Yesterday I attended the Coral Gables Forum candidates’ debate for Coral Gables Commission Group V election. This is the race with the most candidates, making the events most difficult – they’re not real debates, and every candidate only gets to speak in short intervals – just 2 minutes for an answer, and a minute for a response.
The six candidates are Ariel Fernandez, Jackson Rip Holmes, PJ Mitchell, Sandra Murado, Norman Anthony (“Tony”) Newell, and Jeanette Slesnick.
It looks like in addition to the perennial issues of crime and whacking worker pensions, the big issue in this campaign will be – or at least should be – a surprisingly massive amount of development that will be hitting Coral Gables in the next year or two.
I went into the debate with a very open mind, and absolutely no idea who I wanted to support. I came away from the debate a bit confused. On the basis of this debate, I won’t be voting for Holmes or Mitchell, but I thought each of the other four candidates did well in different ways although their differences on most issues — to the extent there are issues — was not all that great.
Ariel Fernandez had clearly done his homework, and had facts at his fingertips. He answered questions. He also had what sounded like a really good idea about garbage fees that seemed to fly right over the head of most of the other candidates. (I’ll explain more in a future blog post.) It’s the sort of thinking out of the box that elevates a candidate above the pack. And he was the only candidate to note that developer money has a big sway in the election. I was impressed. But he was weak on the controlled choice question, basically saying it’s over and done with — although I suppose that is a view that many other voters will agree with.
PJ Mitchell hurt himself at the start of the debate with his attempt to wrap himself in the Kerdyk legacy. (My reaction was “run away!”). It got a little better as it went on, but there was a somewhat Kerdykian lack of substance. [[Update: I should give PJ Mitchell props for his answer on controlled choice.]]
Sandra Murado was perhaps the best speaker in terms of delivery. She sounded smart and I like smart. She had some facts and figures at her fingertips. But she also had a number of answers–especially on development–where she really didn’t answer the question. Then again, she ended strong, noting that her immigration law practice involves no issues that ever come before the Commission, and that she has no conflicts and she’s beholden to no special interest.
“Tony” Newell tried for vision and poetry and hit the mark (especially in his closing) more than he missed it. He was the candidate who spoke most about having a master plan for development and controlled growth rather than dealing with issues case-by-case although he was utterly vague about what he would want in this hypothetical plan. But Newell’s background, not to mention his election campaign two years ago, suggests a much more developer-friendly – even libertarian – stance than his presentation, so it looks like I have more research to do there. Has he changed? Newell also raised my eyebrows by suggesting that the police should be required to introduce themselves to two new citizens a day – maybe knock on your door to say hello. I’d find that creepy. I couldn’t figure out what I thought of his enthusiasm for a Crimewatch app, especially when it turned out to be a social media sort of thing in which residents would panic each other about something, and the police would not be obligated to respond, but would just monitor the app looking for patterns. On the one hand, I like the attempt to harness new technology – there’s a lot of ‘smart city’ stuff we could be doing – but on the other this did not seem the place to start. Plus Newell was the most outspoken about abolishing controlled choice-–on the grounds that parents should have complete control over their children. This sounded much more libertarian than neighborly.
Jackson Rip Holmes is a perennial candidate who rarely gets more than a few votes. He actually made considerably more sense in this debate than in any previous one of his that I have seen, but to be honest the bar on this one wasn’t that high.
Going in to the debate, Jeanette Slesnick was said by many to be the favorite due to her name recognition (wife of the former Mayor) and a long c.v. with extensive civic roles and connections in her own right. Many of her comments were about showing off her long civic record. Along the way she said some sensible things and, indeed, seemed very well informed. But she certainly didn’t hit this one out of the park.
There was a big audience turnout – far more than the number of chairs. The event was moderated by Coral Gables resident Channel 4 TV journalist Elliot Rodrigez (and, we were told “best dressed man in Coral Gables”). Attendees were invited to write questions on cards and after asking his questions, the moderator picked among them. (He didn’t pick mine.)
I still don’t know who I am going to vote for.
Below the fold, I reprint my detailed summary notes.