I Just Got Push Polled in the Coral Gables Election

We’re having an unusually contested election in Coral Gables this April 12th, and the glossy fliers for the Mayor’s race have been streaming into the house. I’ve been meaning to post something about how frustratingly vacuous these mailers are, making the candidates almost indistinguishable on policy. At least they don’t have identical biographies.

But that’s for another day perhaps. Just now I got a call from a supposed survey that devolved into a push poll. After some standard questions about who I was supporting in the Mayor’s race (even though I’m somewhat OK with the incumbent Mayor, I’m undecided because I could be more OK and I don’t know enough about the candidates), and who I supported in the District 4 City Council race, the fun began.

The candidates are Rene Alvarez, Jackson Rip Holmes, Richard Martin, Frank Quesada, Brad Rosenblatt and Gonzalo Sanabria.  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, whom the Miami Herald described as follows:

On Jan. 15, 1988, Holmes was convicted of threatening Jeb Bush, who was under the protection of the U.S. Secret Service when his father, George H.W. Bush, was vice president. He served three years in federal prison and was released on Sept. 16, 1991, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Holmes said his civil rights were restored in Connecticut in 1994.

But back to the slimy “poll”.  After the basic question about whether I support any of the candidates, I got another standard-seeming question about what I think the top issue facing the city is (I’m paraphrasing the choices below because I don’t type as fast as the guy talked):

My choices were:

  • City infrastructure
  • Controlling growth
  • Crime
  • Cutting city services to save money
  • Ethics in government
  • Improving the economy and jobs
  • Reviving parks and green spaces
  • Solving traffic congestion
  • Reducing taxes
  • Cutting wasteful spending
  • Cutting excessive payments to unionized workers
  • Improving education

By now I’m not happy with the list. But I picked the last one.

There were then a few questions about the Biltmore Hotel (which owes the city massive back payments). (Again, a paraphrase follows.)

  • How strongly do I feel that the Biltmore should pay back the money it owes?
  • Do I agree that because the Biltmore is so important to the local economy, and because the ‘managers’ of the Biltmore have done such a great job restoring and improving it, and because they’ve only fallen behind on payments because the economy is so bad, that the City should do everything it can to cut them a break.

[Although I agree that forcing the Biltmore to close would be bad for Coral Gables, I don’t agree that the City should enter into negotiations with them in a supine position.  So I tell the guy that I don’t agree with the second question.]

Then it gets better: If I learned any of the following things about a candidate, would it make me more or less likely to vote for the candidate:

  • Candidate is openly gay and living with gay partner [I said this was a plus]
  • [I think I missed one – maybe something about not voting in local elections?]
  • Candidate was endorsed by former Vice Mayor Dorothy Thompson

But wait! Now it gets even pushier:

If I learned that any of the following statements about Gonzalo Sanabria were true, would it make me more or less likely to vote for him (again, these are paraphrased):

  • As member of the Coral Gables Historical Preservation Board, he missed more than 25% of the meetings
  • He spent over 100K of his own money running unsuccessfully in what observers called “the nastiest local election ever”
  • In 12 years as a resident he only voted once in a city election
  • As member of the Miami-Dade Planning Advisory Board he voted at least five times to move the UDB farther west into the Everglades

[I actually suspect these are all true, by the way.  Certainly the last one alone is not only likely true, but plenty of reason to vote against Gonzalo Sanabria.]

Then, on to the grand finale — If I learned that any of these statements about Brad Rosenblatt were true, would it make me more or less likely to vote for him:

  • He has a history of financial problems including an IRS lien for payroll taxes and filed for bankruptcy
  • He was arrested for embezzlement and grand larceny and pleaded no contest

After that I got asked again who I would vote for, but I was still undecided.

Here’s what I’d like to know

  1. Who paid for this survey (the worker drone reading the questions professed to have no idea)?
  2. Am I right in suspecting that the questions about Brad Rosenblatt are just fictions designed to smear him?  If so, should he get my vote out of sympathy for this smear job?
  3. Is this going to be the dirtiest campaign in Coral Gables history?

