When Carlos Alvarez was booted from office on March 15, the largest local recall election in U.S. history sent a clear message to the Miami establishment: no more inside-the-beltway politics. Six weeks later, however, that lesson seems already forgotten.
Yesterday, the Miami Foundation held a debate at UM between those vying to replace Alvarez, but the organization only invited six of the 11 candidates. When two of those excluded complained, one was threatened with arrest if he showed up; another was told she needed The Miami Herald to prove her candidacy was serious.
"What a fix!" said Jeffrey Lampert, the fireman threatened with arrest. "I've been so discriminated against in this campaign, it's mind boggling."
Lampert admits that he's a "long shot" to become Miami-Dade mayor, but says he wasn't expecting to be shut out of the debates altogether. He didn't even learn of the March 25 Latin Builders Association debate until he read about it in the newspaper the next day. So when he realized he wasn't included in The Miami Foundation's debate either, he called organizer Jay Lundy.
"I asked him why I had been excluded, and Jay said: 'Frankly, we based it on campaign contributions,'" Lampert says. "But I made a moral and conscientious decision not to accept contributions when I entered the race."
Lampert says Lundy was unmoved by his explanation. When the candidate said he would show up anyways, Lundy said he would be removed by the police.
"It's ridiculous that after 13 years of police work, SWAT duty, many awards as a fireman, going to Iraq, and being an active part of this community for so long, somebody would tell me that I'm going to be arrested if I show up to a debate," Lampert said.
He says Lundy called him last night to tell him he could participate in the debate. When he showed up, however, he was still treated like a second class candidate. Lundy could not be reached for comment.
"When I arrived, they had us scheduled in alphabetical order," Lampert says. "But when we walked out, they rearranged the names and put the six candidates originally invited in the center."
"They didn't even ask us questions in the beginning," he says. "Every fourth question they would throw us a bone."
Lampert isn't the only candidate pissed off about the debate. When Miami Beach bike advocate Gabrielle Redfern asked why she had been excluded, the Miami Foundation's Nancy Jones emailed her: "The Foundation considered a private opinion poll, amount of money raised and whether or not candidates have or will be profiled in The Miami Herald's series of candidate profiles."
But Redfern says the criteria are bogus: when the debate was organized, only three candidates even had campaign bank accounts established, so how could the foundation assess their fund-raising?
And when Redfern asked to see the poll -- or even who conducted it -- she was refused. Finally, when she told debate organizers that her Herald interview was scheduled for the day of the debate, they asked her to prove it by having the news reporter call them.
Like Lampert, Redfern and the other three candidates were ultimately allowed into the debate. Jones, from the Miami Foundation, seems to think the debate worked out swimmingly.
"We originally invited top six candidates according to a private poll," she said. "Then we were approached by other candidates. We were happy to let them attend."
But Redfern says the show was heavily stacked against lesser-known candidates. Case in point: the five candidates only allowed on stage at the last minute (Lampert, Redfern, Wilbur B. Bell, Farid A. Khavar, and Eddie Lewis) had much less time to prepare for questions than the six originally invited (Roosevelt Bradley, Luther Campbell, Jose "Pepe" Cancio, Carlos Gimenez, Marcelo Llorente, and Julio Robaina).
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"We all hoped that in wake of the recall, we would have received a more level playing field," Redfern said.
"No wonder people are looking at us like a Banana Republic," Lampert echoed.
Alvarez may be gone, but some things in Miami never change.