There are three separate contests in Tuesday’s election in Coral Gables. Here’s why, barring some last-minute surprise, I’m voting for Korge for Mayor, and Quesada for Group 4. I don’t have much to say about Group 5.
In one sense we’re pretty lucky: we have three quite serious candidates.
The Mayor, Don Slesnick, runs on his record. It’s a better record than some people give him credit for, but it’s not perfect either. If he wins another term (his last under term limits) we’ll be fine, but he’s not so wonderful that I’m closed to the idea of a better candidate. I particularly respect Slesnick’s unwillingness to bash workers or to run away from his background as a labor lawyer.
Jim Cason has a great story to tell. He had a distinguished career in the foreign service, ending up as a career ambassador, which is an achievement. His career was marked by acts of courage and controversy, both of which suggest a bit of a bull in a china shop approach to things. (See this article for details.) If we needed someone to negotiate with a terrorist who had a bomb on a plane, Jim Cason might be the guy. But I’m not sure how well that skill translates into being one vote on a five-person city commission. We don’t get a lot of airplane hijackings in the Gables, and the last time someone claimed to have a bomb, the police dealt with it just fine. Cason’s other negatives are that he’s lived here all of two years, and his civic record is thin — he didn’t even vote in the last election, admittedly pretty shortly after he’d arrived. He’s been a tireless, but also verbally pugnacious, campaigner. He’s a high risk choice — might be great, might be really awful — in part because we really don’t know him yet.
Tom Korge has been around Coral Gables much much longer. He’s a well-respected tax lawyer, and performed particularly well in the candidates’ debate I saw. Folks I trust, who know him (I don’t), say he’s a great guy. However, I can’t say I like his latest advertisements very much, particularly those trying to equate Slesnick and deposed county Mayor Alvarez. It’s not IMHO a fair comparison. On the other hand, while some have suggested that because Korge used to Chair the Pensions Board, he should have some blame for today’s pensions underfunding crisis, I don’t buy that. The Pensions Board is primarily about how to invest the money, and isn’t responsible for setting the payouts, which is done in the context of labor negotiations. Indeed, the case for Korge, besides his general thoughtfulness, is his background in tax and pensions. If pensions are really the city’s greatest problem, and everyone says they are, he may bring the most expertise to the table. I also think he would be good for town-gown relations; although he’s mostly town, he does teach as an adjunct at UM so he has professional relationships with some people on the UM campus, and that should help him bridge what is too often an over-polarized divide.
So I think I’m going to vote for Korge. I can see why someone would vote to retain the Mayor, but I think it might be time for a change, and Korge seems like the right man for our current problems. I get why some people love Cason, but I think he’s a risk we don’t need to take given the presence of other good candidates.
Once again we have a number of plausible candidates.
Politically, I suppose I should be a Brad Rosenblatt fan. I can’t do it. I recognize that there are lot of people he’s helped, and who think he’s wonderful. His long record of civic good works exceeds that of any of the other candidates, although both Quesada and Sanabria also have things to brag about. But Rosenblatt feels like a risky candidate because he seems a bit naive. He signed blank checks at 25; he mis-estimated how disclosures about his history would work in a campaign at 35, and didn’t come up with a good contingency plan to manage them either. I wouldn’t have him as my lawyer. (That’s a metaphor; he’s not a lawyer, he’s a businessman.)
Gonzalo Sanabria seems like a smart guy. I also found him quite charming personally. Having outsourced the negative campaigning to his supportive PAC(s?), Sanabria has run what on the surface at least seems a good campaign. To his credit he has been the candidate who has made the clearest promises about what he would do. He’s another candidate whose call to civic engagement came late in life, as he didn’t bother to vote most of the time he was making his fortune. But he has got good works on c.v., and I think he has principles. I’m just not sure they are the same as mine: I think (based on his votes to move the UDB) that he’s someone who is instinctively much more pro-development than I am, an attitude that has not, in the main, served South Florida well in the past decade or two. I’m not one who thinks we should stop all building, but I do think that local government needs to take a strong hand to control people who would move the UDB and put more stores and more developments on what is left of the Everglades. That’s not an issue in the Gables, but it bespeaks an approach I don’t share. Indeed, his very strengths — intelligence and energy — might make him dangerous.
Frank Quesada too seems like a smart guy. There’s no question that his politics are well to the right of me, but I do believe him when he tells us that he’s a numbers and facts guy. (See Quesada Makes His Case for the Commission Group 4 Seat.) His style is methodical and careful. He has energy and determination. I find it odd that people in the comments to other posts here are slamming him for his youth. I don’t think 31 is in any way too young to be a Commissioner. The US Constitution says you can be a US Senator at age 30, and a member of Congress at 25. I think being on the Commission isn’t any more demanding than those jobs. I think I remember what I was like at 31 and I think I was about as responsible as I am now, if perhaps a little more hot-tempered. (Quesada does not seem hot-tempered: he seems very calm.) More to the point, we let people act as lawyers and other fiduciaries for large and important matters at that age. From what I’ve seen so far, I might well be comfortable with him as my lawyer, and while the test for a good Commissioner isn’t exactly the same (and I certainly don’t want to be read to suggest that a Commissioner has to be lawyer!), for me the tests have enough in common that I am ready to vote Quesada.
There are three other candidates in the race. The Herald endorsed Rene Alvarez, and I thought he did OK in the candidates’ debate, but he hasn’t been running a full-court campaign, and indeed the endorsement was sort of odd. Jackson Rip Holmes is cheerfully irrelevant. Richard Martin also did OK in the debate, but his comments on this blog afterward were so intemperate and out of bounds that I wouldn’t vote for him for assistant dogcatcher.
Bill Kerdyk, the incumbent, only has one opponent, Richard Namon. Namon seems like he might be a more serious citizen than I originally gave him credit for, but he didn’t cut a great figure at the debate. Then again, neither did Kerdyk. Kerdyk has all the money, and all the endorsements, and seems certain to cruise to victory, but I’m not endorsing anyone here.