Mayor Cason’s Promises–How Is He Doing?

I would say that Mayor has a way to go in meeting his promises on transparency, controlling pension benefits, controlling millage rates, city efficiencies, having open management, and making suggestions (hopefully not in secret).

We will see if this government is more than cutting ribbons and letters to new residents.

MY 10 PROMISES TO YOU

  1. I will be a full time Mayor.
  2. I will work in the best interests of the citizens of Coral Gables and be respectful of their concerns.
  3. I will support transparency of City Hall’s government.
  4. I will control pension liabilities moving forward in order to reduce Unfunded Actuarial Accrued Liabilities. (UAAL)
  5. I will avoid conflicts of interests and favoritism.
  6. I will fight to keep millage rates low.
  7. I will seek greater efficiencies in City management and not tolerate waste, fraud, mismanagement and improper employee conduct.
  8. I will question all aspects of current operations and suggest alternatives.
  9. I will make sure that management keeps the commission well informed on: new or change in ordinances, issues and contracts that will be presented before the commission and offer ample time for discussion before voting is implemented.
  10. I will be an active Ambassador for our City and foster an open and collegial environment for current residents, business owners and visitors.
(Quoted from Mayor Cason’s campaign literature and website.)

Volsky on “How Coral Gables’ Mayoralty Was Won”

GEORGE VOLSKY

HOW CORAL GABLES’ MAYORALTY WAS WON

Political consultants seldom discuss campaigns they have managed, not even the ones they had won. And when they do they keep important operational details intentionally  opaque.  There are reasons for that reticence. Some schools might teach how to manage campaigns,  but  successful election practitioners are generally self-taught professionals  who, like magicians, accumulate special political skills, which they adapt and refine for the repeated and hopefully profitable use.

Jorge de Cardenas, the campaign manager of Coral Gables Mayor  James Cason did talk, to a point, about his win.  Cason   prevailed on April 12 in the three-man race to the surprise of virtually all seasoned local political observers, and to the consternation of the city’s long-entrenched legal-development-commercial establishment  (including our printed media).

“Basically,” said de Cardenas, “we like to work with candidates who develop easy rapport with the electorate, who can raise a fair amount of money, who have faith in victory, and not the least who have opponents that make mistakes. Jim Cason was such a candidate. But, truthfully, practically up to the last two or three days before April 12 we weren’t sure we would pull it  off.”

Recalling the beginning of his  Coral Gables work (he had managed many campaigns in Miami-Dade County), de Cardenas said that Cason,  a retired Foreign Service officer and former U.S. Ambassador whom he knew by name but hadn’t met personally,  first contacted him in early June 2010. “He told me he had decided to run for mayor of Coral Gables  and wanted to know which were his chances of winning.  I immediately started to review the relevant numbers of the city’s recent  elections, of the eligible voters’ ethnicity and their voting pattern, and of the prevailing political climate.”

De Cardenas said that after two days of intensive research he gave Cason his assessment. “I told him, first, that the city’s entire  political establishment  would oppose a newcomer like himself. Second, that only a relatively small number of the predominantly Cuban residents of Coral Gables  knew of him and his decisive anti-Castro, pro-disident stance as head of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana a decade ago, and that proportionally fewer Cuban Americans have voted here than in Miami or Hialeah  to significantly impact on the election’s results.  Third, that he needed about $100,000 for a credible race; and fourth, that only with a vigorous grass root campaign he might have a chance.”

Three days later, Cason, apparently impressed by de Cardenas’ unvarnished analysis, hired him to manage his campaign.  The work did not begin until well into July because Cason was sent by the State Department to inspect the operations of the U.S. Embassy in Bagdad, the largest in the world.

With Cason away in Iraq, de Cardenas did his first poll.  At the time, only attorney Tom Korge was in the mayor’s race,  although most observers expected Dorothy Thomson, former mayor and commissioner, to be the third candidate. Mayor Don Slesnick was assuring everyone willing to listen, including Cason at his home, that after 10 years in office he would not seek reelection.

