Ariel Fernandez is the alphabetically first candidate for Coral Gables Commission Group V. We met on March 13, at what seemed to be his defacto campaign office at the Liberty Caffe at the Coral Gables Country Club. Despite the tony address, it’s not a formal place. (Half price gelato on Tuesday! Free parking!) I wanted to ask him about my list of issues.
Broken sidewalks got Ariel Fernandez into Coral Gables politics. His background is in constituent services. Fernandez worked for Illeana Ros-Lehtinen for 11 years and also for David Rivera for two years (a fact omitted from — or perhaps it would be better to say utterly obfuscated on — Fernandez’s online bio). Local gadfly George Volsky, whom I used to respect until he started attacking the people who rightly demanded that former City Manager Pat Salerno resign for misleading the Commission, basically says that Fernandez lied on his bio by claiming 11 years with Ros-Lehtinen. Volsky claims that, “Records of the U.S. Congress state ‘Ariel Fernandez’ worked for Ileana as a Congress employee for only 18 months, thus all the other years he must have been, if true, a volunteer.” I asked Fernandez about this on April 7 and Fernandez replied that he worked for Ros-Lehtinen in various capacities part time while attending FIU, so his work record is a combination of part and full-time but it does cover 11 years. And he says he has the online pay records to prove it. Because the records on that page are locked to subscribers I have not actually seen the linked entries, but on the surface their very existence would seem to be strong support for Fernandez’s version of this story. Fernandez says that Volsky — who unlike me used to be a professional journalist — never called to get Fernandez’s side of the story. (I called Volsky this morning and asked him whether he had called Fernandez to check out the story, and Volsky confirmed he had not, saying he’s writing an opinion column and that the rules are different for opinion pieces and it was enough to rely on the Congressional Record; that’s a correct statement of the dominant journalistic ethics, but in my opinion — as an opinion columnist — a poor rule to go by nonetheless.)
Although one should have expected greater candor about the Rivera connection, dealing with constituent problems has to be good training for being a Commissioner, and it’s a key part of Fernandez’s narrative about himself. The way he tells it, he didn’t plan to run for Commissioner, he was just trying to organize some residents in his neighborhood to ask the City for some improvements to sidewalks and trash pits and other issues. Pat Salerno, the former City Manger not only ignored them, he denied there were any broken sidewalks in Coral Gables, and a campaign was born. There’s little danger that Fernandez sees this job as a springboard to higher office; it’s clear from the way he talks that he doesn’t want to live anywhere else, and indeed resisted pulls by his former employers to move to Washington.
There’s something attractive about a grass-roots candidate. But what about the issues?