Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Surprise! Both parties cheated in Joe Garcia’s district

We’re calling the game off down in District 26. Suspending the democratic process. Citizens of District 26 will have to get by without a voice in the U.S. House of Representatives until they can come up with congressional candidates not inclined to subvert elections.

Sure, this sounds drastic. But it now looks as if the shenanigans leading up to the Aug. 14 primary were symptoms of a bipartisan epidemic. District 26 needs to be quarantined until political scientists can isolate the contagion infecting the electoral process.

If it wasn’t for attempts to pervert elections, Congressional District 26’s slimiest problem would be snakes of another kind. The district, which includes a big chunk of Everglades National Park, may have more Burmese pythons slithering about than voters. Most of those (voters, not snakes) are clustered in the southern suburbs of Miami-Dade County. The district also includes the Florida Keys, where residents must be perturbed by their association with the mainland’s election scandals.

Until last week, folks in District 26 thought their electoral embarrassments were all due to debauched tactics associated with former U.S. Rep. David Rivera’s failed attempt at reelection. A Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald investigation last year indicated that a Rivera operative secretly financed the campaign of a patsy candidate in the Democratic primary. The phantom candidate’s tactics were supposed to weaken Rivera’s main challenger, Democrat Joe Garcia, before the general election.

Justin Lamar Sternad admitted to the feds he received $81,486 in illegal contributions for his faux campaign. Meanwhile, Ana Sol Alliegro, a Republican political consultant, close friend of Rivera and the secret link to the Sternad candidacy, absconded to Nicaragua.

Not that underhanded tactics would have saved Rivera. Voters were weary of the scandal-tainted congressman, his finagled financial reports and questionable campaign spending. He lost to Garcia in the general election.

But apparently Garcia’s campaign, which had been wailing like stuck pigs over illegal meddling in the Democratic primary, was running its own dark operation. On Friday, Garcia’s campaign manager resigned after he was implicated in a vote-rigging scheme in the same Aug. 14 primary. Garcia’s boys had apparently been busy sending out hundreds of fraudulent absentee-ballot requests from disguised email addresses. So now we have the FBI investigating Rivera’s campaign and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office investigating Garcia’s campaign.

(And for those who accuse The Miami Herald of political bias: After The Herald and El Nuevo Herald uncovered Rivera’s secret connections to the Sternad campaign, it was The Herald’s Pati Mazzei who traced those fraudulent absentee-ballot requests back to District 26.)

For all that, neither side profited from these transgressions. Sternad’s illegal campaign netted a piddling 2,304 votes (at a cost of about $35 a vote). Meanwhile, the other side requested 2,552 fraudulent absentee ballots — for an election in which Garcia led his closest primary opponent by more than 6,000 votes.

Cheating, by both camps, was pointless. But maybe they can’t help themselves. Maybe it’s some weird corrupting bipartisan malady infecting District 26.