Miami-Dade profs want to fight corruption with ‘Candidates Academy’

03/17/2014 11:32 AM

03/17/2014 8:03 PM

Miami Dade College’s professors have had enough of bad candidates and politicians.

So they’re doing something about it: identifying future political leaders and training them for free in a six-month intensive fellowship.

Called “Candidates Academy,” the effort comes after a bleak year for public integrity in Florida’s largest county: three sitting mayors indicted in state and federal corruption schemes, the indictment of a former congressional candidate and the jailing of a top political strategist.

“We deserve better candidates than we have,” said Mark Richard, president of the United Faculty of Miami Dade College union. “And yes, polling shows and anecdotal evidence shows that Americans aren’t quite sure we have the best politicians.”

The academy will officially begin March 29 at MDC’s downtown campus with a half-day free seminar on the ins and outs of running for political office, from fundraising to plotting political strategy to communicating a campaign message.

Guest speakers will include fundraising and message experts, the heads of the Republican and Democratic parties and Republican School Board member Raquel Regalado, Republican state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard.

Ads for the academy have already begun running on Spanish, English and Creole radio stations and, Richard says, voters are receiving robo-calls to raise their awareness. After the seminar, at least six applicants will be selected for the half-year, nonpartisan course.

The Candidates Academy complements the work of another new group in Miami-Dade County, the University of Miami’s Good Government Initiative, founded in 2011 by former County Commissioner Katy Sorenson.

Where the Candidates Academy seeks to train a new crop of public servants, the Good Government Initiative focuses more on elected officials, who are educated about everything from land-use regulations to dealing with the news media. Where one seeks to train good candidates, the other seeks to train politicians how to be good.

“It’s gratifying to see that we’re developing critical mass when it comes to recruiting and training better candidates and elected officials. This is a great complement to that effort,” said Sorenson, adding that Bullard and Regalado were alums of the initiative’s inaugural leaders of excellence program.

Among the Good Government lecturers: Joe Centorino, executive director and general counsel of the county’s commission on ethics. Centorino, a former prosecutor, guides politicians through the perils and pitfalls of campaign finance, law and ethics.

Centorino said he welcomed the Candidates Academy because it fills a void in Miami-Dade.

“I would encourage any civic group to get involved in this area,” Centorino said. “It’s something lacking in this county.”

For more information about the Candidates Academy, call 305-595-6500.

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