If Homestead residents thought the political waters would be calmed after Mayor Steve Bateman was indicted on corruption charges and then suspended from office, it looks like they were wrong.
The runoff between Mark Bell and Jeff Porter, which culminates in a vote next Tuesday, is a nasty, expensive affair.
There is the usual political back-and-forth: Porter, who owns Worldwide Supply Solutions, has hammered away at Bells lack of political experience, while Bell, an innkeeper, says Porter drove Homestead to the brink of bankruptcy during his previous stint as vice mayor (1997-99) and councilman (99-07) and backed an unpopular rate hike by the city-owned power company.
But there are also claims of absentee ballot chicanery, an assertion that Bell received a $25,000 gift from the taxpayers of Homestead, a related, pending ethics complaint by Bells camp against Porter, and, perhaps strangest of all, a whispering campaign over a nearly 40-year-old animal control citation. The latter gripe has bubbled to the surface at a campaign event.
Its absurd, said Councilwoman Judy Waldman, who is not on the ballot this year, speaking about the campaign literature piling up in her mailbox. One day I got three mail-in pieces.
Mailers and Money
When it comes to the race for campaign contributions, Bell has Porter beat. Bell has raised more than $93,000. Many of the donors are also supporters of his wife, former Homestead mayor and current County Commissioner Lynda Bell. A lot of the money is from developers, including politically connected charter-school developer Wayne Rosen.
During the Bateman years, Rosens influence on the political process and ties to Bateman sometimes roiled the waters. There was a much consternation over his sale of a used Mercedes-Benz to Batemans wife, Donna, for $13,000, a price that critics said was lower than the cars true value.
The Miami-Dade State Attorneys Office deemed it unworthy of action.
With no Bateman in the race, Rosen has dropped $4,000 on Bells campaign.
I will take money from whomever can give it to me, said Bell, 57. It doesnt matter if they are a developer, a homeowner or a farmer. That doesnt mean I work for them, and that I ever will work for them.
Porter, 54, has raised about $31,500.
Its not all about the money, said Porter. Its the quality of the candidates.
In addition to the money donated by individuals, which are limited to $500 (although that has been circumvented by donating through various business names and family members), thousands of dollars have been pumped into independent political groups that can raise unlimited amounts, known as electioneering communications organizations, or ECOs.
ECOs, which cant explicitly endorse candidates, have funded various Homestead campaign missives. For instance, something called People for Truth & Integrity paid for a mailer that reads: Porter is wrong for Homestead! Its legal because it doesnt actually say vote for his opponent. The rest of the mailer depicts a shotgun.
The shotgun imagery is a reference to the citys purchase of the shotgun property, a patch of decrepit housing owned by a former mayor, Steve Shiver. The land was purchased by Homesteads Community Redevelopment Agency a deal made possible by a loan from the city. The land was bulldozed, the former mayor cashed in, but nothing has been built in a section of town that desperately needs clean, affordable housing. Porter voted in favor of the loan.