A voter’s guide to Miami-Dade’s nasty primaries




This is the election of ringers, dirty tricks and vicious mailers — with a touch of voter fraud.

“Nasty is the new normal,” said Dan Gelber, a former Democratic lawmaker from Miami Beach. “Every election seems like it’s worse than the one before. This year, we have so many races, that it seems particularly awful.”

From congressional to legislative to county races, candidates and shadowy political committees have dredged up divorce records, filed court complaints, propped up ringers to run against rivals, hurled charges of corruption or questioned opponents’ sexuality, national origin or addiction to pornography.

The specter of the so-called “Causeway Cannibal” was even invoked in one Spanish language radio spot. It stopped just short of accusing the county’s mayor and a state representative of complicity in a widening fraud scandal centering on Hialeah’s absentee-ballot brokers, known as “boleteros.”

“I am the boletera of Carlos Giménez and Eddy González, and I am here to get your ballot,” a sinister woman says in the radio spot after knocking on the door of an old lady. No evidence yet shows Giménez or González knew anything of the alleged crimes .

The ad was produced by the political committee called “Citizens for a Reality Check,” which Gonzalez’s lawyer unsuccessfully sued. The force behind the committee, consultant Sasha Tirador, got her employee Maykal Balboa to run against the incumbent, who plans to file elections complaints against her and Balboa.

Voters seem to be responding to it all by … voting. More than 123,000 early and absentee ballots have been cast so far. But turnout for primaries is historically low. In 2008, about 191,000 Miami-Dade voters — just 16 percent of all registered voters — cast ballots.

Much of the hardball politics will likely subside after the Tuesday primaries, which pit Democrats against Democrats and Republicans against Republicans before the parties’ nominees face each other in the general election.

Because candidates in primaries generally agree on policy, they’re all but forced to get personal and question the background of their opponents.

But the powder keg of this mean-season primary had even more explosive ingredients.

Every congressional and state legislative seat was redrawn following the once-a-decade census, making many incumbents less secure in the new districts. Some legislators wound up running against each other because the districts had to be drawn under new state Constitutional amendments banning gerrymandering. Other legislators were forced out of office due to state term limits, creating coveted open seats.

Also, Miami-Dade’s most-dynamic and feared Republican family, the three Diaz de la Portilla brothers, are all making a bid for legislative seats that could help determine the next speaker of the Florida House in 2019. Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla is unopposed.

Meantime, the Malaysian casino giant, Genting, is pumping huge sums of new cash into the elections machine as it tries to get legislative approval to offer Las Vegas style gambling in Miami. And billionaire car dealer Norman Braman is supporting a slate of candidates to knock off three county commissioners.

There are also two major countywide contests involving the reelection bids of Mayor Giménez and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who’s embroiled in a bitter battle with the county’s police union, the Dade Police Benevolent Association.

The union has helped underwrite a committee called Big Vote for Justice that produced two large mailers savaging Rundle as an incompetent crime fighter who protects political cronies. Rundle says the union is bitter over arrests and an investigation involving the union.

One person featured in one of the mailers, county lobbyist Rick Sisser, filed a defamation lawsuit Friday against the union, union president John Rivera and political operative Charles Flowers, an ally of a city commissioner who was unsuccessfully prosecuted by Rundle’s office.

Rivera denied knowledge of the mailers, but said Sisser was being hypocritical because he had sought paid work from the union to trash Rundle and thereby help the union’s candidate, Rod Vereen. Sisser says Rivera is lying.

Both Vereen and Rundle are Democrats. Only Democrats can decide the race Tuesday because two unknowns filed as write-in candidates, triggering a state law that closes the primary. Republicans and independents therefore can’t vote. Write-in names don’t appear on the general election ballot and must literally be written in by voters who want to cast ballots for them.

A male model named Josue Vazquez filed a write-in in the state House District 103 contest between School Board Member Renier Diaz de la Portilla and Manny Diaz Jr. In his unsuccessful race for school board in 2010, Diaz had paid Vazquez, who went on to do campaign work for Diaz’s allies, Rep. Gonzalez and Rep. Jose Oliva. They also represent Hialeah-area seats.

Oliva faces a woman named Ileana Abay, who’s the mother of consultant Sasha Tirador, the employer of Gonzalez’s opponent, Balboa.

In his lawsuit against Tirador, Gonzalez’s lawyer has produced bank records that indicate Balboa broke campaign-finance rules and that Tirador has commingled funds from the multiple campaigns for which she works. Tirador says it isn’t true.

The Hialeah shenanigans roped in yet another politician, County Commissioner Steve Bovo, whose former aide was receiving and disseminating absentee ballots in his district office. The ballots were targeted in the probe from his Hialeah office and led to the arrest of the mayor’s uncle.

Bovo, who said he knew nothing of what happened, was lambasted as a “clown” in a hard-hitting robo-call from state House District 112 candidate and former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla.

In that race, Diaz de la Portilla was bashed in mailers from a committee called “Conservatives United,” which supports his rival, former Republican Rep. Gus Barreiro. The mailers featured a weeping woman and excerpts of Diaz de la Portilla’s divorce file.

Diaz de la Portilla calls Barreiro a “pornographer” because he had been fired from a state job after investigators found someone lad used his state computer to log into the singles-and-swingers website, Adult Friend Finders.

In the Republican primary to challenge Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, candidate Ozzie deFaria’s divorce and confrontation with his ex-wife’s husband became a campaign issue. DeFaria responded against rival Karen Harrington by noting she once attended a gay marriage.

Homosexuality became a campaign issue in the state House District 116 race between Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Rep. Ana Rivas Logan. Allies of Logan accused Diaz of being gay. Diaz allies accused Logan of being Nicaraguan, a perceived slur in a Cuban-heavy district. Two write-ins closed that race to Republicans only.

There’s also a mystery candidate in what could be Florida’s most-competitive congressional race for the U.S. House District 26 seat.

There, political newcomer Justin Lamar Sternad has sent out multiple mail pieces, one of which falsely accused Democratic rival Joe Garcia of leaving his wife when she had cancer. The records indicate his ex-wife, who has contributed to his campaign, divorced Garcia.

Sternad’s campaign-finance reports don’t show how he can afford the mailers, which repeat attack lines from Republican Congressman David Rivera. Garcia thinks Sternad’s a Rivera ringer, which Sternad and Rivera deny. Garcia’s main rival, Gloria Romero Roses, has attacked him in mailers as well.

“I’ve never seen an election season like this,” said J.C. Planas, the attorney representing Gonzalez in his lawsuit against Tirador. “This stuff usually happens to one degree or another, but you don’t see it because there aren’t so many races. It’s tough not to ignore now. It’s like it’s everywhere.”

After Tuesday, it’ll get a little easier.

Read more Political Currents stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category