Emelina Llanes seems to be a lucky woman and one with friends in high places.
This Hialeah activist, denounced as a boletera, or ballot broker, by two former police officers, lives in a townhouse thats been repaired with some $58,000 worth of city funds. She drives a Nissan Xterra that once belonged to the city mayor.
And, though she doesnt quite remember, Llanes is such a valued campaign worker that even Florida Gov. Rick Scott paid her thousands of dollars to mobilize voters on his behalf.
In recent interviews with El Nuevo Herald, Llanes said shes tired of her critics, like former mayor Raul Martinez, who insist on calling her a boletera. According to Llanes, a charming 74-year-old widow, shes never received special perks for her political involvement and assures she is not a boletera.
What I do is help people, she said. Nobody has ever given me a thing.
In the case of her townhouse, public records show that in 1996 and 2007, she benefited from municipal grants aimed at helping low-income residents do home improvements and keep their properties up to code. Currently, her townhouse is valued at $96,000, according to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser.
When she received these grants, Llanes said was a loyal campaign volunteer for then-mayors Martinez and Julio Robaina. She denied that her political activism helped her get the grants.
They fixed my home but I had to wait my turn, like everybody else, she said. Im a disabled person and what the City did is help me. They repaired my house and fixed up a bedroom for me on the first floor so I wouldnt have to walk up the stairs.
In July 1996, during Martinez administration, Llanes submitted an application to received help under the citys home repair program, which depends on federal and state funds. Five months later, the City hired a contractor to do emergency repair work valued at $7,904 on her home.
Then, in 2007, while Robaina was mayor, Llanes was once again chosen for benefits, this time for home repairs valued at $49,699.
Frederick Marinelli, who directs the citys grants and human services department, explained that the programs follow strict eligibility guidelines and are not influenced by politics.
The mayor has nothing to do with this, he said. Theres no politics involved in choosing whose home gets repaired.
Llanes worked for years in shoe and textile factories in northwest Miami-Dade. She said she now supplements her fixed income by selling fruits and vegetables produced on a relatives farm out of her vehicle, such as small bags of peppers for $2.
She considers herself a political activist who enjoys helping the community, especially the elderly. She said that, in the past, shes helped voters request absentee ballots, but that shes never filled out somebody elses ballot or collected them.
Llanes also said she learned much of what she knows about politics by working on Martinez campaigns. On Wednesday, Martínez recognized that Llanes had organized a party on his behalf once in the mid-90s. However, he said she was never a campaign worker.
Shes a shameless liar, he said.
In recent years, Llanes has become a popular campaign employee at the city, county and even state level. In 2010, Scott paid her $5,000 to work on his gubernatorial campaign, according to financial records.