Category Archives: Coral Gables

Endorsements in Coral Gables Commission Races?

I thought I would create a place for people to post information about endorsements in the Coral Gables Commission and Mayor races. I’m primarily interested here in organizational endorsements, not individual endorsements by local elected officials and worthies.

Thus, for example, I emailed the Christian Family Coalition, which usually endorses in County races, and was told they have not endorsed anyone.

I emailed SAVE-DADE, but haven’t heard back yet, and will post an update when I do. (I couldn’t find anything on their web page.) [Update 4/1: Still nothing on the web page, but multiple sources tell me that SAVE-DADE endorses Ralph Cabrera, Ross Hancock, and Mary Young.]

Ross Hancock said at the most recent forum that he was the only candidate in his group endorsed by the Sierra Club. Have they endorsed in any of the other groups?

Please let me know in comments of any endorsements, or of other groups that you think I should contact.

Update 3/29/13:
From President John Baublitz, Fraternal Order Of Police, Coral Gables Lodge #7

The Coral Gables Fraternal Order of Police Walter F. Stathers Memorial Lodge No. 7 has endorsed the following candidates for their hard stance on crime in the “City Beautiful”. These candidates have acknowledged that crime is on the increase and are committed to providing our members with the tools needed to fight these increases in crime.

Mayor: Ralph Cabrera
Commission Group II: Ross Hancock
Commission Group III: Pat Keon

Update 3/30:

Democracy for America has a web page endorsing Ross Hancock

I’ve got more emails out to local groups, and welcome your comments and suggestions for who to contact.

Update 4/6:

Forgot to link to Miami Herald Editorial Board Weighs Into the Coral Gables Commission Election, discussing the Miami Herald’s endorsement of Jim Cason, Vince Lago, and Pat Keon.

Posted in Coral Gables | 4 Comments

Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce Commission Candidate Forum – First Reactions

Here’s a quick write-up of my first impressions of tonight’s candidate forum. I will post something much more detailed and somewhat less opinionated later. Be patient: It was a long event so it might take me a while. The event was recorded for Coral Gables TV so if you have cable, or can figure out how to navigate their web page, you can see the whole thing for yourself.

Coral Gables Commission races attract high-quality candidates. It gives you a degree of faith in democracy, one that participation in national politics can so easily leach away.

The Structure of the Event

Thanks in large part to the Chamber keeping the use of the clickers to a minimum, the Forum went off significantly better than I had feared: it wasn’t a circus. Parts of it were even informative despite the very short time-limits for candidate statements.

The focus on “decorum” and the prohibition of having candidates address each other directly turned out not to be a problem in the two Commission races where there is no incumbent.

Unfortunately, this ground rule did harm the discussion in the Mayor’s part of the program, as a significant aspect of the Mayoralty race is that it is a referendum on Mayor James Cason‘s tenure – and arguably that of Commissioner Ralph Cabrera too. As applied, the rule seemed like an effort to protect the Mayor from Cabrera’s criticism, and the moderator’s genial but yet slightly barbed banter with Commissioner Cabrera about his tendency to talk a lot (e.g “you just beat the over/under” for when he might go over time) might have raised an issue of partiality in the eyes of a suspicious watcher. Then again, for all I know, maybe they are all drinking buddies. I am not part of the Chamber and wouldn’t know.

Group 3

I was most interested in the first event, the Group 3 race, because I had to miss the previous debate. I came into the room thinking that the candidates I most wanted to see were Mary Martin Young and Patricia A. Keon, whom the conventional wisdom sees as the front-runners. I was also curious about P.J. Mitchell, who I thought wrote one of the better candidate statements. Of these, I was maybe leaning a tiny bit towards Patricia Keon, just based on her c.v. and what other people had said to me about her, but I was mostly undecided. And, to be honest, I just hadn’t focused on Norman Anthony Newell at all.

Ms. Keon, to my surprise, was just not impressive. Fresh off the Herald’s endorsement, she was overly cautious and unspecific and just plain ducked some questions. Maybe this was a calculated caution strategy to preserve a lead, but it came off as either unwilling to commit, or just uncertain. It wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t vote for her, but it didn’t make the sale. Ms. Young also ducked and weaved, plus managed to be at times sound-bite grating and often needlessly patting herself on the back for her achievements both in scripted and unscripted moments. It was so bad that I won’t vote for her. Mr. Mitchell was also a bit of a disappointment: he was (over?) folksy, but for most of the event struck a one-note candidacy: pensionspensionspensionspensionspensions. There is more to being a Commissioner than just that one issue, especially as most if not all of the candidates seem in fairly broad agreement about it. Jackson Rip Holmes is not a serious candidate in either sense of the word “serious”.

