After losing two state legislative races against Juan C. Zapata, state Rep. Frank Artiles is trying to get his revenge.
Zapata twice defeated Artiles in Republican primaries in 2002 and 2004 -- and endorsed and actively campaigned for Artiles' Democratic opponent two years ago. Now Artiles has backed Zapata's opponent in a Miami-Dade County Commission race, Manny Machado.
Artiles paid out of his own pocket for a mailer endorsing Machado and a slate of other candidates (a disclaimer on the piece says, "Paid for and approved by Frank Artiles. Not paid by taxpayers.") After Zapata gave an interview on Spanish-language radio, Artiles called the show's producer and offered to debate Zapata.
And Artiles went on a different Spanish-language radio station to offer this blunt assessment of the differences between the candidates in the race: "Criminal or cop," he said.
Machado is a Miami-Dade police detective. Zapata was arrested two decades ago for possession of steroids. The record that has since been expunged.
(Asked if he agrees that Zapata is a "criminal," Machado said, "No, it's been expunged. He's complied with the courts." However, Machado added that he will not debate his opponent unless Zapata releases records of his 1992 arrest.)
In the 2004 legislative race, Zapata's arrest -- at the time sealed but not expunged -- surfaced in an ugly contest where Zapata accused the Miccosukee tribe of bankrolling his opponents because Zapata had upset the tribe in the Legislature. Artiles at the time was attacked by third-party political committees suggesting he was a Miccosukee puppet.
Last week on radio station WWFE-AM (670), known as La Poderosa, Artiles also mentioned Zapata's parents' 1982 federal arrest for money laundering.
"The reality is, I don't care about that," Artiles said. "The important thing is that he didn't support Marco Rubio for senator."
Zapata was an early supporter of former Gov. Charlie Crist's campaign for U.S. Senate. Zapata said he did not involve himself in the race after Crist dropped out of the Republican Party and ran as an independent. Rubio didn't ask him for his endorsement, Zapata said.
UPDATE: This article from the Associated Press says Zapata continued to support Crist after he dropped out of the GOP.
Zapata, who is now seeking the nonpartisan commission seat, has accused Artiles of bankrolling a negative campaign against him.
"He should be focused on doing his job -– political pettiness, political vendettas don't serve anyone," Zapata said. "He's raised tens of thousands of dollars to attack me."
Artiles' political committee has contributed to other committees that in turn have sent other mailers attacking Zapata. A committee backing Zapata has also attacked Machado.
"He has $600,000, he has every lobbyist on payroll, has every lobbyist endorsing him and giving him money," Artiles said of Zapata. "I believe that the citizens of West Kendall deserve to know everything about their future county commissioner or their potential county commissioner."
Artiles, who is basically running unopposed for reelection -- he faces a write-in candidate -- said he doesn't have a political grudge against Zapata. But he stressed Zapata's support in 2010 for Democrat Katie Edwards, who ran against Artiles for Zapata's open seat after he was term-limited.
"It's not payback at all," Artiles said.