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Hernandez, Martinez go toe-to-toe in nasty Hialeah mayoral debate

The tone of Hialeah's mayoral race went from bad to worse Monday morning as Carlos Hernandez and Raul Martinez went after each other in a debate on Spanish-language radio.

The two men had already sparred on a different station last week. But the attacks escalated Monday on WURN-AM (1020), where moderator Nelson Rubio let the rivals argue for extended periods without interruption.

In one of those stretches, Hernandez, the sitting mayor, repeatedly asked Martinez, a former mayor, how much it cost the city when Martinez was caught on video in 1999 roughing up a street protester on the Palmetto Expressway. Opponents have used the footage in TV ads against Martinez.

"Those punches cost the city," Hernandez said.

Martinez said the city paid $20,000 to $25,000 in lawyer's fees in the case. He countered by asking Hernandez, a former police officer, to admit that the incident came after Hernandez's fellow cops on the highway were being hit with rocks and bottles.

"You weren't there," Martinez said. "As mayor, I was present."

In another stretch, Martinez reiterated "suspicions" regarding absentee ballots, which Hernandez handily won in last week's first-round election. Hernandez, calling Martinez "the king" of absentee ballots, then went personal again, noting Martinez's 1993 reelection was challenged in court over absentee ballots -- including some witnessed by Martinez's sister-in-law. Martinez was never charged in the probe.

And Hernandez claimed Martinez's adult daughter campaigned over the weekend by offering turrón -- Spanish nougat, traditionally eaten during Christmas -- to voters if they said they would support Martinez. "We are not even in turrón season," Martinez said, saying he had no idea what Hernandez was talking about. (Martinez then added his volunteers distribute campaign materials, sometimes accompanied by cookies.)

Martinez accused Hernandez of raising water fees and leaving eight new buses sitting in a parking lot for weeks. A day after Martinez leveled the same accusation against the mayor last week, one of the buses began operating; Hernandez on Monday denied that the move had anything to do with Martinez's criticism. (See El Nuevo Herald story regarding the buses here, in Spanish.)

Martinez, retooling his message after his surprising second-place finish last week, focused his lines against Hernandez on Hialeah's shaky budget finances and ballooning pensions (though he did not mention his own pension from his 24 years as mayor).

He also noted a majority of residents voted against Hernandez by casting ballots for one of the mayor's three first-round opponents: Martinez, former state Sen. Rudy Garcia and newcomer George Castro. Hernandez's tack has been to say a majority of people voted against Martinez by choosing the mayor or one of the other candidates.

In their new Spanish-language radio ads, Hernandez and Martinez thank voters for their first-round support and remind them to cast ballots in the Nov. 15 ballot.

An ad that ran in Monday's debate -- though we were unable to hear a political disclaimer, if there was one -- tried to link Hernandez with ousted Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez.

"Say no to Carlos Hernandez like you said no to Carlos Alvarez," the ad tells listeners. "Hialeah cannot afford the broken plates of another Carlos."

Similar ads aired during the county mayor's race earlier this year were unsuccessful in linking Alvarez to Carlos Gimenez, who won the Miami-Dade contest over former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina.

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