The mayor was hurt. “I’m hurt,” he said.
“I’ve seen our city used as a poster child for absentee ballot fraud,” the mayor said. He radiated indignation.
It was a fine performance, Carlos Hernandez reprising the role of Captain Renault in Casablanca, with his own version of: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”
Imagine, someone suggesting that Hialeah, of all places, has a problem with electoral artifice. “We know this is not true. We know our city.” Mayor Hernandez protested that his town was “the most hard-working city in the state of Florida.”
Perhaps that explains why Hialeah suffers this awful slander. Because the city’s boleteros, indeed, are the most hard-working in the state of Florida.
It was those hard-working absentee-ballot brokers who sullied the 1993 mayoral race, forging signatures and collecting dubious absentee ballots from mentally disabled nursing-home residents.
Another investigation, in 2003, discovered that the City Council election had been turned by a wildly disproportionate number of absentee ballots collected by boleteros on behalf of certain lucky candidates.
But who remembers 2003? At Tuesday night’s council meeting, it was the recent arrest of a couple of boleteros that left the mayor and the council members shocked, shocked that their city had once again been besmirched.
Sergio “El Tío” Robaina, the uncle of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, was busted on charges of election fraud after cops say he filled out two ballots against the intentions of the voters involved. The ballots were dropped off at Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo’s Hialeah office as part of a bundle of 164 very questionable absentee ballots gathered from around town.
Bovo also happens to be a former Hialeah City Council member. In fact, he was on the council back during the 2003 scandal. Bovo has not been implicated. But it sure hasn’t helped the city’s image.
And then there was Deisy Cabrera, nabbed with her own illegal batch of absentee ballots, collected from Hialeah nursing homes, including one from a woman unable to “write, comprehend or communicate.”
Thanks to some nifty reporting by El Nuevo Herald’s Enrique Flor and Melissa Sanchez, we’ve learned that on July 25, just after Cabrera had been grilled by cops about her electoral activities, the boletera received a visit from a certain civic leader: Hialeah City Council member Vivian Casals-Muñoz popped in to say hello.
Tuesday, Casals-Muñoz was as indignant as the mayor, describing her hurt and bewilderment after two losers in countywide races (for mayor and property appraiser) cited Hialeah’s vote-gathering machinations in challenging their elections’ outcomes.
She actually used the word “shocking.”
The mayor agreed. “People got whomped, and it’s time to accept they got whomped.”
The shocked council unanimously passed a resolution demanding that the county “adopt stricter regulations and additional safeguards for voting by absentee ballot.”
I kept thinking of the old line, “Stop me before I kill again.” But that was a different movie.