July 17, 2014

Keys judge rules FL's gay-marriage law unconstitutional


Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia overturned Florida’s 2008 constitutional gay-marriage ban on Thursday, and ordered that two Key West bartenders be allowed to wed but not before Tuesday.

Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who met at a gay pride celebration and have been a couple for 11 years, sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for a marriage license. Their case mirrors a similar suit in Miami-Dade County, in which six same-sex couples and LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida Institute sued County Clerk Harvey Ruvin for the right to marry.

In both cases, Florida Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum argued that Garcia and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel should not dismiss Florida’s constitutional gay marriage ban, which passed in 2008 with the support of 62 percent of voters.

“It remains for this court simply to respect the policy decision made by voters,” Tanenbaum told Garcia at a hearing for summary judgment on July 7 in Plantation Key.

Zabel has yet to rule on whether to allow the Miami-Dade plaintiffs to wed or go to trial in their suit against Ruvin. The six couples are Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello of Coconut Grove; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price of Davie; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier of Hollywood; Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood; Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber of Plantation; and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz of Miami.


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Wasserman Schultz lays forth on party's chances (better than you think) and Jeb Bush (thin skinned)


Wasserman Schultz
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, talks about upcoming midterms with pundit Bill Schneider. (Photo by Chris Adams, McClatchy)

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Weston who doubles as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said pundits and politicians are misreading the dynamics of the upcoming midterm election and that her party is in a much stronger position than many realize.

Republicans have a commanding position in the U.S. House. Democrats, meanwhile, hold but a shaky lead in the Senate and are burdened by a Democratic president with weak approval ratings and the historic fact that the president’s party usually does poorly in midterm elections.

And the polls so far don’t suggest things will be any different this time around.

But Wasserman Schultz said the polls are being looked at too narrowly. Ticking off a series of competitive Senate races, she said that Democrats are in a strong position, despite what generic Republican vs. Democrat polls might show.

“The polls that we’re ahead in are the ones the matter the most: the head-to-head polls of our candidate versus their candidate,” she said in a Thursday morning roundtable with Washington reporters. “And in virtually every head-to-head Senate poll recently in the competitive races, our candidates are ahead of their candidates… There’s not a generic candidate on the ballot in November, there’s a real person against a real person.”

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It's Annette for Charlie


Charlie Crist on Thursday tapped the head of Miami-Dade’s Democrats to become his running mate for governor, adding a needed South Florida Hispanic face to the former Republican’s ticket.

“As a working mom, a small business owner and a Floridian, I am proud to serve this state that has given me so many opportunities,” Annette Taddeo Goldstein said Thursday morning at a Miami press conference at the Lab Miami.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “too many people across Florida are feeling left out and behind.”

Crist called her “a remarkable woman and a classic American success story.”

Taddeo-Goldstein, who runs a translation company, checks a lot of boxes for Crist: Hispanic, South Florida-based (needed to turn out the Democrat base), a good fundraiser, well-liked by rank-and-file Democrats, experienced she has run before for office (unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and then for county commission), and she's female (another crucial slice of the Democratic base).

Taddeo-Goldstein’s selection all but ensures that the state’s next lieutenant governor will be a Miami-Dade Hispanic.

Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Rick Scott chose former Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera to fill the post.

The first major Democrat to call for Taddeo-Goldstein on the ticket: Henry Crespo Sr., the president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida. He said Goldstein would be a good choice as would Val Demings, Orlando's police chief.

“If we look at it not only in terms of optics, but of shoring up the base, I would pick either an African-American woman or a Hispanic woman,” Crespo said in a Miami Herald story that ran earlier this week. “Women tend to vote more than men.”

Asked about Taddeo-Goldstein’s ethnicity, and his struggles in attracting Hispanic votes in Miami-Dade, Crist said her selection “certainly won’t hurt. It’s nice that she’s fluent [in Spanish].”

But, Crist said, “it’s not for some particular demographic, it’s for all the people of Florida.”

Crist’s selection of Taddeo comes at an unorthodox time.

Gubernatorial candidates typically pick running mates after contested party primaries, and Crist still faces longtime Democrat Nan Rich, who has assailed the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Crist for not being a consistent party member.

Crist’s standing over Scott has been slipping as the incumbent has dropped about $15 million of unanswered TV ads. Only recently has Crist started advertising.

By picking Taddeo, Crist ensured he’d dominate the news cycle without having to advertise.

Annette Taddeo-Goldstein for Crist's running mate?


Still waiting for Charlie Crist's "major announcement" press conference, which true to form for the Democrat is running late.

The event, at The Lab Miami in the funky Wynwood District, has the trappings of a ho-hum policy announcement. But everyone's buzzing about a possible running mate announcement, and many say it's Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, the Miami-Dade Democrats' chairwoman.

She checks a lot of boxes: Hispanic, South Florida-based (needed to turn out the Democrat base), a good fundraiser, well-liked by rank-and-file Democrats, experienced (she has run before for office (against U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen), and she's female (another crucial slice of the Democratic base).

We ticked off a few possibilities earlier in the week in this story.

She also has refused to return our calls for two weeks. Something's cooking.

The first major Democrat to call for Taddeo-Goldstein on the ticket: Henry Crespo Sr., the president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida. He said Goldstein would be a good choice as would Val Demings, Orlando's police chief.

