Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Florida’s District 26 must be cursed

Hoodoo, voodoo, Vodou, Santeria, mambo mojo. Who knows what dark force has cast a hex over congressional politics down in Florida’s lower extremities?

Surely, though, only some witchy curse could send three campaigns, one after another, veering into controversy. The last three U.S. representatives elected out of this tainted district have been muddied by allegations of unseemly practices. Not to mention one or two faux candidates running in the district primaries.

So far, two top campaign aides from two different campaigns and one fake candidate have slouched into federal court to take plea deals. The 26th Congressional District (which was pretty much the 25th Congressional District before it was reconfigured by redistricting in 2012) has become something like a jobs program for federal and state investigators sent to sort through the district’s electoral muck.

Oh, sure, it’s not so unusual that a campaign might be accused of secretly financing a straw candidate to bedevil an opponent in his primary. Not so strange that a campaign might dabble in absentee ballot mischief. Or forget to report certain embarrassing campaign contributions. Or to obscure personal finances behind family members. But this stuff became epidemic in the district represented by David Rivera, then Joe Garcia, now Carlos Curbelo.

A curse makes as good an explanation as any for what ails the district encompassing the Florida Keys, a chunk of Southwest Miami-Dade, most of Everglades National Park.

The Herald’s Patricia Mazzei reported on Nov. 24 that Curbelo — still celebrating his win over Garcia — received notices from the Federal Election Commission raising questions about contributions his campaign misidentified or outright omitted from federal disclosures. He shrugged it all off as mere mistakes, except these mistakes add up to $93,000. Must have been the curse.

Curbelo had already been struggling to explain why he shifted ownership of his PR firm over to his wife, enabling him to keep their client list secret. His predecessor, outgoing U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia had made much of that, though the curse had been even more debilitating for the incumbent.

Garcia’s top aide, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation), did a 65-day stretch in jail for running an absentee ballot scheme back in 2012. Two more of Jeff Garcia’s underlings remain under investigation in the absentee ballot mess.

Meanwhile, the feds are investigating a possible link between Garcia’s campaign and the phantom candidacy of Roly Arrojo, a Democrat who mysteriously converted to tea party Republican and ran against Rivera in the 2012 primary. What would make a longtime Democrat suddenly catch tea party fever? The curse, that’s what.

The hex ran crazy through Rivera’s camp. His operatives recruited their own fake candidate to complicate Garcia’s 2012 primary. So far both the patsy candidate and Rivera’s former girlfriend/campaign strategist have pleaded guilty.

Rivera had long been dogged by questions about his personal finances and employment history — so many, so often that it was hard to figure why such a talented politician would risk ruin and jail.

Now we know: the District 26 curse.

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