In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: On Robaina, Miami-Dade voters got it right

Credit the wisdom of Miami-Dade voters. They saw through Julio Robaina.

Two years ago, county mayoral candidate Robaina had twice as much money in his campaign account as rival Carlos Gimenez. Robaina had endorsements from Jeb Bush and from Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart and other powerbrokers in South Florida’s political establishment.

And Robaina had a ready retort for his critics. When questions were raised about his peculiar sideline in the private loan business, about his relationship with a convicted Ponzi fraudster and about a rumored federal investigation, Hialeah’s ghost banker simply blamed The Miami Herald. He claimed The Herald “disregards the truth to cast stories with misinformation and erroneous contexts.”

The press, he said, had victimized a victim. “As a victim of a Ponzi scheme, I feel that I’m also being victimized by false media stories.”

Yet the voters rejected Robaina. They spared the county a humiliating scenario two years later that would surely have reverberated across the nation — another perp walk featuring a disgraced South Florida pol.

Thanks to the collective wisdom of the electorate — all 102,445 citizens who voted against Robaina in the run-off election — that was not the county mayor and his wife, shackled at the ankles and wrists, shuffling along in federal custody on Friday.

The self-described victim faces charges that he and wife Raiza evaded income taxes by concealing major transactions in their high-interest money-lending business and that they lied to federal investigators. The feds charged that despite his claims to the contrary, Robaina and his ghost-loan business were entangled with infamous Ponzi artist Luis Felipe Perez, who duped investors out of $45 million. Perez told investigators that Robaina had loaned him $750,000 at 36 percent interest.

Last week’s six-count indictment was not a media invention.

The voters had had other reasons to distrust Robaina. He was not, as his Facebook campaign page boasted, a graduate of the University of Miami in 1988. Or ever.

Though the 2011 candidate intimated that he had opposed the county’s now-infamous Marlins baseball stadium deal, he had actually appeared before Miami-Dade county commissioners in 2009 and urged them to approve the stadium financing package.

Robaina ran for county mayor as a supporter for term limits, but back in 2008 the then-mayor of Hialeah had led a misleading campaign to rid the city of term limits. Hialeah voters were not fooled. They voted to retain the limits.

Robaina’s supposed strength as a county mayoral candidate had to do with the myth that he had brought financial stability to Hialeah. Actually, his supporters at City Hall were waiting until after the election to admit that he had left the city with a $7.8 million deficit with another $13.7 million loss projected in the following fiscal year.

As Hialeah mayor, he had been the great champion of maquinitas, the low-rent slot machines that the state Legislature finally outlawed this year. When Robaina left Hialeah to run for county mayor, some 2,300 machines were churning out gambling profits, installed in bars, restaurants, markets and strip mall casinos. The now banned slots make a fitting symbol of his tattered legacy.

Yet the smart money had been on Robaina for county mayor. In the May 24, 2011, election, he led an 11-candidate field, then lost, barely, to Carlos Gimenez in the June 28 runoff with 49.9 percent of the vote. This despite getting support in the runoff from Luther Campbell, the iconoclast rapper who finished fourth in the May 24 election with 11 percent of the vote.

It had seemed a mysterious, even suspicious political alliance, with Uncle Luke embracing Jeb Bush’s man for mayor. A year later, Campbell was still seething at what he considered unfair media coverage of his new best buddy. “Robaina’s character was assassinated unfairly,” Campbell wrote in the New Times last July, suggesting all this talk of a federal investigation had been contrived by the likes of The Miami Herald to skew the election. “Here we are more than a year later and he is still a free man. The media — and the political hacks who deal in misinformation — lied to the public to make sure he would not win the election.”

Hey Luke, turns out the lying media and savvy voters spared Miami-Dade County from considerable ignominy.

You can call criminal defendant Julio Robaina a lot of things. But not county mayor.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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