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.
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.
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.