Meanwhile, I have to decide how to vote in the County recall election, which is in less than two weeks, and in which I have to vote early because I’ll be out of town on election day.  I was all set to vote not to recall Mayor Carlos Alvarez (alas, I don’t get to recall the very recallable Natacha Seijas).  But then I saw the story about the Mayor using county bus drivers to campaign for him — while on the county payroll.    (The Herald followup story has the Mayor running from the issue as fast as possible.)  So now I’m on the fence about that too.

UPDATE (3/8/11): See my coffee/interview with Gonzalo Sanabria.

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31 Responses to I Just Got Push Polled in the Coral Gables Election

  1. Robert Burr says:

    Thanks for sharing. This information is certainly illuminating. It’s a wonderful way to passively aggressively spread information about candidates and evaluate the negative responses.

  2. The characterization that the Biltmore owes rent is inaccurate. Based on the Federal Regulations and findings of the Department of Interior who oversee National Historic Landmarks, any rent payable to the City can only come from “Excess Income”, after paying all expenses of operating and maintaining the Biltmore Monument. The Biltmore does not generate enough to cover all the expenses of preserving the monument, and therefore no rent is due. In addition we have invested additional funds in the Biltmore to cover shortfalls. We continue to discuss this issue with the City, as we have been for years and we look forward to an arrangement that ensures the Biltmore has a sustainable model.

    For your reference, more information is available at http://www.biltmorepreservation.com


    Danielle Finnegan
    Biltmore Hotel

  3. Just me says:

    It is my, perhaps not entirely accurate, understanding that 1) the Biltmore’s annual rent to the City is $300,000; and 2) the City contract with the Biltmore allows it to review the hotel’s finances, but the hotel has refused to make those openly available to the city.

    I find it HIGHLY suspect that the Biltmore cannot pay $300,000 a year in rent to the city. I play golf there, I dine at the restaurants there, I occasionally “staycation” there, and I buy my wife spa passes for the hotel spa. I know what things cost there and I see what kind of foot traffic the place gets.

    If the rent is anywhere near the $300,000 per year that I have been lead to believe that it is, I find it disingenuous that the hotel cannot pay the rent – or at least a portion of the rent. I wonder what hotel management and executives get paid? How many six figure employees work at the hotel?

  4. Firstly, the issue is that rent is not due unless excess income is generated. Operating costs and expenses on maintaining an 85 year old national historic landmark have not allowed any “excess income” and quite to the contrary. Additional funds have been spent by the Seaway in the restoration of the monument over that past 19 years while it continued to pay rent of over 18 million dollars. The current operating model is not sustainable and the Biltmore has been discussing with the City a need for a new model for the past 4 years.
    Regarding the finances, the Biltmore has always coorporated with the City by providing a yearly audit by a third party auditor. If you are referencing the recent the PwC analysis, the Biltmore provided over 18,000 documents and satisfied all requests.

    And thank you for your patronage. The Biltmore is a wonderful story: a federally designated National Historic Landmark building, a world class hotel, a meeting place for the residents of Coral Gables and world travelers alike, and a source of pride for the entire South Florida community. The Biltmore is a place of direct employment for over 600 (and another 350 indirect), and has an estimated total economic impact of $111 million annually. Additionally, $6 million in state and local taxes and $10 million in federal taxes are generated by the Biltmore.

    Our desire is to adhere to the federal statutes and create a model that will preserve the monument in perpetuity.

  5. Robert Burr says:

    Regarding the Biltmore, I urge residents to look beyond the simple explanations proffered by the city over the past years. It’s obvious that the agreement between the city and the hotel management must be modified to respect the federal mandate of preservation first, before profit.

    It’s my hope that the city takes immediate action to amend the agreement to ensure fair and sustainable, and hopefully profitable, relations with the hotel management. I hope we can all agree that should the property become profitable again in the future, all profits earned by the city should be re-invested in the Biltmore Resort property exclusively to ensure the greatest value for the citizens of Coral Gables.