“If we look at it not only in terms of optics, but of shoring up the base, I would pick either an African-American woman or a Hispanic woman,” Crespo said in our previous story. “Women tend to vote more than men.”

All that said, you have to question the timing: A running mate announcement in July, before the Democratic primary against Nan Rich is over? It would be a bit presumptuous. But it's also headline-grabbing, a good way for Crist -- badly trailing in ad spending -- to earn free media in a time when it's tough to grab voters' attention.

Business partner of suspended North Miami mayor pleads guilty to mortgage fraud


A former business partner of Lucie Tondreau, the suspended North Miami mayor, has turned against her in a federal mortgage-fraud case that threatens to send her to jail and end her political career.

Karl Oreste pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to organizing an $11 million mortgage-fraud scheme that he now says he once ran with Tondreau.

Oreste admitted in Miami federal court that he went on Haitian-American radio programs with Tondreau to lure listeners into their alleged conspiracy against eight lenders, including major banks such as Wachovia.

According to his plea agreement, they recruited “straw” buyers to obtain fraudulent loans to purchase more than 20 homes during the real estate boom, then lined their own pockets with much of the proceeds.

Oreste, 56, of Miramar, who was charged in May along with Tondreau, 54, and two other defendants, agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the hope of gaining a more lenient sentence.

“Mayor Tondreau is surprised by this development,” said her defense attorney, Ben Kuehne. “But she is confident that, as long as Mr. Oreste testifies to the truth, it will be evidence of her vindication.”

More here.

Report of Russian spy base reopening in Cuba puts FL on edge

A report that Russia will reopen a Havana base that eavesdropped on U.S. communications from Key West to Washington has triggered fresh warnings of Moscow’s expansionism and predictions of a continued freeze in U.S.-Cuba relations.

Until its closure in 2002, the Lourdes base was Moscow’s largest intelligence facility abroad, with up to 1,500 KGB and GRU military intelligence officers manning an array of antennas and computers in the super-secret 28 square-mile base.

“If the report is true, there’s no question Washington will put Cuba engagement on the back burner,” said Andy Gomez, a retired Cuba specialist at the University of Miami and now senior policy adviser for the Washington law firm Poblete Tamargo.

Alvaro Alba, a Miami expert on Russia, said reopening Lourdes would underscore President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions and cast a pall on U.S.-Cuba relations as dark as Havana’s imprisonment of U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross since 2009.

Asked why Cuban ruler Raúl Castro would do that when he has repeatedly declared that he wants to improve relations with Washington, Alba added, “Cuba hasn’t cared about the United States in more than 50 years.”

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Judge sets hearing for next Thursday to hear why districts should be revised now

With time running out, the judge who invalidated Florida's congressional redistricting maps ordered a hearing for next Thursday to hear the last-chance argument by the voters groups that the maps should be redrawn before the November elections.

In a 20-minute scheduling hearing on Thursday, lawyers for the Legislature, Florida's secretary of state and the associations of supervisors of elections told Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis that it is practically impossible to draw new districts in time to meet federal and state requirements for the election.

"At this point, absent some very novel, creative plan on your part, we just don't see how there is any possible way you could intervene...and have an election in newly-created districts,'' said Ron Labasky, attorney for the Florida Supervisors of Elections Association.

He said that some voters have already completed their absentee ballots and submitted them for the August primary election.

"I'm not too sure how we back up and let somebody vote again,'' he said.

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Charlie Crist's "mysterious" Nigerian $100k donor

From Gossip Extra:

A mysterious Nigerian businessman whose empire is under scrutiny for its ties to a jailed, corrupt African politician has emerged as one of Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist‘s biggest campaign donors, Gossip Extra has learned exclusively.

Onajite Okoloko, an oil executive turned fertilizer manufacturer with a sprawling property in Boca Raton, has donated $100,000 to Democrat Crist’s campaign so far this year, according to state campaign records.

Okoloko, 48, dropped $25,000 into the former governor’s coffers in January, then again in February, May and June, the records show.

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July 16, 2014

That's just the way it is


That’s just the way it is.

Those were Aaron Cohen’s last words.

Cohen, 37, was talking about his two little kids and his work schedule as he cycled with his friend Enda Walsh on the Rickenbacker Causeway in Key Biscayne just before 6 a.m. on Feb. 15, 2012.

At the same time, a man named Michele Traverso was driving home to Key Biscayne. He had been drinking the night before.

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Man arrested after threatening to shoot Miami-Dade politicians remains in jail


Showing up to a Miami-Dade County Commission meeting a little hot under the collar, seething over a local government decision? Not unusual.

Threatening bodily harm on elected officials — and pointing at them while doing so? That’ll get you arrested.

Jose Antonio Fernandez, 54, found that out the hard way Tuesday when he stepped behind the microphone and said, if the county were to take his property, he would have “the right to shoot every one of you.

“Shoot ’em,” he said.

Two sergeants-at-arms moved in, one on either side of Fernandez. They rushed him out of the commission chambers and handcuffed him.

“Will you please remove him completely from the building, and follow up on that?” Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said behind them.

Fernandez was still yelling from the escalator. “Enough is enough! This is America!”

The Miami-Dade Police Department slapped him with 13 felony charges of threatening to harm a public servant — one for each of the 12 commissioners present and for Mayor Carlos Gimenez — and a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.

More here.