In Hialeah it may now be a crime to publicly oppose Natacha Seijas. For the past six weeks, paid canvassers for the Committee to Recall Miami-Dade Commissioners have been collecting signatures from Hialeah's registered voters to recall Seijas, whose district includes the county's second-largest municipality. Apparently this does not sit well with Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, an unabashed Seijas loyalist.
This past April 13, two of Robaina's minions directed Hialeah Police officers to detain three petition gatherers without cause, says committee board member Millie Herrera. "They were terribly harassed for doing their jobs," Herrera complains. "They thought they were being arrested."
The trouble began when Georgie Nomba, a volunteer working in Robaina's office, confronted canvasser Deabeth Neusa on the doorstep of Hialeah resident Marisabel Valadere Santiago's home on East Eighth Lane. "[Nomba] was screaming at me, demanding my ID; telling [Santiago] not to sign anything; and asking me why I was tarnishing Seijas's name," Neusa recalls.
Committee to Recall Miami-Dade Commissioners
Neusa was soon joined by her supervisor, Gladys Sanchez, who claims Nomba yelled at her too. "She accused us of lying to people," Sanchez adds, "that we were pretending to be from the elections department."
When Hialeah Police Lt. Samuel Ramos arrived, Sanchez phoned Herrera for help. Herrera says she spoke to Ramos via Sanchez's cell phone. "I explained to him that they were canvassers," Herrera notes, "to look at their T-shirts, to look at their badges, and to look at the petition form as proof that they were not passing themselves off as elections personnel."
While Herrera spoke to Ramos, Sanchez says Nomba talked with Willie Zuniga, a former city councilman who works as Robaina's assistant. Sanchez claims Zuniga had been tailing the canvassers earlier in a black Jeep Cherokee.
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Sanchez says another police officer arrived and wrote an incident report. "He took down our drivers' licenses and tag numbers," she states. "We were there for two hours."
Herrera says she and Sanchez have had a difficult time persuading the canvassing team to continue collecting signatures in Hialeah: "I'm convinced this is a strategy by Seijas's allies to make us lose time and scare off our canvassers."
Robaina, Nomba, and Zuniga did not return phone calls seeking comment.