By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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The 94-second video opens with a still shot of Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman sporting a crisp white dress shirt, bold red tie, and dark pressed slacks. His hands are on his hips and his hair is slicked back, Mitt Romney-style. An off-screen narrator with a baritone voice praises Bateman as the greatest elected official of Miami-Dade's second-oldest city: "Mayor Steve Bateman is an effective, energetic, and smart leader with guts to make the tough decisions."
Sounds like any other cheesy campaign ad. Problem is, this one was contracted through the city's public information office and directed by Bateman's top assistant — a clear violation of state election law, which requires such ads be organized and financed by campaign staffs. Even more embarrassing for the mayor is that the conflict of interest has only emerged because the videographer, Jorge Delgado, is suing the city for $8,200 he says Bateman stiffed him for.
Batemen and his staffers all declined to comment on the video because of Delgado's pending lawsuit. Delgado didn't return two phone calls from Riptide.
But if the mayor plans to argue that the piece wasn't a campaign spot — or that city resources didn't go into making it — Delgado's lawsuit is a custom-made folder of evidence to the contrary.
Emails from the cameraman show that city spokeswoman Begoñes Cazalis and Bateman's personal assistant, Lourdes Llanos, personally hired him. On September 8, Llano asked if he "would be interested in working with [them] again this year." Twenty-one days later, Cazalis sent Delgado another email: "You are confirmed for the Oct. 27 event. Thanks. We'll be in touch to finalize the details."
When he realized he would need more equipment for the spot, Delgado says, he informed Bateman and Llano it would cost more than his original quote of $6,000, and they didn't protest. However, after Delgado submitted his invoice for $14,200, the mayor never paid the difference, the cameraman says.
Bateman should have ponied up. Now the mayor will likely have campaign finance questions to answer instead of just an $8,200 bill.