  6. That was one nasty push poll, obviously not paid for by Rosenblatt or Sanabria. If I were in Coral Gables, I would vote for Rosenblatt. I echo your concern on the Mayor and have decided to not vote. I am very afraid of who would take his place, so I might change my mind and vote to support Alvarez for that reason. I like the lame duck who is known rather than the unknown.

  7. Just me says:

    “The Biltmore is a place of direct employment for over 600.” If 5% of those employees receive 6 figure salaries, that makes 30 people who earn $100,000 or more a year at the Biltmore. Cut each one of there salaries by $10k. That is $300,000 a year that can be used to pay the rent.

    It is simply a matter of principle. How is it possible that if I – an actual city resident, voter, and constituent of city government – stop paying my property taxes, that a tax lien will be placed on my home. Meanwhile, if the Biltmore doesn’t pay its fair share, we all cry about economic impact on the City and blight and give these people virtual carte blanche to continue running their business (and paying their salaries).

    Its enough to make me sick.

    Robert: concerning your comment “I hope we can all agree that should the property become profitable again in the future, all profits earned by the city should be re-invested in the Biltmore Resort property exclusively to ensure the greatest value for the citizens of Coral Gables.” No, we cannot all agree. If the Biltmore “becomes profitable again” the money should go into general city coffers and be spent as is prudent for the whole city’s benefit. That might mean re-investment in the Biltmore, but could just as easily mean re-paving roads, adding sidewalks, adding/improving parks, etc.

    As I think I made clear in my last post, I like the Biltmore and enjoy going there. I don’t want to see the place closed again. But the Biltmore is not a sacred cow – especially when it is being run by a private enterprise. If the current management cannot pay the rent, we must shut it down until we find someone who can.

  8. Robert Burr says:

    I’m not going to call that reasoning simple minded, but it obviously ignores the base reasoning behind the feds giving us the property. Preservation first, before profit. The city’s lease ignores this simple fact of life. A 3.5 percent take of the gross off the top is not legal, proper, reasonable or frankly, possible in these financially challenging times. The property is not a cash cow. I see no wiggle room. The city has been ignoring the feds simple rules, causing the management company to dip deep into their pockets to cover significant expenses that the property should be generating for preservation.

    It’s been a long time since these issues have been discussed publicly with reason and I appreciate your responses.

  9. Just me says:

    “Preservation first, before profit.” If so, should we consider appointing a public board of directors to take control of the Biltmore? Eliminate the private enterprise currently running the pace and run it like a true not for profit? I simply cannot get beyond the “private-for-profit enterprise not paying rent” aspect of this problem.

  10. Robert Burr says:

    In fact, they have paid $18 million in rent so far, so there’s nothing to get beyond. The problem is, they’ve also had to invest $60 million of their own money i the property, not a great line item for their investors. The city has been dragging their feet on modifying the lease for many years now. It’s time to address the inconsistencies between the feds mandate for preservation first and the city’s wish for skimming profit right of the top. It’s not right.

    The last thing we want is a “committee” running the show at the Biltmore. I’m convinced this management team is outstanding since the first two that tried went bankrupt. Seaway has managed, under great stress and challenges, to keep the place running in top shape for nearly 20 years while respecting the federal mandate and dealing with the misguided intentions of the city.

  11. Just me says:

    When is the last time they paid rent?

  12. Robert Burr says:

    I do not have information on their last payment, but surely, a new agreement is in the works that is sustainable, fair and meets federal guidelines.

  13. Just me says:

    So I think that leaves us at: they are not paying rent. Right?

    If I stop paying my property taxes I will not be heard to complaint “but I used to pay my property taxes, and times are tough.” Why should the Biltmore management have it any different?

  14. Just me says:

    btw…I openly admit that: 1) I am not by any means an expert on the Biltmore issue; 2) other points of view beyond those that I am expressing have value (and may ultimately be correct); and 3) I am not even myself 100% convinced that the position I have taken in this conversation is necessarily correct.

    But, like Robert said “It’s been a long time since these issues have been discussed publicly with reason.” And what’s a discussion without a little challenge and disagreement to flesh out the issues.

