Village People: Part 2

If there was one single issue all the candidates for the North Bay Village Commission agreed on, it was that the way to a person's vote was through his stomach. As highlighted two weeks ago in the New Times story "Village People," the 1992 race for votes in North Bay Village was an ugly affair. In the midst of the campaign, the city's building inspector was arrested by the FBI on theft and bribery charges -- just three weeks after commissioners gave him the key to the city for his fine work in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. From there the mudslinging among candidates flew wild, with allegations of widespread corruption, incompetence, and cronyism. It's surprising anyone could have eaten through it.

But eat they did.
The opposition (Gabrielle Nash-Tessler, Mannie Diamond, Lawrence Schwartz, and Howard Kandel) held a series of breakfasts, inviting the public to snack on bagels while listening to attacks on the current commission. The incumbents (Irving Leighton, George Rodriguez, Alvin Blake, and Deborah Mash-Geller) followed suit, with a more lavish spread that included a hot meal.

In the end, fried eggs and ham beat out lox and cream cheese, as all of the incumbents emerged victorious from the fray.

Blake gained a fifth term on the commission, barely edging out attorney and constitutional scholar Schwartz, 803 votes to 766. University of Miami neurology professor Mash-Geller had an easier time of it, defeating Kandel, 923 to 670. And Rodriguez, who has served on the commission since August, won his first election handily, defeating Diamond, 1007 to 571.

But the contest everyone watched was the one between Nash-Tessler and Vice Mayor Leighton. The diminutive Nash-Tessler, 70, had vowed to bring beauty and glamour to North Bay Village. In her quest to do so, she spent more than any other candidate in the island's history -- at least $14,000 -- saturating the tiny village with signs and billboards adorned with her likeness. Her placards were plastered on the sides of Metrobuses and on benches, in storefronts and bus shelters. In an unprecedented step for a commission candidate in a village of 5000 citizens, she even took to the cable TV airwaves, running a commercial on Gold Coast's CNN, TBS, and ESPN channels.

It wasn't enough. Despite his lower-profile campaign, Leighton won 972 votes, or 60 percent of the total, compared to 656 votes for Nash-Tessler.

And for Nash-Tessler, it was a sad time. A few weeks earlier her ailing husband died and on Tuesday she suffered another setback in a political career that had seen her mount three unsuccessful campaigns for the Miami Beach City Commission before her move to North Bay Village.

The closing days of the race generated some of the strangest political advertising anywhere in Dade. The incumbents ran a two-page ad in the Miami Herald, describing Nash-Tessler as a pest and raising the specter of her 1973 arrest for allegedly bribing a police officer. The ad also questioned her place of birth (Tunis or France) and her claim that she was a member of the French Underground during World War II.

World War II was a recurring theme during the campaign, as candidate Mannie Diamond issued a last-minute flyer after revelations of his war wounds began spreading around town. "Yes, Emanuel Diamond has a plate in his head," the 70-year-old veteran wrote. "At least I have something in my head."

Despite his loss, Diamond was upbeat at having received 36 percent of the vote, more than double the percentage he received the last time he ran. "I lost, but I made a lot of friends," he says. "I'm not disappointed.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede