Meet Rebecca Wakefield, Political Operative

Times are really hard for ink-stained wretches in the musky Banana Republic we call Miami-Dade County. With the Miami Herald on the selling block and more layoffs expected early this year, MAP fizzling out, the ever-shrinking Miami SunPost, and even the bloodletting at New Times, being a local print journalist is about as sexy as Natacha Seijas walking around in nothing but granny panties.

It's no wonder former newspaper scribes are jumping careers in search of a more lucrative payday -- even if it means crossing over to the dark side. Just ask ex-Herald reporter Matthew Pinzur. Now former Miami New Times staff writer Rebecca Wakefield is taking a stab at political campaign consulting. She's signed on as manager for Maria "Beba" Sardina Mann's campaign for Miami city commissioner. Mann is among five candidate vying for Joe Sanchez's seat. The commission chairman is running for mayor.

I was surprised when Wakefield told me she was going to run Mann's campaign. After all, she has been one of the most intrepid, insightful investigative reporters covering our crazy county. In 2002, she was the mastermind behind Miami New Times' award-winning series "We're No.1," which dissected Miami's status as the poorest city in America. She authored dozen of articles that exposed corruption and malfeasance at Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the City of Miami.
I had the pleasure of working with Wakefield on a story that produced one of the most significant "gotcha" moments in Miami journalism history when we shared a byline for "Caught on Tape." That story divulged the contents of a recorded telephone conversation between developer Masoud Shojaee and his zoning lawyers Stanley Price and Felix Lasarte, discussing a payment to former state Rep. Ralph Arza to deliver a zoning change for a property Shojaee owns in Doral. Although no one was criminally charged, "Caught on Tape" exposed how developers have to pay to play.
After a four-and-a-half-year run, Wakefield resigned from New Times to make her butter as a freelance journalist. For the past three years, she had a steady gig as a political columnist for the SunPost. Wakefield, along with another New Times alum, Celeste Fraser Delgado, also went on to launch the now-defunct Faced with dwindling freelance opportunities and a handsome baby son to take care of, Wakefield accepted Mann's offer to run her campaign.

"The journalism world is dying a horrible, hacking death," Wakefield noted. "No one's paying me any more to snarkily opine on the local circus, so when Beba asked me to consider running her campaign, I thought I might as well grab a cigar and find out what's really going on in the smoke-filled rooms."

Her candidate is no schlep either. Mann is a civic activist who, as a member of the Silver Bluff Homeowners' Association and Miami Neighborhoods United, has fought against rampant development in Miami's residential neighborhoods. She served as a vice-chairwoman of the city's Planning Advisory Board and was an Urban Environment League board member.

Mann says she crossed paths with Wakefield through her activism. The 49-year-old Miami homeowner adds she approached Wakefield because she did not want to hire a seasoned campaign manager who might have ties to a special interest group or a hidden agenda. "The timing was perfect since Rebecca hasn't been doing much writing," Mann says. "And we have a very good chemistry."

Lobbyist Robert M. Levy says Wakefield will easily make the transition from newspaper hack to political hack. "She knows where all the landmines are and how to circumvent them," he says. "I think she'll be extremely successful."

Adds Miami Business Forum Executive Director Mario Artecona: "Rebecca has had a front-row seat as to how things run in Miami. She certainly has the intellectual capacity to turn that knowledge into practice."

Yet I can't help but lament the state of print journalism that prompted Wakefield to jump into politics. While I certainly hope she makes a difference in the corridors of city hall, Miami is losing out on one helluva of a storyteller.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.