The poll, which included a question to gauge Slesnick’s popularity, was a veritable eye opener, according to de Cardenas. Only  35 percent of respondents were ready to reelect the mayor,  and the rest said “yes” to the question “anything but Slesnick.” Low two digits favored Cason and Korge, and the biggest number was of the undecided.

“When Jim returned from Iraq we knew we had to increase the  number of the eligible  Cuban-American voters, 16-18 percent  in the last three elections, a much smaller percentage  than of the Coral Gables Anglos. He started doing it by visiting homes and apartments, mostly in North Gables, where the majority of Cuban Americans live,” de Cardenas said. “He and his volunteers must have met thousands of Hispanic and Anglo voters, who were obviously impressed by him and his innovative plans for the city.”

“Knowing  that to win we had to get about 22 percent of the divided Anglo vote, we were upset learning that Thomson had decided not  to run. But that was immediately compensated by Slesnick getting into the race. Ironically, soon after his unexpected decision to seek reelection  we started making inroads into the Anglo community and, as per our soundings, the undecided Hispanics began coming to our corner in large numbers. In what perhaps was the key turning point in the campaign, at the beginning of 2011 Cason, until then practically ignored by his opponents and the print media, became a target of relentless attacks, especially from  Slesnick,  who was supported not only by the Anglo establishment, but also by the so-called leaders of Miami-Dade’s Hispanic community. But that small group didn’t make us lose any sleep, because Jim was gaining allegiance of thousands modest, hardworking Hispanics, ‘tired, poor, huddled masses’ as Emma Lazarus would say.”

According to De Cardenas,   calling Cason a “carpetbagger,” (a Northerner who served the country abroad for almost 40 years, upon retiring he came  Coral Gables about three years ago), was offensive to many Hispanics.  “One Cuban American told me he was still regarded by some Anglos as an interloper  although he has  lived in Coral Gables for 47 years, longer than Slesnick and Korge.” De Cardenas added that  the three “unprofessionally organized mayoral debates” didn’t impact on the electorate.  On the other hand, he commented, the Herald’s endorsement of Korge cost Slesnick votes.

“Even personal attacked on me didn’t affect the campaign, on the contrary, several of my long  forgotten friends came through with sizeable contributions, ” de Cardenas said.  (Cason collected $97,000 for his race, half of Slesnick’s  $193,000; Korge spent $150,000.)

While gaining in voter samplings, and with his campaign chest empty, one week before the election Cason was  still a couple of percentage points behind Slesnick.  “We will never know exactly what had turned the tide,” de Cardenas said. “I strongly  believe it were those modest, long-neglected Cuban American residents of North Gables who put their trust in Jim, voted in biggest numbers ever and gave him his  victory.”

Election results seem to confirm that view. Cason won with 39 percent of the vote.  Slesnick received 35 percent, the exact number as in de Cardenas his poll  nine months earlier.

De Cardenas said that several Cuban American “community leaders” have asked him to urgently convey to Cason  that they have been browbeaten to support Slesnick financially, to place  Slesnick signs outside their homes,  and to include their names in Slesnick’s ads, but that they really voted  for Jim. Asked if he believed those statements de Cardenas said: “Yeah, like I believe that pigs can fly.”

Volsky on “New Dawn for Coral Gables”

GEORGE VOLSKY

NEW DAWN FOR CORAL GABLES

Our residents have spoken. In a dramatic upset, Coral Gables voters, going to the polls in bigger numbers than in 2009, Tuesday elected retired diplomat James Cason as the city’s new Mayor and sent  Mayor Don Slesnick home and into oblivion.

The election represented a decisive preference to change the head of the city’s elected officialdom, dominated and, as most observers said, manipulated by Slesnick for almost a decade, eight years of it in tandem with the disgraced city manager David Brown. Flattered by a small coterie of fawning acolytes,  Slesnick was sure he would be reelected. But he was rejected by 63 percent of the 7,917 residents who had voted.  In all, 26.64 percent of the registered went to the polls; in the previous, 2009 city election 19.93 percent voted.