In contrast, Mr. Newell was thoughtful and substantive (and seemed justifiably to chafe at the format). He didn’t duck the questions. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but he made the case that the Commission needs some new blood and he, the youngest candidate in the race, might be the person to provide it.

Bottom line: I left very impressed by Mr. Newell. I don’t know if he has a chance in this race, but even if he doesn’t win, maybe he ought to keep running until he does.

Group 2

On the whole there were not that many differences from the Coral Gables Commission Candidates’ Forum (Group II) meeting a couple of weeks ago. I thought Marlin Holland Ebbert did considerably better than the first time; I still thought Ross Hancock had the best policies (and he’s endorsed by the Sierra Club!), but he came off as a bit more pugnacious than last time which probably won’t help him with the average voter. He had the best and most detailed answer to the trolley question. Vicente Carlos Lago was more subdued than he had been. I had some trouble with his reply to the question about historic preservation which, although saying it matters, also seemed suggest an appetite for development that plays into the ‘special interest candidate supported by developers’ story that the other two candidates were selling with various degrees of gentleness. Mr. Lago also was the only candidate who ducked the hard part of the question about whether the Commission was right to site the Trolley garage in the Grove over the objections of local residents. (The other two said that at least we could extend the service to them, which I think is right.) Off the dais Mr. Lago is about as friendly and charming as a person can get, and I think he’ll be a great neighbor, Commissioner or not. But I don’t think what the Gables needs right now is a development boom (although I am persuaded it needs a downtown makeover of some sort), so that made me a bit nervous about adding another pro-developer vote to the Commission.

Bottom line: Still leaning pretty strongly Hancock, but feeling OK about all the candidates as individuals (the issue of their effect on the overall makeup of the Commission is something I’m only starting to think about).

Mayor

Again, the substance of this debate was largely a replay of last week’s debate. I was a bit shocked that incumbent Mayor Jim Cason again quoted Commissioner Ralph Cabrera out of context in order to try to make it look like he was ignoring the pensions crisis when in context the remark Cason seized on clearly meant the exact opposite. This is really a cheap shot. It has to make you wonder.

On the other hand, I was also surprised that Cabrera is still flogging the crime issue to the point that his campaign workers were handing out copies of my post Is Crime Up or Down in Coral Gables? Yes. (which would have been fine if they had included the Creative Commons copyright information) since that blog post suggests Cason’s numbers were on the whole better than Cabrera’s. I guess the crime issue polls well. I’d feel better about it if Cabrera had something more specific to say other than ‘we should give the police the tools they need’. What tools those are, he does not say.

Bottom line: Still undecided. Ouch.

Posted in Coral Gables | 6 Comments

Appalling Ground Rules for Coral Gables Candidates Event

Large cattle-call events are never a very good way to figure out who to vote for. Even so, tonight’s Coral Gables Commission candidate event at UM seems to have been expressly designed to be about as awful as possible.

Consider this trifecta of horribleness:

  • The candidates have only sound-bite-size times to speak.
  • The candidates are discouraged from responding to each other: the event is “not designed or intended to be an opportunity to engage and debate your fellow candidates”.
  • Candidates are expressly encouraged to pack the meeting with partisans — and their responses will be monitored in real time with electronic clicker-style devices.

This is a recipe for a circus, not an meaningful moment of civic deliberation. Clicker rating of candidate statements makes sense if you have a panel of representative voters but not if the sample is biased by who bused in the most partisans (read, who has the most money to spend).

Shame on the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce for emphasizing the superficial and making meaningful discussion not just unlikely but nearly impossible. And shame of then again for going for glitz over meaningful data.

Here is the text of the ground rules circulated by the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce for the event tonight at the University of Miami Field House.

