Miami-Dade politics

Consultant ends up in tough spot: the limelight

 

A mainstay of Miami-Dade politics, Al Lorenzo has this week ended up in a tough spot for a campaign consultant: the limelight.

pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

Fired from one campaign and chastised by another, veteran Miami political consultant Al Lorenzo finds himself in a position where no political operative wants to be: in the news.

Lorenzo, 60, lost his lucrative post in Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s reelection campaign Monday for failing to disclose that one of his subcontractors has a lengthy criminal record. Lorenzo remains on Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle’s reelection payroll, but she asked him to keep the subcontractor and career felon, Gerardo Judas “Jerry” Ramos, away from her race.

The moves capped a tumultuous week in local politics, following an investigation into ballot fraud in Hialeah. The probe rippled across the county, with chatter that Lorenzo was somehow linked to Deisy Cabrera, charged with absentee-ballot fraud, and that he had created a potential conflict of interest for Fernández Rundle. She recused herself from the case after Cabrera was arrested last week, citing unconfirmed reports that linked her campaign to Cabrera.

Lorenzo has flatly denied any connection to Cabrera, and Fernández Rundle has not clarified which person working on her campaign was allegedly seen with Cabrera.

“There’s an old saying that any press is good press,” said Screven Watson, a consultant for former Democratic candidates Rod Smith and Dave Aronberg. “That’s true — unless it’s about a staff person or campaign consultant … Most consultants understand that and take themselves out.”

Lorenzo is not just any consultant.

A mainstay of Miami-Dade politics, he has earned about $5 million in fees from 148 campaigns since 2000. A registered Democrat and lobbyist, he has also worked for top Republicans like former Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio and congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, while also pulling in $50,000 from the state Democratic Party in 2008 to help President Barack Obama get out the vote. His firm, Quantum Results, earned nearly $1 million from back-to-back efforts to persuade county voters to approve Las Vegas-style slot machines.

For Lorenzo, the latest spate of bad press comes as he juggles at least eight — formerly nine, counting Gimenez — candidates on the Aug. 14 ballot, excluding municipal candidates. Known as a judicial-campaign specialist, he has been paid by about 20 additional judicial candidates who did not draw opponents.

Not all of his clients appear happy with his services. Former Miami-Dade Commissioner Jimmy Morales hired Lorenzo for his 2004 mayoral campaign runoff against Carlos Alvarez. Asked if Lorenzo helped his race, Morales said, “Well, I didn’t win.”

Lorenzo did not respond to a call or email for comment Tuesday. He did not answer the door at his fenced, ranch-style home off Sunset Drive.

Before campaigning became a business, Lorenzo’s political life began as many do: through friendship.

Lorenzo was a childhood baseball buddy of former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. Years later, Lorenzo campaigned for Diaz, who was elected in 2001 and reelected in 2005.Working for Diaz, Lorenzo teamed up with François Illas, then the mayor’s chief of staff. The two later joined forces as campaign consultants, setting up phone banks, making media advertising buys, mailing fliers and corralling Election Day precinct volunteers. Illas, too, lost his job with the Gimenez campaign this week; his last day was Tuesday.

Diaz was so impressed with Lorenzo’s campaign work that he recommended him and Illas to then-candidate Barack Obama’s presidential campaign team in 2008.

“They targeted the Hispanic vote in Miami-Dade County,” Diaz told The Herald in a text message. “It led to a highly successful phone bank led by François and Al which produced a highly positive Hispanic vote for Obama.”

Democrats in Miami-Dade wanted to hire Lorenzo again this election cycle. But he didn’t get the job because of his ties to Rubio, a Republican senator elected in 2010.

A decade ago, Lorenzo began working with Bob Levy, a longtime lobbyist and political consultant who largely focused on judicial races for circuit and county court. Levy focuses on non-Hispanic white and black voters; Lorenzo handles Hispanics.

“What we do is kind of niche,” Levy said. “There aren’t really that many people in the field.”

Case in point: Both Lorenzo and Levy work for Rundle and for numerous judicial candidates — though they are also on opposing sides in some races.

Levy and others described Lorenzo, a married father of two, as a family man who attends baseball games with his son and drives him to college at Florida State University. His daughter from a previous marriage is a lobbyist for Florida International University, Lorenzo’s alma mater after he graduated from Hialeah Senior High.

Lorenzo began his career in banking and finance. At one point, he worked with prominent businessman Herman Echevarría. Lorenzo didn’t create Quantum until 2000, seven years after first getting into consulting with former Miami Mayor David Kennedy.

Lorenzo aided Rubio, now a U.S. senator, during his first campaign for the Florida Legislature in 2000. Over the years, he collected $140,000 from Rubio’s campaigns, including $80,000 during the 2010 Senate race.

Lorenzo, who in the past has lobbied for about 10 companies before the Miami-Dade County Commission, is currently Doral’s lobbyist in Tallahassee. In the wake of the current political firestorm, a city council member has requested to review Lorenzo’s lobbying contract.

Word-of-mouth has gotten Lorenzo steady work from judicial candidates, whose campaigns are limited by ethical rules that prohibit them from making promises of their conduct from the bench.

Tanya Brinkley, a Lorenzo client, said she hired him early as “a preemptive strike.” She also hired Levy, she said, because both have good reputations.

“It’s a given that if you hire them, they won’t represent your opponent,” she said.

Lorenzo’s Achilles heel: Ramos, the subcontractor he sometimes employed to perform administrative duties and as a driver. In 2008, the 47-year-old Ramos, whose record includes convictions for credit-card forgery, check forgery and grand theft, was convicted and sentenced to two years in federal prison for forging postage stamps.

“Ramos’ criminal history discloses that he is a habitual thief, fraud, forger, and counterfeiter,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Dwayne E. Williams argued in an April 6, 2009, court filing during Ramos’ sentencing.

Gimenez said Tuesday the case was enough to worry him.

“On the surface, it looks like [the charges were] campaign related. That’s serious,” Gimenez said. “[Lorenzo’s] duty was to tell me.”

Joe Carollo, a former Miami mayor who hired Lorenzo in the 1990s, supports Fernández Rundle’s opponent, Rod Vereen. He said Gimenez did the right thing, and he faulted Lorenzo.

“That’s not how a consultant should act,” Carollo said. “Gimenez handled it like someone who had nothing to hide. Rundle is handling it like someone who has something to hide.”

Levy, Fernández Rundle’s consultant and spokesman, said she recused herself from the Cabrera case and kept Ramos from working on her race.

He considered Lorenzo’s termination “an overreaction” by Gimenez’s campaign, though he didn’t fault the mayor.

“No elected official likes to be surprised about anything in a campaign,” he said. “They think, ‘If there’s that out there, and I didn’t know, what else is out there?’ ”

Miami Herald staff writers Daniel Chang and Jay Weaver, and El Nuevo Herald staff writer Melissa Sánchez contributed to this report.

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