Yesterday, Diaz de la Portilla arrived for a late-morning campaign event at a community center on the grounds of Three Round Towers (2920 NW 18th Ave.), a trio of apartment buildings for the elderly in Allapattah. Early voting for the Miami municipal election begins Saturday, and many residents had already received their absentee ballots.
The activity room, which doubles as a dining area, was filled with about 60 people, including 74-year-old resident Ena Peña. Peña immediately recognized Diaz de la Portilla from the disturbance in her building exactly one week earlier, when police responded to a call alleging that the candidate and a handful of his supporters were trespassing and intimidating voters.
After Diaz de la Portilla finished his speech, Peña says she saw him and a woman identified as his chief of staff doing something with absentee ballots at a table in the corner of the room. She approached them and accused them of wrongdoing, at which point Diaz de la Portilla tried to have her removed from the building and threatened to call police, she says. Peña told them to go ahead.
As the exchange got more heated, Peña says a man wearing a white shirt with Diaz de la Portilla insignia on the left sleeve got involved and became aggressive. She says he identified himself as a police lieutenant and demanded she leave. When Peña refused, she says the man shoved her into a glass door that serves as an entrance to the community center. She threatened to call the police, but the man slapped her cell phone from her hands, Peña says.
"He pushed me so hard that I could've easily fallen down, a woman of my age," Peña tells New Times. "I was frightened."
Shaken, Peña eventually recovered her phone and called 911. Her assailant briefly spoke with Diaz de la Portilla before fleeing the scene, she says. Diaz de la Portilla and members of his entourage also managed to head out before police arrived, according to Peña, who then called Diaz de la Portilla's District 1 opponent, Frank Pichel, to tell him what happened. Pichel tells New Times Diaz de la Portilla was gone by the time he got to the housing complex. (Pichel also turned up at the towers last week after residents called to inform him that Diaz de la Portilla supporters were bothering tenants.)
At least seven police officers responded to the call and questioned Peña and other witnesses. Peña says police told her the community center did not have cameras and that it would be difficult to identify her alleged assailant.
Reached for comment via text, Diaz de la Portilla told New Times the assault never happened and that his campaign workers wear blue, not white. A staffer at the community center, who refused to give her name to New Times, contested Peña's account of the event. She says Peña was not shoved and that the man in the white shirt was not there with Diaz de la Portilla's team but was working for the center, which is run by Catholic Charities Elderly Services. Peña, however, says she's never seen the man before. She says she was not seriously injured in the assault but still intends to press charges.
Catholic Charities Elderly Services did not respond to a request for comment.
Diaz de la Portilla has made a point of campaigning at Three Towers lately. Last week, New Times reported on allegations made by 74-year-old Zolay Tamayo, a longtime resident who says individuals campaigning for Diaz de la Portilla coerced her into getting rid of her ballot after she told them she planned to vote for Pichel.
Diaz de la Portilla tells New Times he intends to return to the community center next week for another campaign event.