Getting information about local elections is hard, and that’s why I’ve blogged the Coral Gables election so much.
People, especially colleagues at UM, ask me who I think they should vote for. Here is my advice, barring last-second surprises, for whatever it is worth:
Coral Gables Commission Group II: Ross Hancock
Coral Gables Commission Group III: Pat Keon
The Mayor’s race is a tougher call. I think Ralph Cabrera gets the edge, despite some reason to doubt how effective he will be as Mayor.
Commission Group II
At the first debate I attended, Ross Hancock said he that this upcoming election is about picking a team. Voters should think like a coach and pick people “with different skills” … “who do not hog the ball.”
I think that’s one of the best pieces of advice I heard in the events I went to. And it was a smart thing for Hancock to say, because it’s the heart of the case for his candidacy.
I’m not sure that we would necessarily want five Ross Hancocks on the Commission. His strongest suits are regional planning, environmental issues, and long-term thinking. He has pretty conventional views on things like pensions (got to fund them). He’s strongly for trying to get the Gables more input into the management and quality of our local schools, but that isn’t unique either. What resonated with me is that Hancock, more than any of the other candidates — even Jim Cason who arguably runs second in this department — was taking the long view. What will the Gables look like in 20 years if sea levels rise? How will we get insurance? Will we be able to sell our homes? Will any business want to locate here? Even if these are only contingent risks, they are real enough — and, if they manifest, huge enough — that it makes sense to spend some energy planning for them now.
The other candidates seem fine, but they don’t bring Hancock’s unique set of skills and concerns to the table. Marlin Ebbert has deep local roots, a lot of local friends (and family!) and a history of civic works, but she feels like the a cozier and nicer version of the Gables Old Guard. It’s not so much that I think she’d do wrong, as I haven’t seen any evidence that she’s the sort who will come armed with the uncomfortable questions.
Vince Lago has been seen as the front-runner for much of this campaign due to all the money he raised (although rumors are that polls now say otherwise?). Leaving aside the likely red herring of his homestead exemption, I think the real issue about Lago is that compared to Hancock he’s not going to bring anything really new to the Commission. The viewpoints he espouses are already well represented, and indeed are in charge and likely to stay that way.
The Commission’s biggest danger coming out of this election may be groupthink and unanimity. My bet is that Mayor Cason will be re-elected. If so, the Cason-Kerdyk-Quesada majority will remain in control of the Commission’s business. I think Lago would join that group on most issues, and nothing in his generally cautious campaign suggests he has any special issues of his own that he wants to push for. That’s not harmful, but it’s not very useful either.
I think Ross Hancock would be a unique voice on the Coral Gables Commission, and that’s why my vote for him is the vote I’m most confident about.
Commission Group III
This is a crowded race, and it hasn’t seen the big money that the other races have seen. The conventional wisdom is that Pat Keon and Mary Martin Young are the leading candidates, with perhaps Norman Anthony Newell in the conversation because of a sparkling debate performance and a nice write-up in the Herald. When I wrote my summary of the Summary of Group 3 Portion of Chamber of Commerce Candidate Event I concluded it with this comment:
having reviewed my notes, I still think Mr. Newall was the most impressive performer…but having had more time to think, I’m troubled by the substance of quite a bit of what he said, especially the naive optimism about re-writing the code. So I’m guess I’m leaning lightly Keon at present, mostly on the strength of what other people say about her and her relevant experience
Since then, I’ve heard in person or by email from people who know both Ms. Keon and Ms. Young personally and the contrast between the two sets of contacts has been really striking. Ms. Keon’s supporters tell me stories about her thoughtfulness, and her start in local politics as a mom fighting for a safer park for local kids. Ms. Keon’s c.v. also reveals serious political chops since that start, working on local issues for many years.
Ms. Young works at UM, and as someone with a vested interest in town/gown relations, I ought to be favorable to that, as should some of the fellow workers I’ve spoken with. But strangely not. I’ve heard more negative (or, to be fair, kinda lukewarm) stories than positive ones. This is far from a random sample — it may be, for example, that in polite Coral Gables people are more likely to tell me when they agree with something I wrote than when they disagree — but it is remarkable.
So I feel pretty confident in suggesting a vote for Pat Keon. With luck she’ll be a great ‘glue’ player on the Commission team — think Shane Battier?
PS. Crowded races like this are why it’s awful to have a one-round electoral system. We should have a runoff if no candidate gets a majority or, better yet, instant runoff voting.
I don’t have much to say about the contest between James Cason and Ralph Cabrera that I didn’t say in my earlier Thoughts on the Race for Mayor of Coral Gables.
The great George Volsky is a big Jim Cason supporter, and a big critic of Ralph Cabrera’s, a pair of facts which might mean something to some people.
There are unhappy people working for the City. Some are junior folk who saw their take-home pay cut by 20% for pension contributions. I think they have a legitimate complaint: imagine if your take-home pay got cut 20% all of a sudden. Cason didn’t do that alone, but it also doesn’t seem to bother him much.
[Update 4/8: It's been suggested to me that the actual number is 10%. I wrote down 20 at one of the debates, but have not researched it so it could be a transcription error on my part. I'm not sure that it makes a difference: the basic point is that there are employees, including some apparently near the food stamp line, who got their take-home cut unexpectedly. Meanwhile the top-paid employees suffered no reduction. If you're on a budget with rent and car payments, 10% is still a lot. I'm at a conference today and tomorrow so I can't research the number.]
Some other unhappy people are more senior who complain either of being terrorized by the City Manager (a claim I’m not that sympathetic to, if they have more specific gripes about substance can’t they leak them to the Commission?), or who make more substantive-sounding allegations about various choices by the City Manager, stuff relating to police and fire that could have boots-on-the-ground consequences. Cason is an unswerving supporter of the City Manager, who is undoubtedly doing a good job of improving the City’s finances. The issue is the human cost, and that is an issue that isn’t easy to get one’s arms around.
Cabrera talks a good game about dealing with those human issues, although his track record is erratic enough to make one worry about whether he can or will deliver. With Cason, what you see is what you will continue to get.
I think who you vote for depends on which issues you think are most important. Is Cason’s efficiency and full-time ebullience what matters most? Or does how we treat our worst-paid workers reflect us most clearly? The latter is an argument I joined other faculty in making to Donna Shalala during the last strike, and which I renewed recently in connection with the pay and conditions of contract workers doing UM’s food service. Myself I think we can ask no less of the City of Coral Gables.
For other, undoubtedly more important, endorsements, see the post, updates, and comments at Endorsements in Coral Gables Commission Races?.