Based on the large number of candidates who have qualified, we will be modifying the format of the Forum slightly from our original plan. The new format is as follows:

1) Group III, which has 5 candidates, will take part in the first session, commencing at 6pm
2) Group II, which has 3 candidates, will begin at approximately 7:15pm
3) Group I, the mayoral candidates, will begin around 8pm

There will be a short break in between sessions to allow for re-set of the dais. Coral Gables TV will be televising the program, live to tape.

Each candidate will have one minute for his or her opening statement, 90 seconds for closing remarks and one minute to answer each question posed by the moderator. We strongly encourage candidates to use their time to promote their platforms and to share their ideas and experiences. The Forum is not designed or intended to be an opportunity to engage and debate your fellow candidates.

Each candidate is encouraged to invite his or her supporters to attend the Forum. We have included the event invitation for you to post and share (attached). Each candidate will also be provided a 6-foot table outside the venue to place campaign literature. No distribution of campaign materials will be allowed inside the Field House.

Appropriate decorum from all candidates and their supporters is expected at all times. Any disruption or outburst takes away from the seriousness of the occasion.

We invite each candidate to submit one question that will be asked, without attribution, to all the candidates in your Group. Please submit your question by Friday, March 22nd at 4 pm directly to Patrick O’Connell at [email address] for inclusion.

Our moderator will be Perry Adair, Incoming Chairman of the Chamber and Managing Shareholder of the Coral Gables office of Becker & Poliakoff. It will be his responsibility to make sure the candidates abide by the rules of the event, and in particular, the time allotted to each candidate for opening/closing statements and to answer each question. The moderator will have the authority to ask follow-up questions. If he does so, he will announce the time allotted for the candidates to answer the follow-up question.

This will be an interactive event. There will be real-time audience participation in the Forum via a “clicker” system. Much like the “ask the audience lifeline” we are all familiar with, members of the audience will be given wireless devices that they can use to give their input. For example, on some questions, the audience will be given an opportunity to indicate which candidate’s answer to the question was the best. At the beginning and end of each session, the audience will be asked to indicate which candidate they are leaning towards supporting.

Coral Gables deserves better than this.

Posted in Coral Gables | 3 Comments

Is Crime Up or Down in Coral Gables? Yes.

One of the most contentious issues in Thursday’s Coral Gables Mayoral Candidate debate was about whether crime was up or not. Since at the end of the day this is a factual question, I thought I would try to get to the bottom of it. Here’s where I looked and what I found.

The most recent data I could find on a quick visit to the FDLE crime data web pages was for an earlier period, January – June 2012. There it shows a 6.5% increase for Coral Gables crime. If that is a six-month gain, then annualized it would be at at 13% rate as Commissioner Ralph Cabrera said in the debate and as has been claimed in anti-Cason mailers.

As an experiment I called the Coral Gables Police Department to get a copy of their crime data. I got shunted around a bit, but ended up with a public records clerk who took down my request for total crime numbers 2000-present at six month intervals (thus comparable to FDLE), and violent/non-violent breakdown. He told me it could take 2-4 weeks to respond to my request because they are very backed up. I asked if I could be treated like Press and get an answer before the election.

Eventually I ended up speaking to Officer Dean Wellinghoff, the Coral Gables Police Public Information Officer, who very quickly pointed me to a video of Acting Police Chief Scott Masington testifying to the Commission in December 2012.

I would suggest that for full context you play Item F-4, which is Cabrera’s set-up, and then H-2, which is the Chief’s testimony. The Chief’s presentation includes charts with a 5+-year comparison. According to the Chief’s testimony, and from what I was able to see from the fuzzy images of his charts, violent crime is quite low and generally stable, and usually involve parties known to each other. Robberies (which are distinct from burglaries) are declining. Assaults are more or less stable. Residential burglaries were up, but started to decline in June and were way down in the later months of last year; commercial burglaries are down. Larceny (simple thefts, including shoplifting), is maybe up a tiny bit. Vehicle burglaries (stealing from cars) are also up – although the Chief says the cops caught the guys behind at least 20 of the car burglaries in November. Auto theft is up. Vandalism is down.

I am not completely sure what to make of this. The bottom line total number is stability, or maybe a tiny decline. In a literal sense, though, both Cason and Cabrera are telling the truth: crime was up 6.5% in the most recent period covered by the FDLE data, which if you annualize becomes 13%. On the other hand, if you add in five more months of data, as the chief does in his December testimony, the total picture looks a lot less bad. The uptick in vehicle burglary and auto theft is largely counterbalanced by lower levels of other crimes. Given he’s using the more recent data, though, it would seem Cason has the better of the factual argument assuming the two data sets are comparable.

