For the past three years Moss has represented South Dade with a record of achievement that has been neither stellar nor dismal. He consistently votes on the "right" side of most major issues, though he rarely takes a leadership role on any. Dennis Moss is the average commissioner.
Steady. Unassuming. In his own words, good enough.
Voters, however, tend to be a disagreeable lot, and simply being "good enough" is rarely what it takes to win the public's favor. This is especially true in the district Moss represents. Despite the advantages of both incumbency and campaign contributions, Moss may well be the underdog in this year's election: He's being aggressively challenged by a charismatic newcomer, Henry Marinello, a Cuban-born Mormon with widespread appeal in the Anglo community. Marinello is therefore the perfect candidate for District 9, where 62 percent of the voters are either Anglo or Hispanic, and only 38 percent are black.
Moss, who is black, is also facing challenges from two other candidates, Wilbur Bell, a convenience store owner from Perrine, and Thomas Harrington, Sr., a BellSouth cable splicer from Richmond Heights. Both Bell and Harrington are black, and though neither has much hope of winning, every vote they pull from Moss in the black community further erodes his chances for re-election.
District 9 is the largest in the county, stretching from the Florida Everglades to Biscayne Bay, and snaking north from the Monroe County line through Cutler Ridge and into Kendall. Properties in the district are largely undeveloped, with much of the land still zoned for agriculture. "It really is the last frontier for developers," notes Moss. "That is why they want me out of here. You've got a few greedy influence peddlers who want to control District 9 and South Dade. I won't play the political games. I won't sell the people out. And they want to put someone in here that they can control."
The problem for Moss is proving that Marinello would be the greedy influence- peddlers' stooge. Marinello certainly does not fit the profile of a developer-friendly candidate. Indeed, Marinello defies any attempts at typecasting, and his life story seems more the work of a slightly warped Hollywood screenwriter than that of a commission candidate.
Marinello, who turns 40 this month, left Havana for Miami with his family in 1961 when he was five years old. His father, he says, was a CIA agent who was captured during a covert mission in Cuba in 1966 and executed by a firing squad the following year. Marinello and his nine brothers and sisters were then raised by their mother, who ran her own accounting business.
Although he was brought up Catholic, when he was 22 he was approached by a pair of Mormon missionaries and eventually decided to convert, saying he was attracted to the church's commitment to both God and country. At the age of 23 he was sent by the church to the jungles of Paraguay, where he spent the next two years converting Guarani Indians and setting up medical and agricultural programs. Upon his return to the United States, he attended Brigham Young University, obtaining a bachelor's in microbiology, followed by a law degree.
In South Florida he became a sales representative for the WordPerfect software company, then left the firm in 1993 to form his own company, Envision Software, with two friends. He sold his share of the business a year ago for $200,000. Since then he has begun a law practice and specializes primarily in corporate law, but in the past few months he has also handled several zoning-related cases. He represented, pro bono, more than 600 homeowners in their protest to the commission of the development of a shopping center in a residential neighborhood.
He decided to run, he says, because Moss has been too passive in addressing the community's needs. "You'd call down to his office and talk to someone who would say they'd get get back to you, but they never would," claims Marinello.
In addition to his brothers and sisters who pledged their time and support (including his oldest sister, Circuit Court Judge Maria Korvick), Marinello has been helped by the extended network of the Mormon Church. Although there are only 9000 Mormons in Dade County, they are among the county's most close-knit and affluent citizens. Included is Tony Burns, chairman of Ryder Systems. Burns, a long-time friend of Marinello, held the candidate's first fundraiser, which collected more than $40,000.