All candidates running for elected office in Miami-Dade County take a pledge to “avoid malicious untruths, unfounded accusations and personal attacks.” They’re rarely held to the Voluntary Fair Campaign Practices Ordinance.
But in an unusual move on Tuesday, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics found Laura Cattabriga, a candidate for mayor of North Bay Village, guilty of three counts of violating the ordinance when she accused her opponent, Brent Latham, of living outside the village.
Cattabriga’s attorney says his client plans to continue making the allegations, despite Tuesday’s ruling.
“We do not believe that the Ethics Commission is properly applying the law with respect to what is a proper campaign issue and there are still legitimate questions as to whether or not Mr. Latham lawfully resides in North Bay Village,” said Cattabriga’s attorney, Juan-Carlos Planas.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
An expedited investigation and review of public records by the commission determined Latham does live in the village, although he also owns a condo in Miami Beach and another property in Miami Shores. Latham has owned and claimed a homestead tax exemption for a North Bay Village house for the past five years, according to county records.
Cattabriga has publicly claimed on numerous occasions that Latham and his family actually live in a condo in South Beach, closer to his children’s school.
“While she’s definitely not going to make any sort of personal attacks, she’s definitely going to continue this line of attack because we feel it is completely and utterly relevant to this campaign. Eligibility to serve is a legitimate issue,” Planas said.
On the day following the ethics ruling, Cattabriga posted Latham’s water bills to Facebook, showing zero water usage at his North Bay Village home between May and August. Latham said no one was home. He was at the World Cup in Russia during that time, he said. He provided water bills from earlier in 2018 that show some water use.
Latham said he has not spent much time in the North Bay Village home since it sustained damage caused by Hurricane Irma, but added, “It’s still my principal residence.”
In a memorandum of probable cause, Michael Murawski, a county ethics advocate, wrote: “It is well established that an individual may have multiple residences therefore, the implication that Latham does not ‘live’ in North Bay Village is a falsification, distortion and misrepresentation of a fact.” Murawski, who was also a resident of North Bay Village until recently, could not be reached for comment.
Cattabriga was also ordered by the Ethics Commission to publicly disavow a third-party mailer that accuses Latham of breaking the law by filing two, simultaneous homestead exemptions, one on his North Bay Village property and another in Miami Shores. Cattabriga herself made the same allegation during a debate between the mayoral candidates in September. The Ethics Commission declared the allegation unfounded. The Miami Shores home belonged to Latham’s grandfather, who lived there until he died in 2017 and left the property to Latham. He did not file the homestead exemption in 2018.
Cattabriga was ordered by the commission to publicly disavow the third-party mailer with the following statement:
“I, Laura Cattabriga, hereby advise voters that I disavow any third-party allegation against my opponent. Voters are to only pay attention to official messages coming from my campaign and are to ignore any third-party advertising. While I had no participation in any third-party advertisement in this election, I have signed the fair campaign practices act, and agree to abide by the recommendations of the ethics commission hearing officer and will disavow the third-party attack against my opponent.”
Latham’s complaint to the commission is not the only accusation of bad behavior involving Cattabriga. A video recently emerged of Cattabriga, currently a commissioner, and North Bay Village Vice Mayor Andreana Jackson removing what Latham says are fliers from the lobby of Island Place, a private condo building. A resident was hosting the event and had gotten permission from the condo association to place the fliers out for her neighbors.
In order to meet residents of private condo buildings like Island Place that have strict, no-soliciting policies, Latham has been asking residents to host campaign events for him. At Island Place the event was planned for Oct. 16, and the resident hosting it put out fliers. But the fliers quickly disappeared, and it was a week before the resident could get permission to replace them.
“I was told by the building management that the removal or disappearance of the filers coincided with a visit to the building by my opponent and Vice Mayor Andreana Jackson. Then a video surfaced,” Latham said.
Surveillance video from the lobby of Island Place shows Jackson removing an entire stack of fliers and handing one to Cattabriga.
“All I did was grab some fliers to take back to the campaign to see what was going on,” Jackson said. “I didn’t realize that I took a whole stack of them.”
She said she did not intend to prevent the building’s residents from receiving information about the event.
“I’m offended that anyone would accuse me of doing anything malicious with campaign fliers,” Jackson said. “I almost resigned over it.”
Cattabriga did not respond to the Herald’s questions about removing the fliers.
On Nov. 1, the ethics commission found no evidence that Cattabriga had knowledge that Jackson took the fliers and dismissed the complaint against the candidate for mayor.
“They’re clearly not afraid to do completely unethical things, to break election rules and ethics rules and norms as long as the political gains outweigh the consequences,” Latham said of the Cattabriga campaign’s tactics. “The political outcome of all this is that they’ve already done a great deal of damage to my campaign.”
This article was updated to reflect the ethics commission’s November 1 ruling.