In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: David Rivera is running for office again because he misses the limelight

But I love David.

We all love David around the Miami Herald newsroom. After his announcement of a kamikaze political comeback — never mind that ongoing FBI investigation – reporters erupted with spontaneous renditions of the Harlem Shuffle and the Bronx Whine. As for me, an old fashioned guy, I twerked the Macarena. Whoopee. Our David’s back.

We’ve all missed David Rivera's madcap political pratfalls since voters in the 26th Congressional District bounced him out of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012. Rivera had been a living manifestation of a Carl Hiaasen novel, except a Hiaasen novel goes for $26.95 hardback. U.S. Rep. Rivera served up his news pulp exploits for free, one of South Florida’s finest entertainment bargains.

So you can understand how it wounded our delicate sensibilities to hear our favorite sullied mess of a politician besmirch his most loyal fan base.

“I will not answer to the lies of the Miami Herald,” he said on Spanish-language Mega TV Thursday, as he announced his return to congressional politics.

Of course, lots of disgraced politicians hereabouts deny the veracity of newspaper reports about misdeeds and peccadillos. Some of them right up until the moment they cop a plea. But to hear David – our David – say it . . . well . . . that hurt.

Rivera refused to even talk to the Herald’s Marc Caputo, who caught up with him in Tallahassee on Friday. Marc wondered how a campaign that ended the 2012 campaign $128,573.58 in debt could now afford to pay the $10,440 state filing fee. Rivera unveiled a monolingual campaign strategy and spoke only to Spanish-language reporters. “If you have a question in English, you can email me,” he told Marc.

No matter. For us, it’s like a teen-age romance. Rejection only makes the heart grow fonder.

Justin Lamar Sternad might not welcome Rivera’s comeback with quite as much enthusiasm as news reporters. The hapless Sternad, who pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance violations and is awaiting sentencing, must now endure a revival of the story painting him as the Rivera campaign’s hand-picked patsy.

The political neophyte seemed to have been conjured out of the murk back in 2012. Nobody had heard of Sternad when he filed to run for the District 26 seat. Sternad, a Republican, has since claimed that one of Rivera’s political operatives recruited him to run in the Democratic primary, paid his filing fee and secretly funded his campaign. The not-so-legal strategy was for Sternad to create a primary campaign distraction for Joe Garcia, the Republican Rivera’s likely general election opponent. (And eventual winner.)

Earlier this year, Sternad revised his 2012 federal election disclosure forms to explain how $81,486.15 happened to fall out of the sky and into his campaign. “The contribution was given to me, in cash, by a third party from Ana Alliegro. I later discovered that Ana Alliegro was working with David Rivera,” he wrote.

So how did David, kicking off his 2014 congressional campaign last week, explain Sternad and Alliegro and the election shenanigans of 2012? “Nobody cares about a fake campaign from two years ago,” he told the Mega TV host.

Nobody but those lying newspaper reporters. And the occasional FBI agent.

But everybody cares about a femme fatale. The comeback of our favorite political bad boy is sure to revive interest in his entertaining, tempestuous buddy, the self-proclaimed “conservative bad girl,” Ana Sol Alliegro. I’ve seen her described as a “political consultant,” a terminology that's much too tame. Thank goodness Ana returned (with more than a little nudge from the FBI, judging by the handcuffs) from her sojourn in Nicaragua in time for David’s comeback campaign. David will need her special expertise.

Ana, denied bond, simmering in jail since her extradition on March 7, has had plenty of time to contrive a campaign strategy for her old friend. Perhaps she can vote by absentee ballot. With Ana’s help, David might carry her entire cellblock.

But harping on Ana and Justin’s not-so-excellent adventure would be misleading. There’s so much more to the David Rivera saga than a piddling $81,000 going into, as he put it, a “fake campaign” that nobody but a motley assortment of reporters and federal prosecutors find interesting.

Rivera’s unexpected candidacy brings back fond memories of so many other financial peculiarities.

There’s that quaint contrivance he invented in 2008 to hide a half-million bucks in consultant fees collected from a Miami dog track. The money was funneled through a mysterious company that consisted mainly of his mother. Which, in turn, loaned money back to Rivera. Which he forgot to report on his financial disclosure forms.

Back in his days as a state legislator, the creative Rivera was able to stretch the definition of “campaign expenses” to cover mundane pursuits most folks regard as regular living expenses. It was as if he saw himself as a perpetual candidate, on duty 24-hours-a-day. Such a work ethic.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s investigators reported, “Essentially, the subject’s position is that he was, for a period of almost a decade, continuously and simultaneously engaging in official business, campaigning for public office, as well as campaigning for committeeman; moving from one task to another seamlessly on a daily basis.”

The workaholic Rivera apparently thought of his campaign funds as a personal bank account, the investigators found, as if “virtually every travel-related expenditure -- airfare, automobile costs, lodging, meals and related miscellaneous expenses for personal items and entertainment -- were indeed permissible campaign-related expenditures.”

Rivera even expensed a girlfriend. “According to the subject’s broad interpretation of the law, it was appropriate and permissible to pay for his female companion’s expenditures, as well, as they were essential to his election campaigns.” The candidate explained that a bachelor politician in South Florida must be mindful of appearances.

Investigators concluded that under state campaign laws, Rivera’s expenditures stank. Except, as the State Attorney investigators noted, unhappily, “the statute of limitations had eliminated the possibility of charging the subject with any violation ... .”

It was a such good life while it lasted. Which might explain why Rivera decided to launch an unexpected (“Quixotic” would overstate his chances) campaign in a Republican primary against opponents like Miami-Dade School Board Member Carlos Curbelo and former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez, whose political histories have not been nearly as interesting to newspaper reporters or federal investigators.

Maybe he misses the fun times he had spending campaign contributions. Maybe he misses giving political novices like Justin Sternad their start in politics. Me? I like to think that David misses us, just as much as we miss him.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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