High hopes for Homestead mayoral circus show, er, debate
It almost sounds like an episode of a made for TV drama: While all four candidates are reportedly confirmed for the Homestead Rotary Club’s debate Monday night, there is a lot of buzz on whether the former mayor — who was suspended by the governor last month after he was arrested on public corruption charges — will really show up after all.
It could turn into a circus if he does.
A larger than usual turnout is expected for the debate, which starts at 6:30 p.m. at the William F. “Bill” Dickinson Community Center, 1601 N. Krome Ave. Get there early for a good seat.
The show stars the suspended Steve Bateman, who was arrested Aug. 28 on unlawful compensation charges followed an investigation into his secret lobbing gig with Community Health of South Florida, Inc., and using his position as mayor as leverage to, first, get the position and then push the firm’s projects. He was back on the streets campaigning the day after he bonded out of jail. He is also accused of selling downtown city-owned property at a bargain basement price to a campaign contributor — a deal his wife made the commission on. And of generally being a bully.
Best supporting actor goes to Mark Bell, husband of former mayor and current Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell, who everybody Ladra talks to sees as an extension of his wife’s iron rule and who has at least two PACs working on his behalf.
In the middle of these two headliners is former Councilman Jeff Porter, who wants to be seen as an outsider but sat in office for 10 years during some of Homestead’s worst times. Watch out: It is characters like these who steal the show.
Even the Rev. Joseph Sewell, God bless him, has a bit part, even though his candidacy has few speaking lines. In fact, while the other three musketeers poke at and attack each other, Sewell’s soft-sell performance might be refreshing.
Former Councilman and Rotary President Steve Losner said the room can accommodate a couple hundred people but they expect it to fill up. He has also hired three off-duty Homestead Police officers to keep the peace — por si las moscas.
“They will maintain order. We will tell everyone the rules beforehand and they have wide discretion to pull anyone out who disrupts the event — including candidates,” Losner told Ladra Sunday.
There are already nine questions to be asked. Only four Rotary board members know what they are and they questions are all issues oriented, so that nobody can accuse the Rotary of being in favor of one candidate or another. There will be index cards for members of the audience to ask questions on, Losner said, and those will be asked as time permits.
“We will pull out the ones so they don’t duplicate what we’ve already asked and, as best as we can, are not attacking or clearly promoting one candidate over another,” he added.
It’s the first time that the Rotary Club does a debate just for the mayoral candidates and the group plans a council candidate debate in October, after the primary.
“We felt it was important to set these four apart and devote more time to the figurehead leader,” Losner told Ladra.
He agreed that there was a lot more intense interest in these mayoral elections than there has been in the past — even his defeat at the hands of Lynda Bell in 2007.
But a lot of the interest may be fueled by Bateman and the suspense of whether he will submit himself to this public scrutiny or not.
“I don’t know what the circus effect of Bateman being there is going to generate,” Porter told Ladra a few days ago.
“I don’t know why he would even show up. What if they ask him abut his crime? What will he say? I don’t understand why he’s dong this to himself and to us,” Porter said.
Losner said he, too, had heard that Bateman might be MIA rather than face a jeering crowd. But the former mayor did confirm by email, Losner told me.
“That’s his risk if he doesn’t go,” he said.
And the show is free, so he won’t have to give refunds.