Gonzalo Sanabria Turns on the Charm

Gonzalo Sanabria unleashed his charm offensive yesterday.   It all began last Wednesday, when I posted about the Coral Gables Commission Group 4 election:  I Just Got Push Polled in the Coral Gables Election.  In it I noted that Mr. Sanabria was one of the two victims of the poll (along with Brad Rosenblatt), but I also said this:

I have no idea who I will vote for, although I know two candidates I will vote against: Gonzalo Sanabria, who seems to represent almost everything rotten about local politics (and thus must be presumed to be the favorite to win?) and Jackson Rip Holmes…

My take on Sanabria was based on a series of postings at Eye on Miami (e.g. this and this), the blog which I’ve found to be most reliable on local politics, especially since the demise of Stuck on the Palmetto.  Imagine my surprise when Mr. Sanabria called me up the next morning and – very politely – asked me to meet him.

We got together at a Starbucks yesterday morning, and the charm began.  He’s pretty good at it.

Much of the conversation was off the record, although I did get on-the-record statements regarding the push poll and the claims it made (see below).  I also got a taste of the Sanabria case for his election, some of which is on his web page, which I take to be a combination of three things:  1) Republican-style politics of cutting payments to workers and supporting development plus “no new taxes”; 2) a technocratic/entrepreneurial claim based on his early career as an economic analyst and later career in real estate; and 3) a dash of Cuban entitlement — pointing out that there’s only one Latin on the Coral Gables City Commission, and saying how about another one, maybe one whose father happens to have had strong anti-Castro credentials and who came to Miami as a refugee at age 12.  Needless to say, only the part about being an economist works especially well for me.   That said, one might expect the package to play well in the Gables — although it didn’t quite work out the first time Sanabria ran for office: he lost by 323 votes to incumbent Maria Anderson.

On the record, I asked him about the push poll. Sanabria started by strongly denying any involvement, and I believe him: indeed who would even suspect a person of paying to push poll against themselves?

I asked him who he thought did it. Other than suggesting it must be one of his opponents, all he would say is, “I find it to be quite disgusting and out of place.”

Would it be OK to attack someone for being gay? A moment’s hesitation, then a firm “No.”

I asked if he had a favorite in the Mayor’s race. But there was no endorsement: “There’s three people and I can work with any of them.”

The push last week poll made four suggestions about the Sanabria record, and I offered Mr. Sanabria a chance to respond to each one.

As member of the Coral Gables Historical Preservation Board, he missed more than 25% of the meetings

“My kid Eric, my son, was a senior in high school and I never missed a game that he played basketball at. So I missed two out of ten meetings that he played basketball at. For me family always comes first.”

I neglected to ask if any of the kids still play sports.

He spent over 100K of his own money running unsuccessfully in what observers called “the nastiest local election ever”.

“I don’t know what ‘the nastiest local election means’. I got attacked viciously, I used my money, my $100,000 so I wasn’t beholden to any influence group. And we still gathered an additional $60,000 in contributions from city residents, taxpayers. This time around I’m not using any of my money.

“….I’m beholden to guy who gives the $25 , $50 check, and they’re mostly residents of the city.

“…[losing] by 323 votes against an incumbent. I wouldn’t call that ‘unsuccessfully’ — I would call that a pretty close race.”

As for donations in the current campaign Sanabria says the “80% of the contributions are from individuals” and “I won’t accept any money from contractual vendors.”

(In my opinion, however, that’s a little misleading since individuals usually give smaller contributions. The interesting question would be who the largest contributors are and how much they gave. Also, what % of the total is from gifts of $50 or less.)

In 12 years as a resident he only voted once in a city election

“I regret it. I regret it tremendously. If I had known then what I know now, I should have paid attention to the community. I was busy raising my family….I apologize for not voting.”

As member of the Miami-Dade Planning Advisory Board he voted at least five times to move the UDB farther west into the Everglades.

“That’s not true. But I did vote and championed the incorporation of eight new cities (Key Biscayne, Pinecrest, Doral, Palmetto Bay, Old Cutler Bay, Miami Gardens, Miami Lakes, Aventura, Sunny Islands).” Mr. Sanabria did say he voted to move the UDB twice, but insisted that in both cases there were very good reasons and in at least one of the cases the land was heavily polluted and would have been no environmental loss, rather a gain as it would have been cleaned up.

