A plump, pretty woman with shoulder-length blond hair and intense, bugged-out blue eyes approaches the front door of the International House of Pancakes at the Westfield Mall in Hialeah. Wearing a white blouse and black slacks, Elaine de Valle holds a microphone to her mouth when she spots Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez emerging from the restaurant.
The former Miami Herald reporter ambushes Hernandez like a female version of Michael Moore hopped up on endless cups of café cubano. "How much did the lunch cost the taxpayers of Hialeah?" de Valle shouts as a video camera takes in the encounter. "Are you paying for this out of your campaign or city funds?"
Dressed in a snazzy navy suit and bold red tie on a white shirt, Hernandez retorts with information apparently gleaned from city hall sources mixed with trashy innuendo: "Is it true you were smoking weed and all that when you wrote on your [blog]? You got fired and all that [from the Herald]? You married someone in Cuba? Something like that? Some balsero guy who was a dancer or something is what I heard. And he dropped you, right?"
De Valle is unfazed. "This is serious business," the bloguera insists. "You are firing 105 firefighters, yet you are taking 50 people to lunch. How much did this cost the city? Can you answer that?"
Hernandez reverses field and tries to sympathetically change the subject.
"How's your blog doing?" he says.
When de Valle tells him she got 20,000 hits for the month of September, he sarcastically congratulates her. "That is fantastic," Hernandez says. "I'm impressed."
Two months later, on November 9, de Valle attempts to confront Hernandez again. This time she shows up at the adult community center in the city's Goodlet Park. He's preparing for a hotly contested runoff against former mayor Raul Martinez, and de Valle has ammo to thwart that effort. But before she can enter the room where Hernandez is to speak, Hialeah Police Chief Mark Overton grabs her by the arm and leads her outside. She's forced to stand by while U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart announces his endorsement of Hernandez.
Later that afternoon on her blog, Political Cortadito, de Valle describes the incident as an affront to democracy. "It was like I was in Cuba all over again," she writes, "and the state security was questioning me at the airport as I left with photographs of dissidents."
De Valle is one of a digital cadre that has recently wreaked havoc on Miami's political establishment by exposing unethical behavior and public corruption. While the Miami Herald has cut back on news coverage, blogs such as the Crespogram Report, Homestead Is Home, Eye on Miami, Random Pixels, the Shark Tank, the Straw Buyer, and Voters Opinion have filled the civic investigative void. Their work has resulted in criminal investigations, changes to county policy, incumbents losing at the polls, and people in power resigning in disgrace.
As a senior muckraker in our sunny, dysfunctional Banana Republic, New Times has compiled a list of the area's most feared and respected bloggers. There are dozens, but we have rated the top ten and then gathered ten more who have also drawn political blood. We have dug up crucial information about them so that you, the public, can know who these glorious miscreants really are. There's the senior citizen resembling a Key West Ernest Hemingway contestant who spent his youth robbing banks. Then you have the 38-year-old rabble-rousing Tea Party Colombian-American who has been accused of stalking old flames. And how about the Persian New York-born boat builder and marina manager who was accused of committing fraud.
In our effort to determine which blogger deserves the number one spot on the list, we examined how they earn a living, which major news stories they've broken, and whether they have altered the outcome of elections and criminal investigations. Employing a purely unscientific method, we added up their accomplishments, criminal records, and personal wealth to determine who's the real thing and who's just a poseur. One factor we found to be important: Those who have spent some time in the pokey have a special knack for sniffing out which public officials are scoundrels, scofflaws, and scumbags.