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
Political problems have dogged the pair, and this could be the key to their undoing a couple of weeks from now. The Federal Elections Commission in 2000 slapped Lincoln with $30,000 in fines after an audit showed he had collected $114,000 in contributions but never accounted for them. Among other issues cited by Democrats and backed up in public records:
• In the mid-Nineties, critics say, Mario used his position as an appointed member of the Florida Entertainment Commission to gain advantage for clients — including filmmakers and production companies — of his private PR firm, Gordon Diaz-Balart and Partners.
• That public relations firm also represented Florida Power & Light in 1997, when Mario voted for a state budget that included $900,000 for FPL's campaign to promote electric cars.
• The brothers this year have collected more than $14,000 from a political action committee run by a Maryland-based prosthetics company, Hangar Orthopedic Group. They cosponsored a bill to broaden insurance coverage for products of the firm, which federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission are probing over claims of Medicare fraud.
• Since 2001, Medley contractors Locust USA and Mark Two Engineering have given $67,000 to the Diaz-Balart campaigns and their PAC, Democracy Believers, according to the Miami Herald. Locust has obtained about $10 million in Pentagon research and development contracts through congressional earmarks sponsored by Lincoln.
The brothers and their representatives insist they have gone to great lengths to avoid conflicts of interest and that the claims are meaningless when compared to the good they've done for the community. Amid the celebrating Central Americans in his campaign office, Lincoln defends his and Mario's actions: "Hangar Orthopedic helped me get prosthetics for Ukrainian kids missing limbs last October." He adds that his work on behalf of Locust, which develops products with Mark Two, will put Miami-Dade at the "forefront of military technology development."
His opponent, Raul Martinez, has criticized him for accepting money from tainted sources. But Lincoln scoffs. "Raul questioning my ethics," he says, "is like Al Capone complaining about someone running a red light."
A closeup of Raul Martinez's mug shot fills the television screen. Slow-motion video footage shows the ex-Hialeah mayor entering a Mercedes-Benz. Then, suddenly, the camera cuts to an image of a judge's gavel slamming the podium superimposed with the word guilty. Headlines announce Martinez's 10-year prison sentence.
A female voice warns, "The conduct of Raul Martinez. After years of embarrassing our community through corruption and scandal, using public office to become a millionaire, convictions for bribery and extortion, Martinez is featured in the investigative documentary Cocaine Cowboys, about drug trafficking in South Florida. Now Raul Martinez wants to take his corruption to Washington. We have to stop corruption. Say no to Raul Martinez."
That's the way Lincoln Diaz-Balart wants voters to think about Martinez. And it's more or less accurate — except that the bribery charges against Martinez were dropped after an appeal and some legal wrangling. Martinez, a bear of a man with the charisma of Latin American leaders such as Peru's Alan García, likes to think of himself more as the guy he came off as during a September 30 party at the cavernous AFL-CIO union hall in Allapattah. Dozens of union workers dined on steak, corn on the cob, and other grilled fixings as the organization's president, Fred Frost, took the mike. "You all want to meet the guy who is going to kick Lincoln Diaz-Balart's ass?" Frost inquired.
"Yeah!" the crowd roared back.
Frost handed the microphone to Martinez, who was impeccably dressed in a dark navy two-piece suit, light blue dress shirt, and solid blue tie. "I made my wife a promise I wouldn't touch him," Martinez said, referring to Lincoln. "But believe me, I want to punch him."
The crowd roared again.
Martinez reminded them Lincoln had backed out of an AFL-CIO-sponsored debate this past May and thanked the union workers for giving him their endorsement.
"Raul! Raul!" they chanted.
"You are all part of my family," Martinez rattled, "and I will protect the interests of my family. You all know I can be a tough SOB, and I will fight for you."
Martinez, like his opponent, was born on the island — in 1949 in Santiago de Cuba. After the revolution, his family left for Miami, where he graduated from high school and then attended Florida International University. In 1977, he was elected to the Hialeah City Council; four years later, he snagged the mayor's job.
During 24 years of leading the so-called City of Progress, he created innovative e-libraries that were among the first in Miami-Dade to offer English and citizenship classes. Martinez is also credited with building some of the finest public parks, recreational systems, and fire and police services in the state, as well as implementing award-winning elderly living and affordable housing programs.
He also earned a reputation as a combative politician who never lost an election. His politics, which sometimes incorporated intimidation and even alleged thuggery, gained opponents' respect and fear.
Martinez sometimes came off as a bully. For instance, in June 1999, when more than 400 people blocked the Palmetto Expressway to protest a group of Cuban migrants being deported, then-Hialeah Police Chief Rolando Bolaños was hit in the head with a rock.