One other thing that comes out clearly from the H-2 video is that the Commission, at least by the end of a long hearing day, really is factionalized and is sort of dysfunctional. Plus, the City Manager really is out of line making political statements from the dias designed to undercut Commissioners. No wonder they don’t like him. And it’s likely mutual.

Posted in Coral Gables | 7 Comments

Miami Herald Editoiral Board Weighs Into the Coral Gables Commission Election

The Miami Herald — which IMHO has very little credibility in Coral Gables elections given the weirdness of its endorsements two years ago (Renee Alvarez? Really?), has chosen to endorse Cason, Lago and Keon. As I’ve said previously, I’m a bit torn in the Mayorality race, think Hancock won the debate in Group II, and am as yet undecided in Group III.

There was a time I thought the Herald’s electoral endorsements were useful input into my decisions, especially for more obscure races. Ever since I started doing my own research, I’ve largely abandoned that view.

I guess I will make up my mind after the next cattle-call style candidates’ debate.

Posted in Coral Gables | 1 Comment

Coral Gables Mayoral Candidates Debate: Lots of Heat, Some Light … and a Lot of Facts Not in Evidence

Last night I attended the Coral Gables Commission Candidates’ Forum for the Mayoral Candidates, organized by the Ponce Business Association. The candidates in Group I (Mayor, two year term) are Ralph Cabrera and incumbent James Cason. Cabrera is an incumbent Commissioner but is term-limited for running to retain his current seat.

It was standing room only (about 150?) at the Coral Gables Congregational Church. There was a larger and more animated crowd than last week’s Group II Debate and they frequently offered partisan applause. This was not your average crowd and I wondered if there were many undecided voters present or if they all were supporting one campaign or the other — when the moderator flubbed a biographical fact about Cabrera during the introductions half the audience shouted “no”. There were even polite demonstrators outside, handing out fliers in opposition to the Coral Gables garage. Many of the questions submitted from the audience read like plants, designed to help one candidate or the other.

Local CBS4 news anchor Eliott Rodriguez again served as moderator. The format of the Forum was similar to last week’s: three-minute openings from each candidate, then questions from the moderator followed by some audience-submitted questions read by the moderator. Each candidate had two minutes to reply to each question, and at the end there were three-minute closing statements.

The word about this election is that the two candidates represent different, very divided, factions on the Commission. You can get a flavor of the gossip from Political Cortadito’s post Gables mayor’s race has third ‘candidate’ — the manager.

Both candidates made remarks that were rude or easily misinterpreted; Cason was more pugnacious than Cabrera, but nobody won this debate on style.

On substance it’s also a tougher call than I expected, in part because I still feel like I don’t know who is right about many facts on which the candidates differed.

  • Is the Coral Gables crime rate up (Cabrera) or down (Cason)?
  • Is the City Manager doing a great job (Cason), or worth retaining but needs his feet held to the fire sometimes (Cabrera)?
  • Is Cason deferring too much to the Manager (Cabrera), or meeting privately with the Manager to shape the agenda in a manner that excludes other Commissioners (Cabrera), or a tireless public servant and paragon of openness who would happily meet with all Commissioners regularly (Cason)?
  • Is Cason more confrontational with the Unions and City workers than necessary, and has he missed out on opportunities to negotiate in favor of shoving concessions down their throats?
  • Is it true, as Cabrera charges, that the City would save money if it let the general municipal union leave the city pension fund, but the Mayor and Manager refuse to consider this option because it would mean less control over their workers?

Cason wins points for doing what he promised. Two years ago I thought it was fair to say Cason was a risky choice because, as a recent arrival to the City and to City politics, he was basically an unknown quantity. That argument cuts no ice today: Cason has a record on which he stands or falls.

So, while Cason wins points for doing what he promised, was what he was doing actually good? In some ways, yes; in others, not so much.

I think everyone agrees the City’s finances are in better shape today than they were two years ago. The whole Commission, and especially Cason, deserves credit for that.

