Martinez gets feistier as election for Miami-Dade mayor nears

With a week to go before the Aug. 14 Miami-Dade mayoral election, challenger Joe Martinez has moved his campaign into attack mode.

On a live local news show Sunday morning on WPLG-ABC 10, Martinez for the first time laid the blame for absentee-ballot collector Deisy Cabrera’s alleged misdeeds on the incumbent, Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Then, when the show went to commercial break, a 30-second ad aired with scenes of Gimenez repeatedly saying, during a county address, that things are improving in Miami-Dade. Spliced between his statements are what appear to be scenes from past riots, gun battles, even an unidentified man smoking from a crack pipe.

The ad was paid for by a political committee registered to Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera. The PBA is the county’s most powerful union, and has taken the mayor to task for pay and benefit cuts during the year he has been in office.

Rivera said all the scenes were filmed by a crew in the past year. “I think it was gang members that had a fight. That’s all recent stuff,” he said.

The first week after Cabrera was identified as allegedly collecting illegal absentee ballots in Hialeah, Martinez refrained from laying direct blame on the mayor. But Sunday he changed his tune, saying he has since learned more about the issue, and that the fault lies with the mayor because ballot collectors were seen at a private meeting Gimenez held a few weeks back with Hialeah leaders getting ready to support him.

“Nobody said the mayor told these [absentee-ballot] people to commit ballot fraud,” said Martinez campaign manager Sasha Tirador. “But don’t say you don’t have any knowledge of who those people are.”

Gimenez has said repeatedly he does not know Cabrera, and that she does not work for his campaign. Last week, he had 12 top campaign aides sign affidavits swearing they had not hired her.

Cabrera, 56, was arrested Thursday on two misdemeanor counts and a felony charge of forgery for allegedly writing the name of an elderly, infirm woman on an absentee ballot in Hialeah. Police collected 31 absentee ballots from Cabrera, who has refused to say who hired her.

Why Martinez has suddenly taken an edgier tone isn’t exactly clear. He maintains he is confident that he will defeat Gimenez, who won as mayor a year ago after Carlos Alvarez was recalled from office.

There are five other candidates in the race who could garner some votes, making it more difficult for Gimenez to get the 50 percent plus one vote he needs to win the Aug. 14 primary outright. A runoff would take place Nov. 6 if no candidate gets a majority.