Tania Valdemoro from the Herald has the scoop: Gables police union is behind flier attacking commission candidate. But the story just raises more questions.
Someone has been sending mailers to Coral Gables homes (I got a couple) beating up on Commission Group 4 candidate Brad Rosenblatt with lines like he’s a “deadbeat candidate out for a paying job” and “deadbeat Brad Rosenblatt is just bad news”. The return address is the “The Accountability Project” which the Herald found out is a group created for this purpose and lavishly funded by the Coral Gables Fraternal Order of Police, i.e. the Coral Gables Police Union.
But the Herald doesn’t address the issue of who paid for the (remarkably similar) push poll. I’d still like to know who’s behind that. Was it the police? I think it’s one thing to have the police union get involved in the campaign and send mailers. We may not approve of their candidate choice, or their judgment in sending out rather over-wrought, borderline sleazy, mailers, or their attempt to avoid accountability behind the name “The Accountability Project,” but that’s their legal right and it’s only more or less routine dirty politics, if still something of a novelty for Coral Gables. It’s something else to run a push poll operation that suggests — in the 21st Century, in South Florida at that — that one might not vote for a candidate because he is gay.
I think someone should ask the FOP if they were behind the push poll. And whether or not they are behind the poll, someone should ask the other candidates in the Commission race, and the Mayor’s race, what they think of the union’s involvement, and of its tactics. And someone should ask whether the other candidates agree that a candidate’s sexuality is irrelevant to his/her fitness for office. (Mr. Sanabria, you may recall, has already stated he agrees that whether a candidate is gay is not relevant; unsurprisingly, Mr. Rosenblatt also takes that view; so too did Mayoral candidate Jim Cason when I spoke to him today. I will ask the other candidates if I get a chance to do so.)
Two other questions that come to mind: Why target Brad Rosenblatt in a six-candidate race? And, who benefits? The answers to these questions, however, seem clearer, at least at first. Mr. Rosenblatt raised the most money, and early, making him look like the front-runner, and thus made him look like the man to beat (or beat up on). Look at the next-best funded candidate as a likely beneficiary. And would that just happen to be the Commission candidate preferred by the Fraternal Order of Police…Gonzalo Sanabria? Seems so, judging from the Herald’s coverage of recent fund-raising.
Finally, why is the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) against Rosenblatt and for Sanabria? One argument making the rounds is that they are concerned about candidates who are saying their pensions are too high, but that has hardly been Rosenblatt’s signature issue, leaving open the grim possibility that it is his sexuality they don’t like.
There is reason for the police union to be concerned about their pensions in this campaign. The incumbent Mayor, Donald Selznick, the argument goes, is a labor lawyer so he won’t be tough on this issue. In contrast, when Mayoral candidate Jim Cason hit my doorstep this afternoon, he told me that cutting pensions and/or making city workers pay into their pensions is his top issue. Tom Korge’s mailers say that “Additional pension reform is needed to prevent insolvency” and to lower property taxes. (Hmm … lower taxes when we face insolvency? That sounds odd.) But if the pension issue is big in the Mayor’s race, why then did the FOP focus its first and second rounds of fire on the race for the Commission Group 4 seat? (And is that it? The Herald says the Accountability Project has raised $98,000 and spent $93,757, but that doesn’t tell us if there are other mailers pre-paid and in the works.)
[Update: There’s a good posting at Political Cortadito, Gables PAC funds smear campaign, describing where that money came from — it’s not all from the police.
The money came in gifts of $5,000, $10,000 and $15,000 (Ron Book gave $2,500) from unions and associations and corporations whose owners are more corporations, making it harder to trace. But we were able to link the first $10,000 gift made by the “Informing Our Community,” which is not listed in Florida corporate records,by its Miami Lakes address. That property is divided into 10 parcels owned by different corporations. But two of them came back to Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, who is running for the county mayor’s seat, and his chief of staff, Alex Ruiz.
Others who contributed to the Non-Accountability Project were Arthur and Andrew Hertz, with two $5,000 donations from their media companies, and several unions …. The biggest gift came from the Teachers for Public School Excellence, a PAC of the United Teachers of Dade, which Donner has done work for in the past. He would not say if he continues to lobby or work on the union’s behalf (“I just don’t talk about my clients.”), but I know a bunch of teachers who would be downright outraged if they knew that a whole $30,000 of their lobby and PR money was being spent on a smear campaign in a city of Coral Gables election.
–end of update]
The Coral Gables Watch Blog thinks the FOP’s support means Sanabria will not be aggressive on the pension issue:
No doubt the the police are afraid to lose their excessive pensions, salaries and other benefits.
And be sure now that you cannot count on Mr. Sanabria to vote for any changes in these excessive salaries, pensions and other benefits.
That financial self-interest would explain the union’s stance. On the other hand, one of Sanabria’s mailers says he wants to “fix pension and retirement deficits and rising costs”. And his background as a developer doesn’t suggest a pro-labor bias. Then again, maybe the Coral Gables Blog is on to something: after I wrote up my coffee with Mr. Sanabria, he called to take exception to one line, where I claimed he was pushing “Republican-style politics of cutting payments to workers” and asked where I got it. (I pointed to the mailer.)
For those of us not in the know, it all seems very murky indeed.
Note also that I have not expressed a view above on the merits of the pensions issue. In general, I tend to be suspicious of claims that public employee pensions (e.g. teachers’ pensions) are excessive as I see the pension as part of the trade-off that usually has those workers accept lower salaries in exchange for a livable retirement. Everything depends on the formula. There are cases where the formula allows manipulation, e.g. by basing the pension on final year salary including overtime and comp time — something you see most often in police and fire departments where there can be a lot of overtime. Mayoral candidate Cason suggested to me that Coral Gables suffers from one of those, but I cannot claim to have mastered the issue. I understand that the Herald’s Ms. Valdemoro is working on a story on the pensions issue — showing yet again why newspapers are so important to democracy.