October 10, 2014

The client list: Carlos Curbelo represented Miami brothers wanted in Ecuador


Miami congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo until recently represented two wealthy brothers convicted in Ecuador of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars, the Republican acknowledged Friday.

The family of Roberto and William Isaías, who live in Miami, hired Curbelo and his firm to try to turn public opinion against the Ecuadorean government, according to Curbelo.

“Our main goal was to disseminate information about the government of Ecuador’s human-rights violations, lack of due process and ties to other rogue regimes,” he said. He added that he and his firm, Capitol Gains, represented the family for three years, “until a few months ago.”

Curbelo confirmed the relationship to the Miami Herald after being asked about it in an interview taped earlier Friday with Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4. The interview will air at 8 a.m. Sunday on Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede.

The Herald had learned about the relationship from Curbelo’s opponent, Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia, who recalled running into Roberto Isaías at a Capitol Hill office building last year while Isaías made the rounds with Curbelo to offices of members of Congress.

More here.

Democratic poll: Joe Garcia leads Carlos Curbelo


A public-opinion poll of the hotly contested race for Florida's 26th congressional district shows incumbent Rep. Joe Garcia ahead of Republican opponent Carlos Curbelo, national Democrats said Friday.

Garcia leads Curbelo 45-40 percent, with 15 percent of respondents undecided, according to the poll by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The poll surveyed 400 likely voters, as identified by their voting record, in English and Spanish. Its error margin is 4.8 percent.

The survey was conducted from Sept. 28-Oct. 1. Democrats didn't release it until Friday -- nine days later -- after Republicans touted a second poll showing Curbelo in the lead.

The first GOP survey was commissioned by Curbelo and the second by Saint Leo University Polling Institute, which relied on automated telephone calls that tend to skew results toward older, more conservative voters with land lines. Saint Leo, which polled from Oct. 1-6, found Curbelo ahead 46-42 percent, with an error margin of 5 percent.

"Garcia's scandals are clearly hurting the freshman congressman," Katie Prill, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in an email. 

Privately, political observers from both side have said the race is tight, with the candidates separated by only 1 or 2 percentage points -- essentially a tie. The district encompasses Westchester to Key West.

A memo by the DCCC summarizing its poll results says Garcia is winning independent voters with 51 percent of support, and that if undecided voters are split based on their party registration, Garcia's lead increases to 53-47 percent. Among poll respondents, 42 percent were Republican, 34 percent Democrat and 24 percent without political-party affiliation.

"The results of the survey come on the heels of increased communication highlighting Curbelo's comments in Washington calling Medicare and Social Security a 'Ponzi scheme,' indicating that Curbelo has done significant damage to himself and that this is a powerful line of attack in South Florida," the DCCC said.

The party declined to release further poll details, including support for each candidate by respondents' ethnicity.

Ethics commission dismisses complaint against Miami Gardens councilman


The Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics & Public Trust has found no probable cause in a case between two candidates for a Miami Gardens City Council seat.

Francis Ragoo filed a complaint against Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro claiming that the incumbent moved a community event to August, days before the election, to basically use it as a campaign event.

Ragoo contends that the timing of the was not coincidental, but the commission said Wednesday it didn't feel the same and dismissed the case at its October meeting.

Mt. Zion AME Church, 15250 NW 22nd Ave., has hosted the Stand Against Violence Its Our Responsibility (SAVIOR) march since 2009 and in the last three years the march was held in December. The organizers of the march and the church's pastor, Rogery Adams, told the ethics commission that moving the event date was their decision, not Ighodaro's, and was not politically motivated.

"The date was set by the committee and was chosen to coincide with the beginning of the school year," Perry Anderson, a member of the event's planning committee, told the ethics commission.

Ragoo filed his complaint Aug. 21 and ultimately finished tied for third in the race for the council seat, with about 11 percent of the vote.

Ighodaro will face former council member Andre Williams in a runoff for Seat 6 on the City Council on Nov. 4.

Tit-for-tat in Florida governor's debate leaves little room for candidates to lay out vision


Three televised debates in the Florida governor's race appeared like the best opportunity for Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist to promote policy plans outside of their ongoing negative campaign.

But as the first debate hosted by WSCV-Telemundo 51 wrapped up its taping Friday, the candidates offered voters few specifics.

Sure, the questions reporters asked related to big, important issues. Yet the two men's responses, while mostly polished, shed little new light on where they stand.

Scott backs "traditional" marriage, but wasn't clear on whether he supports marriage for same-sex couples. Crist does.

Crist supports expanding Medicaid reform under the Affordable Care Act. Scott, who in the past said he did as well, sounded again like a critic, calling it too expensive for Florida.