I also agree that the City needs to upgrade infrastructure including roads and sidewalks. Cason wins a point for emphasizing that, although I didn’t hear Cabrera disagreeing with the objective, just the manner in which it was pursued without sufficient opportunity for citizen, or even Commission, input.

Cabrera has a record too. Cabrera wins points for opposing some initiatives that I don’t think were at all good:

  • Forcing low-paid employees to take a 20% salary cut – which was moved into pension contributions — is pretty bad, especially if, as Cabrera charged, it made some employees lose houses or cars or forced them to go on Food Stamps. A de facto 20% pay cut is no joke for people living on a budget. Not making highly paid employees take a similar haircut seems to just underscore that someone has a management philosophy we cannot be proud of. Cason says that ‘City workers have tremendous salaries sand pensions,’ but how can that be true if some need Food Stamps?
  • Spending $305,000 – yes $305,000! – on a bunch of “skinny palms” in a bunch of utterly pointless traffic islands on LeJune – a road the City doesn’t even own but will now have a continuing duty to pay to maintain a piece of. (Cabrera also claimed Cason pushed through the change without allowing citizen consultation or checking with Fire and Police about the negative effect on emergency service access during rush hour.)
  • Waiving City procurement rules with some regularity and allowing no-bid contracts.
  • It seems pretty clear that Cason takes a Tea-Party-like approach to unionized workers: he would rather impose things on unions than have to negotiate with them. That saves money in the short term, but isn’t a great labor relations strategy for the long term.

Cason tried to harp on Cabrera not winning any divided Commission votes in the past two years. That hardly seems surprising if there is a Cason-Kerdyk-Quesada majority that regularly votes against Cabrera-Anderson. The issue for me isn’t who was winning those votes, but who was right. And as I noted above, without key facts, it can be tough to answer that question. Meanwhile, Cason’s implicit argument that winning proves you are right and losing a divided vote proves you are wrong just reinforced his opponents’ narrative that he’s a bully.

Bottom line: I dunno. Neither candidate scored a knock-out in my view. I tend to agree with Cabrera’s view of labor relations and public participation much more than with what appeared to be Cason’s. On the other hand, Cason is better at articulating a vision of what he wants Coral Gables to be like and other than his strong anti-worker vibe has some sensible things to say about what is needed to achieve those goals – infrastructure repairs, a downtown night life that makes people want to stay after dinner. I just don’t much care for what I hear about his means of getting us there. One might argue that the advantage of a bull in a china shop is that it does tend to get where it is going. Or one might worry about who and what gets trampled on the way.

Below I reproduce my notes of the event for those who want a less filtered account of the forum and don’t get Coral Gables TV. The event was recorded for Coral Gables TV, which is available on Comcast Cable (channel 77), or Adelphia Cable (channel 97), or online if you have not disabled the vulnerable Siverlight plugin from your browser.
Continue reading

Posted in Coral Gables | 2 Comments

Two Images from the Coral Gables Mayoral Candidates’ Debate

Full write-up tomorrow, but meanwhile I can say that the Coral Gables Mayoral Debate this evening generated more heat than light. A lot of heat. I thought both candidates behaved pretty badly at times.

As we went into the meeting there was a group of very nice people handing out leaflets outside protesting the Coral Gables garage deal that puts the garage in the Grove, but doesn’t offer the neighborhood any service.

None of the protestors came inside to write out a question for the candidates, or if they did the moderator didn’t choose to ask it, but in any event the issue was never put to the candidates, which I thought was a real shame, especially since the Grove residents are suing, and seem to have a case.

After the event the Cason campaign was handing out 8.5 x 11 color printouts demonstrating the source of the Cason-with-a-liquor-bottle image that figured in the Cason attack ad that I blogged about last week.

Incidentally one of those mailers turned up here yesterday in an English-language version. Here’s the image in question:

Mayor Cason said the Coral Gables liquor bottle was not Photoshopped, as I had imagined, but rather was artfully cropped: the original image shows Cason accepting the bottle from the Mayor of Cognac, to whom Cason had just given the keys to the city.

Cabrera said the mailers were not sent by his campaign, but didn’t deny that he knew about them.

But like I said above, there was bad behavior on both sides, and I’ll get to work writing it up. I’m still not sure who I should vote for on this one.

Previous Coral Gables election coverage.

Posted in Coral Gables | 4 Comments