And here we get to the heart of the matter. I have no idea what the record on actual votes to move the UDB may be. And Mr. Sanabria insisted several times in our coffee that he has no desire to move the UDB south. But there’s no question that he’s a strongly pro-development figure. People like me who are neither happy with NIMBYism nor happy with unregulated sprawl anywhere, nor unplanned growth in residential areas will not want people on either extreme.

The question is particularly acute in Coral Gables which I think has benefited strongly from tough building codes and tough inspectors. Our buildings generally withstood Hurricane Andrew because we didn’t cut corners or leave out needed nails in roofs. Like many people in the Gables, I have had my issues with Code Enforcement and permitting. It can be a pain. But the overall effect has been to our benefit aesthetically, structurally, and in terms of property values. I think the truly conservative approach here is not to undermine Building and Zoning — a system that, even granting it has the occasional really annoying excess, has usually served us well.

So I still don’t think I’ll be voting for Gonzalo Sanabria. But he can be quite charming.


I missed the first candidate’s forum. I’ll try to make it to the next one — if I can find out where and when it is. These things are NOT well publicized.

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17 Responses to Gonzalo Sanabria Turns on the Charm

  1. mfr24 says:

    wow, this is better than Woodward and Bernstein. very interesting, and courageous to meet someone who likely is a power-hungry lunatic with an agenda and a score to settle. but sunshine is the best disinfectant. bravo.

  2. Just me says:

    Thanks for the post. Excellent. It would be fascinating if you could do this with more of the candidates.

  3. Robert Burr says:

    I was very much hoping Gonzalo would have won the race against Maria Anderson, but a dark horse candidate rarely takes an incumbent unless there is great upheaval in the air. Now, he’s been around the block a few times, people know him better and he has a good chance of winning the race for Group 4.

    Gonzalo is a man that can reach out to people that disagree with him. That’s a worthy and virtuous trait.

    Michael, Thanks for your forum. It adds a nice facet to our ability to gather reasonable information about local issues.

  4. TellingItLikeItIs says:

    I think that it was a positive gesture by Sanabria to reach out to you. You may disagree with his politics, but shouldn’t we be promoting civilized discourse among those that disagree? On the other hand, you have Brad Rosenblatt. Miami-Dade public records display a litany of lawsuits and foreclosure. That’s not about politics, it’s about ethics – a much bigger deal, IMO.

    • Do we know it’s the same guy? What is the candidate’s middle initial?There could be more than one Brad Rosenblatt.

      The difficulties seem to involve businesses and property on Miami Beach up to about 2002 or so. How long has the candidate lived in the Gables?

      It’s a little hard to square that picture with the extensive civic involvement since. I look forward to hearing his side of the story and will try to get it.

      And, of course, these are not the only two candidates in the race…

    • A says:

      In my personal opinion and I’m not defending or knocking him (Mr Rosenblatt) seems to be a common guy with everyday problems that plague our society (judgements, foreclosures, tax liens) maybe some of you that knock the guy for having these problems never has had to deal with a lost job, getting hospitalized or just plain poor management of ones money and probably have lived a previledged life to the point you just can’t relate to the layman on the street. So i believe the ones knocking Mr. Rosenblatt think its OK for Mega Banks, Auto manufacturers & Insurance companies to take TARP money for bailouts, million dollar executive bonuses, private jets or even to buy other companies. Even allowing Banks to foreclose illegally thru affivadit fraud, perjury & loss notes on individuals is probably OK with you. Just look @ our city beautiful and all its financial problems year after year and nobody does a darn thing to correct it why??? Regardless of who wins these elections i guarantee the Gables taxpayer will continue to be used and abused. In conclusion this guy Mr Rosenblatt who I have no idea who he is or stands for might not be a bad candidate after all based on my readings.

  5. abr says:

    Forum for seat 4 candidates at Bill Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami at 6 p.m. Tuesday March 29th sponsored by the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce (coralgableschamber.org) per the March 6th Neighbors section of the Miami Herald.

  6. Nice photo? Where do I begin, of course he was talking about the Codina property with the “heavily polluted” designation. Katy Sorenson said — about this property — why do we need to move the UDB to have it cleaned up, why are we not making them clean it up since it is required. That fell on deaf ears at County Hall. Developers always have a mighty fine excuse to hide behind when asking for a UDB move and they give the planning board member a good excuse to hide behind: “It was polluted”, “we need a school there and they will donate land”, “they will pay for a reuse plant”, “it will bring jobs” etc…I have heard them all. Note he said he wouldn’t move it South. Big deal, that is mostly wetlands. How about saying he won’t move it WEST where all his buddies own land. Even if he said, I wouldn’t believe him.

