By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
The Witch's Way
Natacha Seijas is at it again.
The Wicked Witch of West Miami-Dade appears to be casting evil spells again. Lourdes Aguirre, a Miami Lakes businesswoman who is challenging county Commissioner Natacha Seijas in the August 26 election, claims Seijas — through an emissary — threatened to cut off county funding for Miami Bethany Community Services, an Allapattah-based charity that clothes and feeds poor families. Aguirre is the group's chairwoman.
"To pick on me is one thing," Aguirre says. "But for her to have the audacity to pick on the little people really makes me angry."
Castañeda says Seijas expressed concern to his boss that Miami Bethany was getting involved in Aguirre's campaign. So this past Monday, Castañeda called the agency's president, Rev. Obed Jauregui. "I told him it wasn't wise to involve a nonprofit in a political activity," Castañeda says. "And that was it."
Aguirre offers a much different account. She says Castañeda informed the reverend that Seijas is not happy to be challenged by the head of a nonprofit that receives county funding. Seijas implied that Aguirre might use Miami Bethany's resources for her campaign, Aguirre says. "The mere suggestion that I would use this organization for my personal benefit is major disrespect on Seijas's part."
Jauregui did not respond to an interview request, and Seijas declined comment.
Taking out her opponents through third parties is a signature Seijas tactic. During her 2004 re-election campaign, she tipped off Miami-Dade's inspector general about her opponent, Jorge Roque, reimbursing people who donated to his campaign to help him qualify for public campaign financing. Last year, Roque was convicted of three counts of perjury, one count of grand theft, and one count of lying on campaign reports.
When she faced a recall in late 2006, Seijas contacted law enforcement authorities, including Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, about petitioners allegedly forging voters' signatures. The commissioner gave investigators about 200 affidavits from voters who said they were misled during the petition drive.
Even though the effort to remove Seijas from office failed, the criminal investigation lasted almost two years and did not result in the arrests of any of the initiative's leaders. Police charged two bit players — public notary Luz Dunlap and signature-collector Anibal Roberto Orellana-Ramirez — on felony counts of forgery, falsely taking signatures, and receiving signatures to mislead a public servant. Dunlap, who was accused of notarizing hundreds of signatures without witnesses, pleaded guilty to nine misdemeanor charges of making false official statements. Orellana-Ramirez is awaiting trial.
Aguirre says she is not intimidated by Seijas. "She's messing with the wrong person," she says.
This one might punch back.
On a sweltering July afternoon, a teal 1993 VW Golf with a rusting hood rolls backward through the heart of Little Havana. Two men push the car from a spot on SW Sixth Street to the humid concrete garage of Nick-O Auto Diagnostic.
They are Donato Helbing, a 25-year-old electrical engineer with shaggy brown hair, and Nicolas Rodriguez, whose blackened hands signal he is Nick-O's 31-year-old owner. The Golf's back window reads, "www.miamievproject.com."
The pair — along with Danny Alva, a web designer in his midthirties who arrives minutes later in white flip-flops — is behind an undertaking to make the car electric.
"People think you've got to be a genius or some mad-scientist guy to do it," asserts Helbing, who is wearing a T-shirt that proclaims, "The Future Is Green." "If we really want to push the electric car movement, we have to show people that anyone can do it."
The joint venture began percolating one weekend afternoon about four months ago over beers at Alva's apartment on South Beach. "That's when most of our ideas come," Helbing smiles slyly.
The Golf was Alva's first car. He had once used it to zip around Miami during his gig as a courier. But for three years, it had been sitting idle at his family's Kendall home. The green-leaning car buffs considered tricking out the old VW, until they got the idea to convert it to electric.
Two days later, they went to see the car. "We thought, If it starts, it's a signal," Helbing says. And it did. They researched conversions online, and Rodriguez volunteered his shop and expertise.
So far, they've invested about $5,000 of their own money in the project. They've removed the engine and ordered a $1,500 electric motor but are waiting on an adapter to install it. They need at least $10,000 more to finish the job.
Once the project is complete, they claim, the vehicle should run 50 to 60 miles per charge and will take four hours to rejuice from a dryer-size outlet and eight from a regular electrical outlet.
Alva and Helbing plan to split VW custody and use it for their commutes from South Beach to Coral Gables and Doral, respectively. They aim to finish the car before Art Basel in December and are talking with MTV Latino about inviting Latin American artists to submit designs for the exterior and interior. A friend has asked them to put the Golf in a green art space during Basel, they say.