  15. Robert Burr says:

    Yes! Public discourse on subjects of importance and interest — on a blog named discourse.net

    This is democracy in the new world of the virtual neural net. Thanks first and foremost to all who take the time to participate.

  16. TellingItLikeItIs says:

    Think Big! Think Better! I would question whether this Mayor is “somewhat OK”, given the Biltmore mess, his unwavering support for the crooked David Brown, and the untenable pension payment situation in which we find ourselves. Nevertheless, even if you think he is “somewhat OK”, I think after 10 years, we should aim higher. There are two other strong candidates in this race who I am confident will at surpass being somewhat OK.

  17. Robert Burr says:

    You’re right. Our mayor smiles a lot and likes to pretend nothing is wrong, and that might be OK if we lived in a mediocre town, but we do not. Thanks for telling it like it is.

  18. Coral Gables Resident says:

    I have had the pleasure of meeting almost all the candidates in this very crowded field. The one individual that truly made a positive impression due to his grasp of issues affecting our city and also his ability to clearly explain his plan was Frank Quesada. He visited by residence on 2 separate occasions over the past few months and I hope that the residents of Coral Gables give him the opportunity to serve. We did not agree on all the issues but he showed me why he was deserving of my vote.

  19. Just me says:

    Frank Quesada is great. I have known Frank Quesada since the mid-90s. He and I swam together at Belen, and we went to law school together. He is honest, intelligent, and open minded. We would do well with Frank Quesada representing us.

  20. Voice of Reason says:

    TellingItLikeItIs makes a great point. We deserve better than “Somewhat OK.”

    The Mayor has had 10 years to make his mark. Coral Gables now finds itself in a financial crisis, with a quality of life that has not improved while our taxes have gone up! Where has the money gone? The mismanagement is NOT OK, Froomkin! The only folks that are benefiting from this mess are city employees (most of which don’t even live in the city) and their pensions. The other two candidates are “somewhat” better. One (Korge) more than the other (Cason).

    Considering Jim Cason has lived in Coral Gables for ONLY 2 years and has never voted here before and that Tom Korge has lived here for more than 20 years and is tax and business attorney, the choice should be clear. Cason is a nice, distinguished guy but he does not offer solutions. All he’s doing is bragging about his foreign services experience. I’m curious as to what the heck that has to do with Coral Gables? Korge’s potential downfall is his infamous brother, Chris Korge. But like Tom told me when he knocked on my door, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” I think Korge gets it and I think he’ll bring fiscal discipline to City Hall.

    As for Group 4, I feel like Frank Quesada is the best choice. Rosenblatt and Sanabria have to make skeletons in the closet.

  21. Robert Burr says:

    Interesting discourse. FYI: Jim Cason is certainly over-qualified to serve as Gables’ Mayor. Although he’s not well known locally, he has a lifetime of experience as an international diplomat and ambassador, now retired. He will not have to share his time between working and serving the voters of Coral Gables. Like many of us that could live anywhere, he chose Coral Gables. We need an ambassador — an upbeat, positive, proven, reliable and humane leader — with no axe to grind locally. He’s squeaky clean. Once I took the time to get to know the candidates and speak with them personally, I’ve come to realize that Jim Cason is a dream come true for Coral Gables if he’s elected.

    • Voice of Reason says:

      Cason is a patriot. That’s undeniable. But what does he really know about Coral Gables?

      He’s over qualified to work in the State department, but certainly NOT qualified to be leader of Coral Gables. He just doesn’t know the city yet. That’s my only qualm.

  22. TellingItLikeItIs says:

    Oh, my, I just visited the Miami-Dade Public records, typed in Brad Rosenblatt’s name, and …. lots of lawsuits, a foreclosure, and more. Maybe a push poll isn’t the most ethical way to disseminate information, but you can’t deny that this one’s accurate. Drop out of the race, Brad, and spare us the misery.