    Next, as to only one Cuban on the Coral Gables Commission: Maria Anderson is 100% Cuban, father and mother. I am assuming Rafael Cabrera, Jr. is also Cuban. So aren’t there 2 Cubans on a Commission of 4? Where is the beef there? Anyway, I hate the ethnic card and I wouldn’t vote for anyone that played it. Why he would use it on anyone named Froomkin is beyond me.

    This is what Gonzalo does, he takes you to lunch/coffee/whatever and he is so sincere and good-humored. I have talked to half a dozen people doing these one-on-one’s with Sanabria. If you were Cuban it wouldn’t have been Starbucks.

    • Whatsup says:

      Attended the candidates debate at Little Flower, and must say Sanabria is IMHO is the most qualified. The fact that he met the writer in person and discussed the questions just adds to my belief. It can be spinned as “this is what he does, if you were Cuban it wouldn’t have been starbucks etc” but at the end of the day, to me, it shows he is out there in the daylight tackling hard questions, will take that any day over cynical blogs meant to disparage only.

  7. Just me says:

    “This is what Gonzalo does, he takes you to lunch/coffee/whatever and he is so sincere and good-humored. I have talked to half a dozen people doing these one-on-one’s with Sanabria. If you were Cuban it wouldn’t have been Starbucks.” What’s wrong with that? Any of it? I don’t know Sanabria from Adam, but sitting down and having a pleasant talk with people who disagree with you should be applauded, not criticized.

    As for the “If you were Cuban it wouldn’t have been Starbucks.” So? What’s your point?

    • Whatsup says:

      After reading Mr Froomkin’s article about meeting with Mr. Sanabria, I had to go back and read the posts that he stated he used to base his opinion on Sanabria, posts which Mr. Froomkin links at the beginning of his article. Frankly, I am surprised if not shocked to see a Lawyer base his opinion on posts, and opinions from anonymous writers, not facts. The attorneys I have met, care only to see and hear facts, anything else is inmediately dismissed. Also surprised to see some of the posters here at present, were also posting the same type of posts back then on the blog Mr. Froomkin cites.

      This is the first time I am researching politics and candidates in Coral Gables
      and find this article not helpful at all.

  8. Honorable says:

    Considering the fact that Mr. Sanabria took the time to meet with you personally.. after you made a clear comment against him, was quite honorable. Not only that, he obviously was sincere and frank with you about some of the issues you brought up. I don’t understand why you feel it necessary to downplay the responses he gave you- and then highlight what you originally said and play that out again in this article as well. What’s the point? I went to the debate last night and it was clearly obvious that Mr. Sanabria is the person that has the post experience, the most poise, most professional and able to address each and every topic brought up with facts vs. speculation. What is the point in bringing up issues that are not relevant and current to the end goal? Mr. Sanabria is obviously able to deal with conflict, admit where he made mistakes and take that experience in with him to be a mentor to our community. I will most definitely vote for Mr. Sanabria and I think it was a most honrable gesture to meet with you. Perhaps you do have conflicting points of view.. however, I don’t see a premise for re-printing irrelevant matters. Sanabria is the way to move forward!

  9. TheIT says:

    Prof Froomkin, let me help in showing how political pundits assess a final vote count in a simple math layout.
    If, as correctly stated, Sanabria lost by a total of 600 votes; all this means to Sanabria is that he fell short of winning by 301 votes. Its just that simple by dividing 50% and adding one additional vote. For example, when Sanabria states he came up short of winning by 323 votes he is absolutely 100% correct. Now, to further add to the shenanigans that threw Sanabria under the bus; we had ’09 opponent Anderson stating that she had single-handedly been responsible for Gables having a reserve of Ten Million Dollars and that the Biltmore was paying their rent.

    Well, now we know the real story as exactly 48 hours after the election the City said it had zero reserves, much less than Ten Million and that the Biltmore stopped paying rent.

    That was a classical election sleazehanded manipulation of facts to favor Anderson. Shame on those that did that in 2009 BUT shame on us if we fall blind to it again in 2011

    • Regarding the part about voters being mislead by incumbents, I see what that might have to do with Group 5 and the Mayor’s race, but not what the connection is to Group 4. Am I missing something?

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