The Coral Gables mayoral race this year already had an epic, Count of Monte Cristo vibe — what with the freshman, lone anti-development commissioner on the dais going up against a former mayor that was booted out 15 years ago for over-development, among other things, by said lone commissioner’s husband.
But now, it seems that former Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli has pulled the ethnic card, starting a whisper campaign that Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick is anti-Hispanic.
El pobre. His Cuban card is all he’s got going for him.
“A lot of people say that its become an ethnic campaign because of the slate,” said Jorge de Cardenas, Valdes-Fauli’s campaign manager, who also ran the campaigns for Mayor Jim Cason. He is referring to the Riviera Neighborhood Association of homeowners who are royally pissed off at the Paseo project approval, and who apparently sought out two candidates for the commission positions. The group has morphed into a grassroots political group called Gables Neighbors United, which has endorsed Slesnick for mayor and longtime activist Marlin Ebbert and former Commissioner Wayne “Chip” Withers. They think they’ve got a cute little acronym for people to remember: SEW. Like, let’s SEW this up.
“Some of these people are going around saying ‘The Cubans are going to take over,'” de Cardenas said. “I guess we’re in Miami. That happens.”
Yes, we’re in Miami. So, sometimes, it’s just expedient to say it happens. This sounds like a campaign strategy to Ladra because (1) why would Slesnick be responsible for what some racist on South Alhambra (and they’re everywhere) has to say and (2) Guess what? The Hispanics have infiltrated the Riviera neighborhood already (they’re everywhere, too), so it would be sorta silly to say something like that — and/or dangerous.
And it’s not like there were a ton of Hispanic choices. Withers is running against another white anglo, Commissioner Pat Keon — pictured to the right in the most blonde on white, ethnic card-free race, lucky them — and while Ebbert is running in an open seat with two Hispanics, only one of them is actually viable (more on that later).
And why are we talking about this anyway? In 2017? Really? The only reason must be that it’s part of the RVF campaign narrative.
Valdes-Fauli did not return a call to his phone. But Slesnick told Ladra that she was going to stick to the issues. “I don’t know how to combat something like this. What do you do? What do you say?”
Maybe she’s right. What can you say? “I am not a racist.” Didn’t work for Richard Nixon with crook. Maybe she doesn’t need to say anything. Valdes-Fauli’s polls must show that he is trailing, with the election two weeks away on April 11th. People are already voting absentee. Time to panic. Which goes a long way to explain the Valdes-Fauli mailer where the successful residential real estate agent is tagged “Speedy Slesnick” and photo-shopped in a red race car. This is because she would rather hire more police officers to enforce the 30 MPH in residential neighborhoods than go down five MPH and still have nobody there when people blow by the required twice as many roadway signs going 50 MPH. The mailer — paid for by one of two Valdes-Fauli PACs — is so bad, it’s good. Someone, please, please save one for Ladra’s collection.
Let’s take a moment here to remind folks that this is likely Valdes-Fauli’s last chance to get back into the office he was tossed from in 2001 by Don Slesnick in a sea change election — two new commissioners were also elected — after he led the effort to close Biltmore Way to vehicular traffic and build a massive administrative annex next to historic City Hall. Ladra covered Coral Gables for the Miami Herald back then, and it seemed to me that he envisioned the building would eventually bear his name.
Valdes-Fauli has been kind of absent since that defeat, coming out of his self-imposed sore loser exile 14 years later, only to endorse Mayor Jim Cason two years ago. In hindsight, Ladra wonders if that was tit for tat since Cason, who immediately rewarded him with an appointment to the charter review committee — a classic step in making the man relevant again — has endorsed him back.
Why does Valdes-Fauli want to be mayor again now — a whole 16 years later? Might it have something to do with all the development that wants to apparently keep coming now in North Gables and along South Dixie Highway? Might he resurrect the City Hall annex idea?
Does anyone else get the impression that someone brought Valdes-Fauli out of retirement and it wasn’t really his own idea to run? Like whoever runs the empty suit that is Cason is going to run him, too?
And since he lost against a Slesnick once before, and he’s desperate, and it’s late, he has gone on the offensive. Ladra hopes Hispanic voters in the Gables see through this pandering and reject it. And I can’t help but wonder if the Cubans in North Gables with his yard signs — the same ones who supported Slesnick in 2015, then were told she was anti Hispanic — know that Valdes-Fauli went to the island and can’t stop talking about what a marvelous trip it was and praises the normalized relations with Cuba’s repressive regime. I bet nobody told them that.
But that’s not really important. The Cuba trip doesn’t make him a worse candidate. Ladra has been to Cuba several times and believes that family trips — not junkets disguised as “educational packages” — are beneficial to the parallel economy that makes the government increasingly irrelevant. It just makes him even more of a calculated sin verguenza for pulling the ethnic card.
What makes Slesnick a better candidate is that she is honest in her campaign, which is mostly about her policy positions — not anybody’s ancestry — on transparency in government and over-development. Like she works super hard to sell single family homes — and everybody knows she is a workaholic — she has worked super hard in the last two years since she was elected, having multiple town hall meetings to gauge constituents’ needs and concerns and being extremely communicative. She is very accessible and is not afraid to go against the administration or the majority on the dais if its what the residents want. Slesnick truly understands that her job is about serving the people and representing their best interests and their hopes and dreams.
And that’s why she has voted four times, at least, against these big, massive developments that have a lot of people in Coral Gables on edge. She was the only no vote, in fact, on the Paseo de la Riviera project on U.S. 1 (rendition to the left), The Plaza on Ponce de Leon — which was Old Spanish Village and then became the Agave project and then Mediterranean Village before it was reborn with one word like Prince or Madonna — and 33 Alhambra. I believe the 16-story Gables Station by Grand Avenue may have been a 3-2 vote.
Funny enough, Valdes-Fauli is trying to get people to believe that she voted for one of those projects, when she simply voted for increased setbacks and lower density after the projects had already been approved. Any suggestion otherwise is disengenuous and further evidence of desperation.
That’s like trying to get them to believe that this house seller, who is an abuela to Hispanic grandchildren, is anti-Hispanic.