Coronavirus has hit Hialeah hard in recent weeks. Some residents have implored Mayor Carlos Hernandez to take stronger action and criticized him for implementing preventive measures, such as the citywide curfew, far too late. As of Tuesday morning, the city's case count reached 933 — the third highest in the state.
Yet during Hialeah's first virtual council meeting Tuesday evening, the city clerk read aloud two emails, purporting to be from residents, that praised Hernandez for a job well done.
"I did not vote for the mayor when he ran for office, but after seeing everything he has done for the city during this coronavirus pandemic, I am proud to call him our city's mayor," stated an email from 35-year-old Pedro Sanchez. "While other politicians have been worried about coming out on the news and social media, Carlos Hernandez has been fighting for our residents, and for that I thank you, sir."
Another email, from someone named Urberto Santiago, echoed those sentiments: "I am proud to call him our city's mayor."
According to city protocols, members of the public who wish to speak during a council meeting are required to identify themselves and provide their home address on the record. But the emails praising the mayor were submitted to the city clerk's office without addresses.
During the meeting, council president Paul Hernandez (no relation to the mayor) said he would allow the emails to be read because he assumed they would contain legitimate questions or concerns from residents. After the emails were read, however, he seemed perturbed and said he wouldn't allow such comments again if they didn't meet the city's requirements.
"For the next meeting, if people submitting their comments and questions don't comply with all our rules, including their address, they will not be welcome to speak," Hernandez said during Tuesday's meeting.
The praise and parallel language of the emails left some people wondering who wrote them and whether they were fake.
Hialeah resident Abel Iraola tweeted out a transcript of the emails and remarked, "These were totally sent by real people."
A transcript of the only two public comments submitted to the City of Hialeah council meeting today, without home address as required, both praising @MayorHialeah and hitting at @CommBovo (Councilman de la Rosa is Bovo's stepson).— Abel Iraola (@miamiabel) April 15, 2020
These were totally sent by real people. pic.twitter.com/QgxHSNkR2O
Paul Hernandez also questions the authenticity of the emails.
"They definitely seem orchestrated at the least," he said yesterday in a text message to New Times. "The timing, messages, etc.... those views don't coincide with anything I've heard over the last several months."
Weird Hialeah politics on display at last night's council meeting. Two public comments were read, both w/o addresses, praising Mayor Carlos Hernandez's response to coronavirus & criticizing Councilman Oscar De la Rosa (for not sweating?) and County Commissioner Esteban Bovo. pic.twitter.com/JSduRzzT1t— Aaron Leibowitz (@aaron_leib) April 15, 2020
In addition to congratulating the mayor, the two emails took jabs at one of his political rivals, Oscar De La Rosa, and De La Rosa's stepfather, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo.
The email from Pedro Sanchez took a swipe at De La Rosa's role in a hand sanitizer distribution event at Unbranded Brewing earlier this month.
"I took a close look at the pictures, and almost everyone there is pouring in sweat from working hard to give out these bottles," Sanchez's email stated. "Meanwhile you have not a drop of sweat and you're there in a polo. Really? That's what I call staged."
Urberto Santiago, meanwhile, criticized Bovo for his media appearances.
"While other politicians like Estaban [sic] Bovo only care about coming out on the news, Carlos Hernandez has been fighting for our residents every single day of this crisis," Santiago's email read.
A search of Nexis, a public-records database used by journalists and researchers, yielded hundreds of Pedro Sanchezes with Miami-Dade addresses and dozens with current or former Hialeah addresses. New Times could find no record of an Urberto Santiago living in Hialeah, the state of Florida, or the entire United States. A search of Santiago's name in the Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts' online records — civil, criminal, code enforcement, and official records — yielded no results. The closest iteration of the name belongs to someone with addresses in Massachusetts and a mountain town in Puerto Rico.
New Times sent messages to Sanchez's and Santiago's email addresses but received no response.
Because one of the public commenters said he did not vote for Mayor Hernandez, New Times asked the Miami-Dade County Elections Department if the men's email addresses correspond to registered voter records. Ramon Castellanos, a records custodian, said the department couldn't locate any registered voters with the email addresses provided.
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Reached by phone yesterday, the mayor said he found the criticism of other politicians in the emails "ridiculous and in poor taste." He said people sometimes take advantage of city meetings to say "stupid things."
"We're all working together in our response [to the pandemic]," the mayor said.
Mayor Hernandez laughed off the criticism that the emails were fake or authored by him or one of his supporters.
"Now you're saying something that is —," he said, not finishing his thought. "I believe I gave you a response."