weeks," he says. "We've blanketed the Coral Way and U.S. 1 corridors with signs. Rod Jude has been calling Sierra Club members to get them out. Everything I hear is that I am doing extremely well. There have been a lot of people who have maligned me. There have been enough things done to me that would warrant an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, I hold malice toward none. I look forward to having a great working relationship with everyone."


What does Xavier Suarez have to do to win?

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Alfred Balsera

Lobbyist and campaign consultant

Gimenez supporter

There is no "Colonel's secret recipe" that would give Suarez an edge over Gimenez. Unfortunately Suarez has had a bad run with the media. He can still count on his traditional Little Havana voting bloc, who still believe in him. But he won't be able to resurrect his image among the English-speaking voters who read the Miami Herald and New Times.

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Rodney Barreto

Lobbyist and political fundraiser

Gimenez supporter

People underestimate just how smart the voting public really is. Especially in District 7. People know Xavier Suarez was an embarrassment to the City of Miami. There is no way he can win.

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Marie Brits-Cooper

South Miami commissioner

Suarez supporter

Hit the streets and knock on doors. People always remember your face, and that might be the only time the voters will get that close to you.

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Maurice Ferré

Former Miami mayor and former District 7 county commissioner

Independent observer

If Suarez can sustain his two-to-one lead over Gimenez in the district's black precincts, take about 30 percent of the Anglo vote, and get between 55 and 65 percent of the Hispanic votes, then it's a dead heat. But that is going to be pretty hard to do.

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Seth Gordon

Publicist

Gimenez supporter

He still has support among Hispanics in Miami so all he has to do is let them know he is on the ballot. But he has to get into areas of the county, south of Coconut Grove, where people have not seen his face. But knowing Xavier, he's probably already doing some of that. Meeting with voters is his strongest suit. But I don't think that is enough to win. He also needs to remind people about his first two terms as Miami mayor when he was a good guy and everyone supported him.

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Armando Gutierrez

Lobbyist and campaign consultant

Independent observer

Xavier Suarez needs more Cubans to vote. People think this district is evenly split among Anglos and Hispanics. That's not always the case. For example, my son is Cuban American yet he's registered as an Anglo voter. So he needs to work the Cuban precincts. I ran Jimmy Morales's campaign in 1996. He won because he got 50 percent of the Cuban-American vote.

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