Scott opposes a medical marijuana amendment to the Florida Constitution. Crist supports it.

Crist wants to lift the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. Scott says it should continue.

And on and on.

Meanwhile, outside Telemundo's Miramar studios were supporters of Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie. "Let Wyllie Speak," a sign said.

Hispanic buzzwords abound in first televised debate between Charlie Crist, Rick Scott


Few people may watch the first televised debate between the candidates for Florida governor. It airs on a Friday night, and only on Spanish-language Telemundo network affiliates.

But the voters watching -- Hispanic voters, that is -- were sure catered to by Republican incumbent Rick Scott and Democratic opponent Charlie Crist.

Scott's debate strategy appeared to be to mention family, a key issue for Hispanics, and to stress his efforts to keep college tuition affordable.

"Muchas gracias a Telemundo por este debate y a ustedes por escucharnos," Scott said, in Spanish, to launch his first debate intervention. Then he thanked his wife, mother and grandchildren before defending his four years in office.

"We now have the highest funding ever in the history of the state for K-12 and colleges and universities," he said. "I'll focus on your family. Most families are like mine, growing up."

Crist, for his part, has tried to pivot every answer toward issues public-opinion polls show matter to Hispanics: raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid coverage and supporting immigration reform. The former Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat governor also threw in a mention to voting lines, which studies show particularly affect minorities.

He hammered Scott for failing to push the Florida Legislature to accept Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act -- and then added, "He wouldn't sign an executive order to reduce the lines for voters" in 2012. Crist signed a similar order in 2008.

Scott ignored the reference and maintained that Florida cannot afford Medicaid expansion.

"Everybody having access to healthcare is important to me. I grew up in a family that didn't have it," he said. "I'm going to make sure that people get jobs. It's the best way for people get healthcare."

Earlier, the two candidates debate on whether so-called DREAMers -- people brought into the U.S. illegally by their parents when they were children -- should be allowed to obtain Florida driver's licenses. Scott vetoed legislation making that allowance last year.

Crist said Friday that position was "wrong." The governor responded the bill wouldn't have "changed anything."

Rick Scott, Charlie Crist kick off first debate going after each other on negative campaigning


The first televised debate in the nasty race between Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist kicked off Friday morning in Miramar -- fittingly, with the candidates attacking each other.

WSCV-Telemundo 51 reporter Marilys Llanos opened the exchange by asking why the neck-and-neck campaign has been so negative.

"Sadly, my opponent began a barrage of advertising in March of this year, almost all of it negative, and that's unfortunate I think," Crist said.

He then touched on two key issues for the debate's Hispanic voters -- a crucial segment of the electorate -- the minimum wage and education. 

Scott responded by speaking in broad terms about his tenure, with an appeal to Hispanic families "like mine." But he didn't address the issue of negative campaigning, which prompted reporter Llanos to press the governor for an answer.

"I think what happens in elections is people talk about what the other person has done, and there's a contrast," Scott said. "My opponent is a mudslinger. That's what he does. When he was a Republican, he called Bill Clinton a liar."

Telemundo won't air the debate until 7 p.m. Friday, dubbed in Spanish. Crist and Scott are recording the exchange in English, with interpreters translating the questions.

With the closely watched race neck-and-neck, according to most public-opinion polls, the three scheduled debates offer the two candidates a chance to directly appeal to voters who have been flooded by negative political advertisements that say little about what Scott and Crist would plan to do in office.

Crist leads Scott by a sizable margin among registered Hispanic voters, a Latino Decisions/National Council of La Raza poll found. Hispanics represent the fastest-growing segment of the Florida electorate, but Democrats fear many of them may stay home in the Nov. 4 election because they are disillusioned with President Barack Obama's failure to act on federal immigration reform.

Asking questions at the the hour-long debate are Llanos and WTVJ-NBC 6 anchor Jackie Nespral. The moderator is Telemundo 51 anchor Ambrosio Hernandez.

5 things to watch in the Telemundo debate


In 25 days, Florida elects a governor.

We’ve reached that phase of Florida’s neck-and-neck governor’s race where the voting is underway, the millions of dollars in nasty TV ads make less and less difference and barring an October surprise, there is probably one real opportunity to shift the overall narrative of the campaign: debates.

It starts Friday when Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist make their first joint appearance in the Telemundo TV studios in South Florida.

The 7 p.m. pre-taped debate could be critical for the campaigns’ efforts to win over Hispanics, who make up 14 percent of registered voters. The questions will be in Spanish, and the answers from Crist and Scott will be dubbed over by a Spanish interpreter for the TV audience.

Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist make their first joint appearance in the Telemundo TV studios in South Florida for the first debate of the gubernatorial campaign. | Meredyth Hope Hall/Courtesy Governor’s Office

But it is also a dress rehearsal for two live debates aimed at the broader electorate, next Wednesday from Broward College and Oct. 21 on CNN from Jacksonville. More here.

As debate season gets underway, here are five things to keep in mind:

Continue reading "5 things to watch in the Telemundo debate" »

Florida House candidate: I'll run in 2016 on just $99

The 2014 general election is still weeks away, but Florida House candidate Ross Hancock is already looking toward the future.

Hancock, an independent who is currently running against state Rep. Erik Fresen in House District 114, has launched his bid for the 2016 election, state records show.

What's unusual about his 2016 candidacy: He's committing to a total budget of $99.

"I will accept no contributions, and our campaign account will start with $99 and that's it until Election Day 2016," the former community newspaper publisher wrote in an email to the Herald/Times. "You shouldn't have to be rich to run. A campaign shouldn't be funded by lobbyists and unions. And ordinary working people shouldn’t be pressured for small contributions. No one should pay to play."

Hancock said he will use "shoe leather, social media, and people power" to win office.

House District 114 includes parts of Coral Gables, South Miami, Cutler Bay, Palmetto Bay and Pinecrest. 

Hancock ran for the seat against Fresen in 2012 and lost by just two points.

This year, Hancock's campaign finance forms indicate that he has loaned himself about $24,000. Fresen, meanwhile, has raised about $366,000.

The Democrat in the 2014 race, Daisy Baez, has raised about $188,000.

In other House District 114 news, Baez has launched a new TV commercial that highlights her military service and commitment to public schools. The ad then goes negative, painting Fresen as a lobbyist who has "earmarked hundreds of thousands in taxpayers dollars to his sister's [charter school management] company." 

The commercial is strikingly similar to a Florida Democratic Party ad for state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, who is running for re-election in House District 112. That district includes Key Biscayne, Brickell, the Roads, Coconut Grove and parts of Coral Gables.

Watch Baez's video below.




Miami police union rips body camera pilot program


If the Miami Police Department is going to equip its officers with body cameras, it won’t be without a fight from its union.

Fraternal Order of Police president Sgt. Javier Ortiz, in an open letter Thursday to Miami’s city manager, ripped a “reckless” pilot program that has several dozen officers wearing cameras that record their interactions with the public. Department brass recently purchased 50 Taser cameras to deploy among the roughly 1,150-member department as part of a University of South Florida study of body cams among large police forces. Asst. Chief Rodolpho Llanes said the department gave motorcycle traffic cops and police on the department’s problem-solving team the cameras, and will have a conversation about whether to expand their use after the study is completed in about a year.

But Ortiz wrote in his letter that the department -- which recently suspended a cop over issues related to the use of his own, personal dash cam -- is rushing the initiative without an established set of rules and guidelines or proper training. He also argued the potential millions needed for record-keeping and related personnel under an expanded program would be better spent on improving pay and benefits.

“The poor excuse that this is a pilot program means there are no rules and it’s just a free for all,” Ortiz wrote. He added that if police brass is serious about transparency, COMPSTAT meetings, during which crime statistics are discussed, should be videotaped.

Llanes said he understsands Ortiz’s arguments, which are similar to those from police unions in Miami-Dade and Miami Beach, where officials are considering or implementing body cameras. But Llanes said Miami is just testing the waters.

“Rolling out a 600-camera system is different than rolling out a 50-camera system to see the effects,” he said.

Report: The untold jobs story -- as state workforce shrank, so did services

Workforce reportFrom the Center for Investigative Reporting:

Over the last decade, Florida has shed thousands of state jobs, the consequence of a poor economy and a political philosophy at work. The result has affected how well agencies that protect everything from children to the environment can do their jobs.

According to a workforce report compiled by the state, while the nationwide average number of state workers per 10,000 in population was 211 in 2012, Florida had just 111 that year. That’s almost half the national average.

The state’s population has grown by 4 million since 1998. Its budget has increased by $25 billion since 2000. Yet Florida has almost 10,000 fewer established positions in the State’s Personnel System, State University System, State Legislature, Courts System and Justice Administration combined, than it did 15 years ago.

This means Florida’s government has been operating at its lowest staffing levels in almost two decades.

Even as the economy rebounds, state government isn’t growing with it.

This has largely been the result of a predominately Republican Legislature, and three Republican governors since the late 1990s – all of whom campaigned on promises to shrink government.

As a result, public agencies tasked with protecting vulnerable children, monitoring waterways and providing benefits to Floridians who have fallen on hard times, are struggling to fulfill their mandates. More here.