Car 34, Where Are You?
The Lincoln in the parking lot turned out to be a key clue, but it wasn't enough to close the case of the invisible candidate. When the votes were tallied on September 8, Andres Rivero had defeated the reclusive Isaac Klayman in the District 107 Democratic primary, garnering 60 percent of the vote. But although Rivero will now go on to face incumbent Republican state Rep. Bruno Barreiro in November, Klayman's strange campaign for state House remains shrouded in mystery that election day only served to deepen.
Democrats charged that Klayman, a self-described tourism consultant, entered the race solely in order to lure the Jewish vote away from Rivero, a Hispanic, Harvard-educated former assistant U.S. Attorney. Many believed the phantom candidacy was masterminded by state Sen. Alberto Gutman and his long-time adviser and friend Henry "Kiki" Berger, and brought to fruition with the aid of political consultant Randall Hilliard. Gutman and Berger have been linked with allegedly phony candidacies in the past. At a June meeting between Berger and Rivero, moreover, Berger allegedly warned the candidate that unless he withdrew, a Republican-planted opponent would file against him in the primary. (See "The Case of the Invisible Candidate" in the September 1 issue of New Times). Gutman, Berger, and Klayman denied the allegations.
On the surface Klayman hardly seemed equipped for a political fight. Documents filed with the Florida Elections Commission indicate that Rivero raised nearly $60,000 for the primary. Klayman came up with a more modest $5000, which he personally loaned to his own campaign A despite having declared only $5000 in total earnings for the previous year. Most of the campaign funds, Klayman reported to elections officials, went to cover his filing fee and costs associated with direct mailings. Yet as election day neared, the Klayman campaign mounted an awesome show of force: last-minute phone calls to voters, buses for the elderly, poll workers, and a crop of new placards.
"How can a guy of Isaac Klayman's means fund this campaign?" asks Steve Paikowsky, executive director of House Victory '94, a statewide Democratic campaign organization.
"There was money spent off the books in this election, and I want to get to the bottom of this," charges Rivero, adding that he intends to file complaints with the State Attorney's Office. "We spent a lot more than we should have" because of the Klayman candidacy, Rivero notes. He says he spent approximately $35,000.
Democrats close to the Rivero campaign contend that the cost for the various election-day activities on behalf of Klayman must have exceeded $10,000. According to state elections laws, candidates had until September 1 to disclose any money they received; Klayman has reported only the $5000. (Klayman could not be reached for comment for this story.)
There was plenty of bizarre intrigue leading up to the election, according to Rivero campaign staffers. Voters received mailings from the South Beach Women's Organization, whose executive director, Wendy Dawson, praised Klayman for "caring about a woman's right to choose." The Secretary of State has no record of any such group. The return address listed on the mailing, 1400 Alton Rd. in Miami Beach, is a vacant lot. And there is no Wendy Dawson listed in the current telephone directory.
Rivero campaign workers also saw Ron Brenesky, an aide to County Commissioner Bruce Kaplan, ferrying Klayman workers to polling places in a red van. Kaplan, a Republican, has had dealings with Alberto Gutman: His nasty 1993 Metro Commission campaign against Conchy Bretos was designed in part by Gutman.
The 37-year-old Brenesky confirms that he chauffeured the workers. They were working for Klayman on a volunteer basis, he asserts, and so was he. As a member of the Dade County Democratic Executive Committee, he goes on, "I have the right to choose who I want to endorse." He favored Klayman, whose spotty employment record includes a failed stint as a substitute bus driver, because "he would be more sensitive to the Jewish component on South Beach." Brenesky says he has remained open-minded about Rivero and might consider endorsing him now that Klayman is out of the race.
He'd likely have some fences to mend first. On election day Rivero received word that Brenesky had been seen speaking with Kiki Berger at a polling place near Flamingo Park in Miami Beach. Arriving at the site, Rivero talked with a Klayman worker who told him she was working with Brenesky and who, he claims, gave him the impression she was being paid. "I was pissed because somebody was breaking the election law," says Rivero, referring to the state regulations regarding undisclosed campaign spending. "I knew this was a sham." Storming across the park, he confronted Brenesky at another polling place. "'You're not going to get away with this,' I told him. 'I'm going to remember this.'"
Brenesky chalks up the confrontation to the stress of campaigning. "He blew up," he says of Rivero's outburst. "It was silly." Later on, he adds, he offered Rivero a Coke and a Cuban pastry.
There were more odd occurrences that day.
Rivero paid personal visits to most of his district's key voting sites. At the United Teachers of Dade building on Brickell Avenue, he says, he spoke to a pair of Klayman workers, middle-age Hispanics who didn't speak English. Rivero alleges that one of the men told him he'd been in a parking lot behind El Pub on SW Eighth Street in Little Havana, a hangout for day laborers, when he was offered $65 to spend the day working for Klayman.
After the polls closed, Rivero's staffers watched the same two Klayman workers climb into a Lincoln equipped with a legislative license plate. They noted that the tag number -- 34 -- was the same as Alberto Gutman's state Senate district. And why, they wondered, would a couple of Democrats be cruising away in a car emblazoned with a "Gallagher for Governor" bumper sticker?
Allan Sullivan was one of the Rivero workers who noticed the incongruity. He recalls that as the car, which he describes as a dark blue Lincoln, departed, he saw that the driver "was a big guy. He was pretty fat." Could it have been the 280-pound Kiki Berger, known to have supported Tom Gallagher's unsuccessful run for governor?
Alberto Gutman bristles at the suggestion that he might be involved. "I don't have a blue Lincoln, I have a gray one," he asserts. He admits, however, that the gray car does bear tag number 34, and that he had loaned the automobile to his friend Kiki Berger. Citing Sullivan's color confusion, he accuses the Rivero camp of fabricating the entire incident. "They're making up a story because it's all part of their agenda. They're trying to make this guy [Rivero] look like a victim. It's shameful."
Informed of Gutman's challenge, Sullivan counters, "Maybe I screwed up the color. I definitely saw the Gallagher sticker and the license plate."
And Kiki Berger?
"I was driving it,he admits, adding that he has no knowledge of any election-day spending on behalf of Klayman.
"As an American citizen, I can help anyone I choose to," says Berger. Given that he'd already been accused of backing Klayman, he explains, he decided he might as well help out. "Why not? [The Rivero camp] drove me to it. [Klayman] got 40 percent of the vote. If I'd had a few more days, he would have gotten 51 percent!
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