Down in Miami: The Political Blues

En el trece de Agosto, a hidden relative? Let's hear it for Dan Christensen at the Daily Business Review! He's been the only reporter to shine a consistent light on the Brooks Brothers sleaziness of U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart's campaign financing practices. This past July, when the Federal Election Commission announced Diaz-Balart's $30,000 wrist-slap for numerous violations discovered during an FEC audit, Riptide thought, Oh no! He's getting the tokenism treatment! But while the original audit covered only one election cycle, FEC analysts found continuing mistakes and misrepresentations in the D-B books. One of the worst came early in 2000, when, as the DBR reported, the FEC ordered Lincoln's campaign to return $30,000 in illegal contributions. His staff provided photocopies of the fronts of refund checks -- but didn't reveal until after the November election (long past when the audit ended) that none of the checks had been cashed. There also was a "missing" $114,000, an operating account balance understatement that surfaced during the audit but that none of the analysts could explain -- even with the help of subpoenaed bank records. A Diaz-Balart staffer theorized the money might be in some certificate of deposit somewhere. Sure, Linc. Now Riptide has learned the FEC may still be looking for the money, and may be unfinished with the congressman, too. In a letter dated October 16, the commission notes the D-B campaign neglected to report one of its bank depositories. The FEC instructed his staff to disclose all depositories. An FEC spokesman refused to provide a context for the order and would not confirm or deny the existence of any new investigation, but Diaz-Balart and his campaign treasurer, José Riesco, reacted just like they did last time: They didn't return calls. Lincoln, amusingly, shares a birthday, August 13, with his estranged uncle, Fidel Castro.

Sak Pase, USA? The Haitian Television Network is looking for a Kreyol-speaking, pre-coke Steven Bauer, the Cuban-born, Miami-bred, B-movie star who got famous playing Joe Pena, the brother in public TV station WPBT's Emmy-winning bilingual sitcom ¿Que Pasa, USA? (1976-1980). HTN prez Claude Mancuso grew up watching the federally funded comedy about the cultural missteps of three generations of a Cuban family trying to adjust to life around here. This year Mancuso hit on Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas for some seed money to produce a Haitian version. The mayor came through with $150,000, and now HTN airs Sak Pase via South Florida's other public television station, WLRN. The main difference between the inspiration and its derivative is that ¿Que Pasa? aimed at trying to help Cubans assimilate. Sak Pase broadcasts in Haiti as well as Miami. "It's a kind of reverse situation," Mancuso told Riptide. "Haitians there will see how Haitians here are adapting." A blunter version of the American dream.

Miami's crummy politics are matched only by Miami Beach's trivial political campaigns. Take the stuff being circulated by Miami Beach mayoral candidate David Dermer's opponents. Dermer's nearly two-year-old divorce settlement from his ex-wife, Elyse -- with the standard mental-cruelty and vicious-temper clichés common to all less-than-amicable marital splits -- is being offered to the press as evidence of his unfitness for office. The fact that the ex-Mrs. Dermer withdrew three of her complaints after she received a $125,000 settlement, $2500-per-month child support, and the use of the family SUV didn't dampen the political cackling in the anti-Dermer forces. Quel dommage! The fact that Dermer really is a phony who originally campaigned as an anti-development commissioner in 1991, then once inside government got chummy with all kinds of lobbyists and opportunists (like Armando Gutierrez), should have been plenty to smear him with. New York spinners -- who don't exactly toss softballs -- would point to such tactics as signs of amateur bitchiness.

Urban myths: Miami Lakes jitters. Toward the end of September, two "Middle Eastern-looking guys" were seen filming Miami Lakes Elementary School, according to some locals who passed it on to Riptide. When parents tried to confront the men, they ran off. But the parents got the license plate -- which turned out to be a Michigan rental. According to the exaggerated rumors that quickly enveloped the story, MLE considered new security measures, including the drilling of peepholes in all the school's exterior doors so they wouldn't open to terrorists. (This was a bug-eyed fantasy.) But one reason for the extreme caution is that Sen. Bob Graham's (chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) niece's children attend that school, as do as the children of Mayor Alex Penelas. Miami-Dade County Police spokesman Ed Munn claims to be in the dark about the "incident" and so does Carlos Fernandez, spokesman for the school district's police department. "I heard the one about people filming the nuclear plant at Turkey Point," Fernandez offers. However, Capt. John Hunkiar, who heads the school investigative unit, had one of his detectives follow up on the first story: "It was a guy in the area who was from Michigan who was taking a picture of the school so he could show his wife where he went to school [as a kid]. We've been getting lots of calls like that ... people freaking out because “Middle Eastern' guys are pulling up.... It's just the times we're in."

Don't MESS wit ma dreads, crobar! Charles Reid, a crobar regular, couldn't get into the SoBe nightclub one night last week and blanketed the media with a professional-sounding e-mail fashioned as a press release. It alleged that the club was prejudiced against blacks wearing dreadlocks. "Idiotic," said Robin Ross, who does independent PR for crobar. "The guy wasn't dressed properly and got into a fight with one of our door girls." He lost and, feeling humiliated, took his revenge. "Crobar is filled with dreadlocks!" Ross huffed indignantly. "This is like a generic complaint!"