Acute Democratitis

Jimmy Morales ponders the disease with no known cure

Come 2004, however, Morales seemed to have discovered a way to turn that formulation on its head. For the first time in recent history, the mayoral runoff -- all but assured given the crowded field -- was being held November 2, the same date as the Bush/Kerry face-off. If past presidential elections were any guide, Miami's voter turnout would more than double, with Cuban Americans finding their numbers counterbalanced by the Anglo and black voters who gave Miami-Dade to both Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and who were seen as Morales's base of support.

"Kerry is going to win Dade," Morales's campaign manager Derek Newton had argued to Kulchur last August. (Newton is now a Democratic political consultant.) "He may win by only 30,000 to 40,000 votes, but that's more than enough for me." All Newton had to do was ensure that the bulk of Kerry's supporters remembered to vote for Morales also: "We just become the Democratic candidate -- the Anglo, black, progressive candidate. And everybody else goes wherever they go."

Newton's strategy was hardly a lock. But if you crunched the numbers, it offered Morales a clear path, perhaps his only path, to the mayor's seat. Sure enough, Kerry did indeed win Miami-Dade -- by 48,000 votes. But a funny thing happened on the way to the victory celebration. At least 88,000 Kerry voters either left their mayoral choice blank or crossed party lines and selected the Republican Carlos Alvarez. Even more telling, Alvarez outperformed George W. Bush in the county (397,000 to 361,000), making it clear that his win was due to more than merely GOP backing.

Jimmy Morales: He coulda been a mayoral contender
Jonathan Postal
Jimmy Morales: He coulda been a mayoral contender

How did so many Democrats lose their way, particularly with a candidate whose previously perceived weakness was too Democratic?

"I wasn't allowed to say I was a Democrat," Morales explains, rolling his eyes as he attempts to translate the convoluted laws governing a nonpartisan race such as his: No flyers touting his face alongside John Kerry's, no newspaper ads telling people how to put a Democrat in charge at county hall. And without any party identification next to his name on the ballot, "most folks didn't know." Curious voters would see only four words as they stared at their touch-screen voting machines: Carlos Alvarez and Jimmy Morales.

Of course Morales had months to prepare for this hurdle, and it's here that he turns his ire back on the Democratic Party itself, citing an almost daily barrage of miscommunications between Kerry staffers (mostly from New England and clueless about Miami), local figures, and his own campaign.

A John Edwards appearance in Miami Gardens? It might have been nice for Morales to introduce the vice-presidential nominee to the thousands of fired-up Democrats there -- perhaps even gaining a TV or press mention in the process, a further way to spread the word about his party status. Although a host of local Democratic officials flanked Edwards at his podium, Morales gripes, "I couldn't even get onstage."

Out-of-town activists hired by Rep. Kendrick Meek -- Kerry's Florida campaign manager -- produced palm cards for early voters in predominantly black districts, dutifully informing these staunch Democrats of their party's nominees. But somehow the mayor's race was missing from the lineup -- the one race in which such information was actually needed. "I remember calling up Kendrick as soon as I saw those cards," Morales says, still disturbed at the memory. Meek had, after all, personally endorsed him. "It took several days for him to get new palm cards made. Who knows how many votes I lost there."

Worst of all was visiting the University of Miami on election night. Hours after the polls had closed elsewhere, hundreds of students still waited in line to vote there. Many had spent much of the day canvassing the city for Kerry and were proudly festooned with Kerry T-shirts and buttons. "I started going down the line and 80 percent of them didn't know anything about the mayor's race," Morales says. If even hard-core Kerry volunteers were oblivious to his candidacy, one can only imagine the attitude of the rest of the electorate.

For Derek Newton, who fielded angry phone calls from Morales's mother, incensed at the tactical withdrawal from Little Havana in favor of devoting resources to Anglo neighborhoods, that day's tallies were particularly distressing.

"A lot of people have assumed that Jimmy lost the race because he didn't hold his own among Hispanic voters," Newton says. "That's not true. We hit our mark there, and we hit our mark with African Americans. We didn't make our mark with Anglo Democrats. We won 55 percent of them, when we needed a margin of 75 percent. And the reason is, those are Miami Herald readers."

Here Newton singles out Herald columnist Jim DeFede with the kind of vehemence most liberals reserve for Rush Limbaugh. "When Jim DeFede beats you up every day -- and he is the self-appointed leader of the reform movement, the 'Angry Anglo' -- and the Herald backs him up with their endorsement of Alvarez, what can we say? The only constituency who cares about that endorsement is Anglo Democrats, but we just couldn't get past that pounding at our base.

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