Category Archives: Miami

Bear With Me

The Coral Gables Mayoral candidates had a debate last night. I do plan to write about it, but not until I get back in town and have a chance to view a recoding of it. Check back for something late Wednesday.

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Report on Group V Debate — Six Candidates

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 PENSIONS.] (corrected)]

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.

Continue reading

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Coral Gables Candidates Forums

The Coral Gables Forum (previously known as the Ponce Business Association) will be running candidate debates for the upcoming Coral Gables Commission election. According to the calendar at their web page, this is the planned schedule:

  • March 2, 2015 – Candidate Forum for City Commission Seat
    Group V – Coral Gables Congregational Church 7:00pm
  • March 9, 2015 – Candidate Forum for Mayor Seat
    Coral Gables Congregational Church 7:00pm
  • March 16, 2015 – Candidate Forum for City Commission Seat
    Group IV – Coral Gables Congregational Church 7:00pm

According to an announcement reprinted at the Watchdog Report,

events will be held at the Coral Gables Congregational Church (3010 DeSoto Boulevard) from 7:00pm to 8:30pm.The doors will be open at 6:45pm so audience members can submit questions to ask the candidates. Our moderator will be Eliott Rodriguez of CBS WFOR-TV. If you have any questions please contact us at more information on the Candidates Forum and future events please visit our website at

I attempted to find out yesterday if the events will be televised on Coral Gables TV, but was unsuccessful. All I could learn is that they haven’t decided yet. (I sure hope so – I’m going to be out of town on the 9th; anyone available to video it for me if need be?)

There will also be a Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce event, held on the UM Campus a location TBA, but according to the charming lady who answers their phone, they haven’t set a date yet. When they do, it will appear either on the front page of their web site or events page. Last time it was in the fieldhouse on the UM campus.

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Contested Race in Group IV

Democracy is saved! Frank Quesada has drawn an opponent in Coral Gables Commission Group IV: Enrique Lopez, alternately described as a brilliant man and a “crony” of former Mayor Don Slesnick.

Not that there seems any groundswell to replace Quesada, but it’s still good to have a contest. Even good representatives should have to justify themselves to voters periodically. If, as George Volsky suggests, Lopez is allied with Slesnick, and given that Jeannett Slesnick is very much a candidate in Group V in her own right, it looks as if the sub-text, or maybe the actual text, of the election may shape up to be Casonites v. Slesnickites.

That could get heated.

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And Then There Were 6

Official City of Coral Gables : Candidates page now shows six candidates — perennial candidate Jackson Rip Holmes is back in the fray.

With this many candidates every candidate’s event is certain to be unsatisfying since they will just get a chance to soundbite, and there will little substance and less back-and-forth. Unless of course the people organizing the events change the round-robin format, and that is Not Gonna Happen…

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Fifth Candidate in CG Commission Race Group V

Jeanette Slesnick files to run for commission seat. (Earlier post: Already?.) If I’m reading the election info page correctly, today is the last day to qualify, so unless someone else files today, this is the full field.

Meanwhile I’ve gotten some campaign mailers and leaflets. So far they vary along a continuum from bland (Ariel Fernandez) to vaguely repulsive (Sandra Murado). To the limited extent they discuss issues, they all are for trees and city beautification, and against crime, road congestion, and high taxes. Where they differ is the extent to which they have demonstrated a zeal to cut city workers’ pensions. Personally, I’m not real impressed by a candidate whose claim to fame is chomping on the hides of city workers, most of whom don’t get high salaries.

Other than pension “reform” will there be any actual issues in this campaign, or will it be one of personalities and track records? Not that in fairly good times (we have a great new City Manager) there’s necessarily anything wrong with that: It could be that for small-city government, when there’s no crisis personality is a reasonable basic litmus test. But for folks like me who don’t pay attention except briefly every two years, that makes it just that much tougher to figure out who to vote for.

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April 14 — just over two months away — there is going to be an election for Mayor of Coral Gables and for an open seat on the Coral Gables Commission. Vice Mayor William H. Kerdyk, Jr., who has been in office since 1995(!), is stepping down due to term limits.

So in a couple of weeks I’ll have to start paying attention to Coral Gables politics again. A lot has happened since the ’13 election.

[UPDATES: THERE ARE MORE CANDIDATES — See Fifth Candidate in CG Commission Race Group V and And Then There Were 6 and Contested Race in Group IV]

As usual, I’ll try to go to some candidates’ events (please post any info you have about where/when they are in the comments!), send the candidates an updated version of my questionnaire, and maybe even try to do a phone or in-person interview with each of them. Please use the comments below to suggest issues/questions I should be asking about.

Meanwhile, a key fact: Voter registration closing date is March 16, 2014.

The candidates

For Mayor (Group I, two year term): This is a rematch election between incumbent Jim Cason and challenger former Commission member Ralph Cabrera, who lost by a large margin to Cason in 2013. The last election was fought over two main issues: Cason’s support for the then-City Manager Pat Salerno, and Cabrera’s claim that there had been an uptick in crime. Cason and his supporters ridiculed that claim, and he won re-election.

Funny thing, though–soon after the election it started to look like Cabrera was right all along. First City Manager Pat Salerno resigned after being caught hiding traffic accident data from the Commission (the underlying issue was planting of expensive and unnecessary palm trees – so Florida). Short of outright embezzlement (and we’ve had that in Coral Gables in the past), I can’t think of a better reason to get rid of a City Manager than hiding info from the Commission.1

Then the Chief of Police almost got fired for (allegedly) phoneying the crime numbers. Instead, the Chief resigned — but got a nice golden handshake. At the time I thought I had got snookered about crime data like almost everyone else. Score another win for Ralph Cabrera!

But, wait a minute, a later data audit by the FBI (the FBI does data audits???) said the numbers were not cooked? Now I’m confused again… Expect to hear more about this during the campaign until we are all sick of it.

For Group IV (four year term): Frank Queseda is running unopposed. Once it was usual to speak of a Cason-Kerdyk-Quesada majority, but Queseda broke with Cason on the critical issue of ousting the City Manager after he was caught misinforming the Commission and, if memory serves, also broke with Cason on the decision to oust the Police Chief for faking traffic accident data.

For Group V (four year term): this is the seat Kerdyk is vacating. We are entitled to hope for an upgrade. There are four candidates:

Both PJ Mitchell and Norman Anthony Newell ran in Group III two years ago, in the election won by Pat Keon (49% of the vote). In that race Mr. Mitchell got 7.38% of the votes, Mr. Newell got 6.00%. Amazingly, perennial candidate Jackson Rip Holmes (1.32%) does not appear to be running this year.

Conducted in off years, Coral Gables elections can be low turnout affairs. Although there are more than 31,000 registered voters in Coral Gables, fewer than 7,200 voted in 2013. So every vote counts more than you might think. With multiple candidates in the race you don’t even need a majority to win. There’s no runoff, much less the instant runoff voting system I favor for multi-candidate elections.

Note: Just in case it is relevant I thought I should direct candidates and their friends to the House Rules on Coral Gables political coverage. Worth reading before you try to enlist me in sliming your opponents.

  1. Incidentally, as I understand it, Commissioner Vince Lago deserves a good share of the kudos for standing up for basic principles of honesty and good government and making Salerno go, which might be enough right there to get my vote when he runs for re-election. []
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