End of the Diaz-Balart Dynasty

The Republican brothers are headed for defeat, and Cuban-American politics will change forever.

Bolaños called Martinez, who rushed over. A few minutes later, a crew from Univision filmed Martinez repeatedly punching a much smaller man, a butcher named Ernesto Mirabal. Despite the incriminating footage, Hialeah Police charged Mirabal with battery on an elected official, resisting arrest with violence, and inciting a riot. The charges were later dropped.

Then there's the alleged public corruption. In 1989, Martinez announced he would run for Congress. His opponent, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (who this year is likely to have an easier go of it than the Diaz-Balarts), was married to the acting U.S. attorney at the time, Dexter Lehtinen. The same year, Lehtinen — a tough former commando — initiated a criminal investigation into accusations Martinez had extorted close to $1 million from developers in exchange for zoning favors.

Two years later, a jury convicted the Hialeah pol on six counts of conspiracy, extortion, and racketeering. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Mario Diaz-Balart with his brother Lincoln Diaz-Balart in the background
Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images
Mario Diaz-Balart with his brother Lincoln Diaz-Balart in the background
Lincoln Diaz-Balart
Jacqueline Carini
Lincoln Diaz-Balart

Martinez eventually won an appeal and a second trial in 1996, which resulted in a hung jury. A third trial, held the same year, resulted in his acquittal on one count of extortion while the jury deadlocked on the five remaining counts. Prosecutors decided to go no further.

During an interview at his campaign office, Martinez dismisses his criminal proceedings as old news. "My past is my past," he says. "In the end, I was found not guilty. And I finished that process 14, 15 years ago."

Martinez also points out the Cocaine Cowboys ad doesn't mention the convictions were reversed on appeal. "It is very sad that a congressman of 16 years can't run on his record," he seethes. "Lincoln has to run on lies and character assassination. It shows that he has failed the people of this district."

The Diaz-Balart camp also provided New Times with a list of Martinez's dubious campaign donors. They include Hector Ortiz, a Hialeah-based contractor who was banned from doing county work for two years; Recaredo Gutierrez, convicted on a counterfeiting charge in 1998; and Alfredo Duran, a Miami lawyer and former state Democratic Party chairman, who was acquitted of federal charges that he participated in a scheme to bribe Dominican Republic officials to release seized drug planes when the feds' main witness jumped bail and fled the States.

Lincoln tells New Times he simply wants to remind people who Raul Martinez really is. "His whole record personifies corruption," he says. "People need to know that."

On the campaign trail, Martinez has focused on attacking Lincoln for being in lockstep with President George W. Bush's failed policies. "He is a Bush rubber stamp," Martinez complains. "On five occasions, he voted against expanding healthcare insurance for children." It is a theme Martinez has repeated during his stops at the Miami Springs Country Club and the AFL-CIO rally, as well as conversations with voters on the street and in their homes.

Predicting victory next month, he points out the GOP represented 44 percent of registered voters in 2006, while today that number has dipped to 39. "When Mario redrew the districts, [the Diaz-Balarts] wanted to make sure they would be there forever," Martinez says. "But they weren't counting on losing voters. And there is a tremendous desire out there for a change."

A question pops up on the television screen: "Who is Joe Garcia?" The camera quickly cuts to an image and video footage of disgraced ex-Enron chairman and convicted felon Kenneth Lay followed by still photographs of Garcia.

The last frames put photos of Lay and Garcia side-by-side, and the Democratic candidate's name is inserted into the Enron logo.

A female voiceover says, "Who is Joe Garcia? Enron's convicted CEO said Joe Garcia is on our shortlist of people we would be quite comfortable with. Joe Garcia, the utilities commissioner who supported a huge rate hike on Florida's families, cashed out to utilities special interests and begged Enron's convicted CEO to give him a job. Today Enron is a national scandal. Enron. Joe. Enron Joe has gotta go."

That's the best Mario Diaz-Balart could come up with in the TV ad wars. After easily winning re-election in 2004 and 2006, he is facing his most formidable challenger to date. And the former Dade Democratic Party chairman has concentrated on enlisting the support of non-Cuban Hispanics.On a recent sweltering Sunday afternoon in Cutler Bay, Garcia, a verbose and congenial man in blue jeans and a striped long-sleeve Ralph Lauren dress shirt, is going door-to-door introducing himself to registered voters in a lushly landscaped residential neighborhood. His bushy brown hair bouncing with his every step, Garcia has already hit tens of thousands of households since announcing his run this past February.

The Democratic candidate walks up to a salmon-colored single-story house with a "For Sale" sign on the front lawn. Soon a large-bellied Hispanic man with a dark olive complexion and a mustache answers. His name is Roberto Machado. He's a Mexican-American and a registered Independent.

"Hi, my name is Joe Garcia and I am running for Congress," Garcia says in Spanish. "I'm running against Mario Diaz-Balart."

"Oh, he's no good," Machado responds. "I don't like him at all. Are you a Democrat?"

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets