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"It's a law ... The citizens have spoken." -- Alvarez on upholding Miami-Dade's gay rights ordinance, speaking in English, August 29, 2004
Give Carlos Alvarez credit for being a quick study. It usually takes Miami's budding politicians a few years before they master the fine art of speaking out of both sides of their mouths, delivering one message to Hispanic voters and the polar opposite to Anglos and African Americans. With just the right amount of verbal footwork, a skilled pol can become all things to all people, taking deft advantage of the hermetically sealed bubbles that often surround our town's English- and Spanish-language media. And here was Miami-Dade mayoral hopeful Alvarez, deploying this tricky move in his first run for public office.
During an August 28 Spanish-language mayoral debate on Telemundo's WSCV-TV (Channel 51), Alvarez was asked if he'd vote for the county's gay rights ordinance, which currently prohibits unequal treatment of gays in employment, finance and credit, and housing. Adopted by the county commission on a 7-6 vote in 1998, just as narrowly saved from repeal in a 2002 countywide referendum, the ordinance is now under fire once again from evangelicals.
"I don't support it," Alvarez answered tersely.
"You are against the ordinance that doesn't allow discrimination based on sexual orientation?" clarified reporter Maria Montoya.
"Can you explain why?" Montoya prodded.
"Because I don't believe that discrimination should be based on problems of race, of where one was born, the origin of where one was born -- but not on sexual problems. And I don't think it has been demonstrated where such discrimination has existed in this community."
Got that? Barring racial prejudice is fine and dandy, but Miami's gays and lesbians -- or, as Alvarez prefers to call them, folks with "problemas sexuales" -- have yet to prove that they face discrimination, let alone that they're entitled to equal protection under the law.
A troubling statement? Only if you're concerned with doing what's right. If, however, you're a mayoral candidate more preoccupied with trying to elbow your way to victory in a six-man field, with rivals José Cancela and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla also wearing the mantle of the Cuban-American native son, Alvarez's stance was a shrewd one. During that 2002 referendum on the gay rights ordinance, predominantly Cuban neighborhoods voted for its repeal in margins that approached two-to-one. And with those same Cuban voters making up the bulk of the August 31 mayoral electorate, if Alvarez was going to secure his slot in the November 2 runoff election, keeping gays at arm's length was simply realpolitik.
Yet Anglos and African Americans, whose 2002 votes had kept the gay rights ordinance in place, would be out in force on November 2, choosing their new mayor on the same ballot as their president. What to do?
The resulting pirouette was on display just 24 hours later, when Alvarez joined a WFOR-TV (Channel 4) English-language mayoral debate and quickly played to his new audience. Asked by Herald editorial page editor Joe Oglesby for his feelings on the gay rights ordinance, Alvarez huffed, "It's a law. As the mayor you take an oath, you take an oath to uphold the law, and the fact of the matter is, it's there, and that's what you should do." Case closed. Perhaps addressing the current rumblings among local Christian activists to capitalize on the national furor over gay marriage and initiate a second, better-funded repeal effort, Alvarez added, "If I'm elected mayor, under no circumstances would there be a second recall. The citizens have spoken."
There was no follow-up from Oglesby, no attempt to untangle these contradictory Spanish vs. English positions. Alvarez, however, was just getting his dissembling started. And with the August 31 election having winnowed his opponents to just County Commissioner Jimmy Morales -- the very co-sponsor of the gay rights ordinance and one of its fiercest defenders -- Alvarez quietly set about shoring up his conservative credentials.
The Christian Coalition's executive director for Florida, Bill Stephens, confirmed to Kulchur that Alvarez had filled out his organization's election questionnaire, which clearly states that he opposes adding gays to the county's anti-discrimination laws. Thousands of voter guides expressing that position are being distributed this weekend through local churches.
Responding to a separate questionnaire from the Christian Coalition's breakaway local chapter -- the Miami-Dade Christian Family Coalition -- Alvarez went even further. He opposed not only gay marriage, but even civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. Voter guides touting that view, as well as Alvarez's signing of the "Marriage Protection Pledge," are now circulating, mainly through Hispanic congregations off the radar of the English-language media.
Accordingly, if you tuned in to Spanish-language election coverage on Radio Mambí (WAQI-AM 710), you could've heard Christian Coalition figures visiting the studio to emphasize those very points. However, English-language voters continued to receive a markedly different portrait of Alvarez during the WPLG-TV (Channel 10) debate on October 10. WPLG reporter Michael Putney asked the two mayoral candidates for their thoughts on extending health care and life insurance benefits to the domestic partners of gay county employees.