A little more than a month after the Hialeah elections, and amid the Christmas holidays, city politics heated up once more with a new controversy: the upcoming battle over the seat of Councilman José Caragol, who will be challenged by state Rep. Eddy González.
González,a Hialeah Republican, said he will launch his candidacy to replace Caragol in the nonpartisan seat because the incumbent will have completed his third consecutive term and therefore cannot be reelected.
“I am going to run because Caragol can no longer do it,” González said. “That is the only reason why I have decided to replace him. There is no other reason, because he is someone I highly respect.”
However, Caragol, 82, said that he has no legal impediment to run for a new term, from 2015 to 2019.
“Many things can happen in the next two years, maybe he [González] decides to run for another seat,” Caragol said. “But if I’m still alive and breathing, I will be a candidate again. It will be my third and last term as a council member, my last laugh in this jamboree. And if he runs against me, I will congratulate him. I am not going to quarrel with him. He has the right to be a candidate.”
Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández declined to comment on this new controversy, as did City Attorney William Grodnick.
The Hialeah Charter establishes that council members can be elected for a maximum of three consecutive terms. However, it is not clear whether winning a special election counts as a regular four-term election.
Caragol was elected in a special election to finish the term of then-councilman Julio Robaina, who ran successfully for mayor. Then in 2007, Caragol was reelected for a four-year term, and in 2011 he defeated former mayor Julio Martínez, who ran for Caragol’s seat.
González, who is in his eighth year as a state representative in Tallahassee, said that Caragol’s case is similar to that of County Commissioner Esteban Bovo when he was a Hialeah council member.
In 1999, Bovo won a special election of a two-year term for the seat of then-council member Marie Rovira, which became open after she was convicted for receiving a salary of $40,000 for a job that did not exist at the Port of Miami. Rovira was sentenced to one year on probation.
In 2001, Bovo won the election for a four-year period. And in 2005 was reelected for four more years.
“At that time, I consulted Grodnick and he told me I had already won three elections and that I could not run again,” Bovo said. “I resigned formally in 2008 because I had the opportunity to run for state representative and so Katharine Cue was appointed to finish my term.”
Caragol insisted that his decision to run for reelection is firm and, without going into details, added that he has received a legal opinion supporting his candidacy.
González responded that if the city gives the green light to Caragol’s candidacy, “there is always the possibility to appeal the decision in court.”
“Caragol is my friend and I have registered for his seat because I think it’s going to be open,” González said. “I imagine that if the city is going to offer an opinion supporting him, there is the possibility of appearing before a judge. That is my opinion [...] I only hope we can reach an amicable agreement rather than going to a war.”
On Dec. 10, González submitted to the Hialeah city clerk a report showing campaign contributions in the amount of $19,250. The previous week, González had gone to a fund-raising event in Boynton Beach for his upcoming candidacy.
“I have many friends who are supporting me,” said González, who serves as chairman of the Local Government Committee in Tallahassee.
Caragol said that González has initiated his campaign prematurely to take advantage of his status as state representative to raise as many funds as possible.
“If I had friends in the Arab world, I would be seeking as many sheiks as I could to contribute to my campaign,” Caragol said. “Likewise, he [González] is seeking contributions before he ceases as state representative. [...] But I couldn’t care less; I will continue doing what I am doing.”