  23. arideinthepark says:

    The campaign is surely getting nasty and certainly not appropriate for the City Beautiful. Lots fo skeletons are hidden in closets – The City Beautiful has not been beautiful for some time. I think residents should be focusing on revenues and expenses – efficiency in city hall – coming into the 21 century with technology and revising the ‘gold watch pension plans that keep on giving’ . Yes a better equation could be worked out with the Biltmore (Seway) but the chickens are too damn afraid to cluck! yep those city owned properties sitting idle as well as those not produce fair market revenues should be targeted…i.e.,., merrick park, parking garage near gables diner and the retail space on aragon to name a few; it’s a hard fast world we live in and Coral Gables residents have benefited from the revenue generated downtown. yet the City fails to re-purpose and re-invest in its main street corridor. Once I said “I don’t get it” but frankly I do. it is time to build a new commission and staff that with leadership and a vested interest to make life better in CG..it’s time to wake up and view Coral Gables as it really is…dilusional.

  24. Robert Burr says:

    I can’t disagree. We’ve been suffering from poor leadership for too long. The mayor is in complete denial. As long as he’s around, we’re stuck in the mud. But the Gables suffers from a double dose of ignorance and apathy. Most voters don’t know and most voters don’t care. Present company excepted.

  25. arideinthepark says:

    SO how to we raise the bar? Apathy will doom Coral Gables if it isn’t aready. Does anyone think Slesnick hasn’t benefited from freebies all over town? or the residual his wife makes as a realtor, not that Kerdyk hasn’t made his humble share as well. Someone needs to delve into the financials – the city properties, elases and the whwere the real revenues come from and go. A bond issue could have been floated for the downtown twenty years ago and cost the city nothing! now it is has become a campaign issue! what a joke! There is a master plan just not the one residents think it is or should be.
    Transparently – hang all the darn laundry out for the residents to decide. Unfortunately, it is not the question of who to vote for, the question is who not to vote for!

  26. Robert Burr says:

    In the state department, an Ambassador gets sent to a new country and immediately takes stock of his assets, defines his mission and objectives and creates a plan of leadership, reaching out to all the important people, the business leaders, the everyday folks — and gets right to work. Many of us that have lived here all our lives, have no idea how the city is run, who the department heads are, how to balance everyone’s needs and desires. Being here a long time does not make you smart or necessarily aware of what’s going on. Jim Cason has gained a heck of a lot of knowledge of how this place runs since he moved here and tried to get a few permits, not to mention his baptism by fire as a candidate.

    Seriously, he can make us proud. He’s honest, capable and best of all — diplomatic.

  27. arideinthepark says:

    GO JIM CASON!!!rather have sopmething truly qualified and even over qualified than the underqualified bumkins that have been elected previousl! nice guys or not – we need to separated the men from the boys! we need a class act who si diplomatic, smart and understand BIG Business!

  28. Enough_Already says:

    Mr. Rosenblatt has a very short memory. He wrote bad checks to many of his employees including my uncle. My uncle is retired, on a fixed income and desperately needs the money Mr. Rosenblatt stole from him. My uncle contacted Mr. Rosenblatt when he found out he was running for CG Commission. He asked Mr. Rosenblatt to make things right and pay him the money he was owed.
    Mr. Rosenblatt’s reply? FORGET IT. I was young and I made mistakes and I filed for bankruptcy in order not to have to pay you.
    Keep in mind that all the time Mr. Rosenblatt was embezzling and writing bad checks and filing for bankruptcy he was driving a Porsche and wearing Rolex watches.

    Coral Gables does NOT need a known thief in the Commission.
    Vote AGAINST Rosenblatt!!!

    • arideinthepark says:

      I hear what so many are saying about Brad Rosenblatt but until ‘his purported respones’ are made public, the jury is out. IT is true that once someone declares bankruptcy there is no mandate years later to pay anyone. Good people fall into and situations. splitting the vote is very dangerous – we may just end up wiht another Raul Valdes-Fauli, another Merrick Park which hasn’t made the City any ‘real’ money on its land lease and a lot of short fat pockets about town. Coral Gables is beginning to resemble Hialeah only prettier! somewhat that is! what a shame…

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