Former Miami City Manager Joe Arriola isn't shy when it comes to his former top deputy, Linda Haskins. She used to keep a bottle of Grey Goose vodka stashed in her office desk, he proclaims. "I'd have someone drive her home because she would get so plastered," he says. "And I mean plastered!"
Wait it gets better. "I had to call in a shrink, some professor from Nova Southeastern University, to calm Linda down," Arriola waxes, "someone who could break up the fighting between Haskins and the other women on my executive staff."
Haskins bursts into laughter when asked to respond to her former boss's comments. There was no shrink, she says. (Indeed New Times could find no record at city hall confirming this claim.) And though she acknowledges once receiving a bottle of Grey Goose from her secretary as a Christmas gift, she says she took it home. "The only bottles at city hall were in Joe's office," she says, cackling. "Johnny Walker Blue Label or Pinch. God, he is desperate."
Forget about the governor's race, the U.S. Senate battle, and all of those nasty state representative contests up for a vote Tuesday. The most interesting matchup in South Florida is in District 2, perhaps the state's fastest-developing chunk of land. It includes not only the new performing arts center and the planned downtown art museum but also dozens of yet-to-be-completed condo towers.
Formally the race pits Haskins, whom commissioners appointed this past June, against Coconut Grove activist Marc Sarnoff and ex-city bureaucrat Frank Rollason. There are four minor candidates as well.
But what it's really about is Haskins, a close ally of Manny Diaz's, squaring off against Arriola, a polarizing figure who had a falling-out with the mayor before leaving the city four months ago.
Interestingly the brawl for District 2 began with, well, a brawl. Long-time commissioner Johnny Winton was booted from office this past June after he allegedly struck two police officers at Miami International Airport when his flight was canceled.
So far Haskins has raised the most campaign cash $148,570, according to the last reporting period. She can thank Diaz, who is endorsing her, for her sizable war chest. The mayor, along with the four other commissioners, hosted an October 13 fundraiser at the Doubletree Grand Hotel that netted Haskins $100,000. Some of the money came from high-profile local businesspeople including former city commissioner-turned-lobbyist Rosario Kennedy, real estate broker Alicia Cervera, bank executive Adrienne Arsht, and lobbyist Sylvester Lukis.
Arriola insists he is not supporting any of the candidates. "Neither me nor my family has given a penny to anyone," he asserts. "I don't give a shit. But Linda has decided to make me an issue in the election."
Indeed Haskins has publicly come out against her boorish ex-jefe in recent weeks. She claims he blundered by agreeing to the seven-million-dollar settlement to make the city's controversial fire fee lawsuit go away. At a candidate forum earlier this month, Haskins also accused Arriola of verbally abusing her during his three-year stint as city manager.
Arriola describes Haskins as a "disingenuous" woman with "severe emotional problems." He claims she constantly squabbled with other female bureaucrats including former operations chief Alicia Cuervo Schreiber, one of Arriola's most loyal employees. Dania Carrillo, the city's ex-risk management director, resigned because she could no longer stand Haskins, Arriola adds. Neither woman responded to requests for comment.
"I was the only one who could control Linda," Arriola grumbles. "I'm very shocked the mayor is supporting her. I guess he's counting votes because he knows Linda is the only one he can really rely on." Diaz declined to comment.
Haskins admits she had problems with Cuervo Schreiber but says three was no one else. "Joe hates me because I didn't go along with his program," Haskins explains. "Joe wants people who are obedient and say he is Mr. Wonderful. He did a lot of bad things."
She cites Arriola's decision to award $39 million in no-bid contracts to clients represented by Steven Marin, a lobbyist, political consultant, and close friend of the former manager. Haskins says Arriola also made derogatory remarks to female staffers. "He'd tell girls to wear shorter skirts or dye their hair back to blond to impress the commissioners," Haskins describes. "He was an embarrassment."
Haskins alleges that Arriola and Marin are secretly running the campaign of Marc Sarnoff, the former chairman of the Coconut Grove Village Council and her most important rival. She explains that six influential people recently told her Arriola had asked them to support Sarnoff, but she declined to name them.
One hint there might be something to the claim: Until this past September 22, Marin's company Website listed Sarnoff as a client. But then his name was removed. Marin says he prematurely posted Sarnoff's name. "I don't know the guy," Sarnoff says of Marin. "I don't know why my name was on his Website.
Sarnoff, who has attacked Haskins as Diaz's straw man, appeared at two political fundraisers at Arriola's house earlier this year. And Cuervo Schreiber visited Sarnoff's Greenstreet Café fundraiser this past October 9.
For his part, Sarnoff denies receiving anything from Arriola, though he acknowledges a pleasant working relationship. After all, the ex-city manager procured more than $300,000 for new trees for the Grove. "If Arriola was really helping my campaign, do you think I would only have $61,000?" Sarnoff adds.
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The beneficiary of all this squabbling might be Frank Rollason. The career bureaucrat has collected $105,729 campaign donations, mostly from real estate developers, general contractors, and prominent lawyers. Among the givers: two companies owned by Cuban political powerhouse Sergio Pino ($1000), zoning lawyers from Bilzen Sumberg ($3150), and companies owned by Miami Beach developer Tony Goldman ($7000).
For the past twenty years, Rollason has held high-ranking positions in the city, including interim city manager. He is credited with restoring fiscal accountability to the Miami Community Redevelopment Agency after taking over in 2003. He recently resigned.
In the end, the election might be irrelevant. If Winton is acquitted, the pugnacious pol would get his seat back and serve until November 2007. This past June 21, Winton said, "I'm fully expecting this will be a relatively short-lived suspension and I'll be back."