How did James Cason manage to win what most observers had predicted would be an insurmountable road to victory? Principally by visiting about 8,000 Coral Gables homes, either personally or by having able volunteers to represent him.

While some experts have described Cason’s presentations at several pre-election debates as not being 100 percent polished, he did very well in smaller gatherings, coming through as a sincere, dedicated, knowledgeable public servant.  And he was even better in one-on-one meetings, which is the proper way successful career diplomats operate.

That contrasts with Slesnick’s unctuous presence, his practically perpetual smile which most people perceive as insincere, calculating and condescending.

While Cason won most of the city’s Hispanic votes,  in some precincts in North  Gables he received more than 50 percent, the so-called Latin establishment of Coral Gables and   Miami-Dade –  that’s people whose pictures appear in society columns, business owners, lawyers, and political hanger-on’s  – sided with Slesnick and contributed substantially to his campaign, often   husbands and wifes giving the mayor $500 each.

By persuasion, reportedly even by arm twisting  and through business contacts Slesnick was able to collect almost $200,000 for his campaign. Cason spent about $90,000, much of it from small donations. Significantly,  a week before the election, when Slesnick reelection propaganda machine, awash with cash, appeared unstoppable, Casons’ campaign run out of money.

(Slesnick’s campaign  was overbearing and, as noted earlier, mostly misleading. It descended to its lowest point when he sent out  a postcard with the photograph of his granddaughter Olivia holding his reelection poster and declaring: “Please vote for my grandfather. He likes to talk and he is nice to people. I love him.” All self-respecting politicians try to isolate their children, especially the very young ones, from active politicking.  I have never seen a grandchild used for political propaganda. Olivia, a lovely girl, appears 5 or 6 years old.)

But Cason supporters, especially in North Gables, continued firm, unimpressed by Slesnick’s barrage of TV, radio and newspaper advertisements, some with the names and pictures of the so-called “prominent Hispanic community  leaders,” urging their compatriots to reelect the mayor.

Observing  the enthusiastic gathering at Cason’s small Tuesday night victory party, one was struck by the socio-economic aspect of his supporters. It was obvious that virtually all of them, both Hispanic and “Anglos, ” were people of modest means, men and women who seldom visit City Hall, who never address the commission, who don’t ask for special favors, lobby for friends or clients,  seek appointments to city boards, or who are “friends of friends” and make the city’s wheels move faster for the benefit of the privileged few.

The Cason supporters appeared to be unpretentious hardworking or retired residents who like living here but intensely dislike paying high taxes, licenses and other city charges. These are individuals Slesnick and other elected officials have been taking for granted for years, while pretending to be speaking for them.

Following the example of what happened with Miami-Dade’s Mayor Alvarez one month earlier, these were the same voters who told Slesnick that 10 years in office is more than enough. And the most noteworthy and extraordinary fact was that whereas the Miami-Dade recall was subsided by a billionaire’s  $1 million, the Gables anti-Slesnick movement was spontaneous, uncoordinated and unfocused until Cason,  realizing its winning potential, had decided to run for office.

For a retired career diplomat to go into politics, especially in a small town like ours, is also unusual. Former ambassadors, and Cason is one, usually retire into a well paid corporate sinecure, or equally light work in academia or a political think tank.  Cason, I believe, realizes that being Coral Gables mayor is extremely time consuming; it is not only the necessity to read countless documents that the city weekly produces, but also to discuss a variety of issues that confront the city daily.

Slesnick departs his office leaving many serious problems he had created, or unsuccessfully tried to cover up, the principal being the pension crisis and the Biltmore mess.  It is expected that Cason will work harmoniously with City Manager Patrick Salerno, unlike Slesnick who pretending to be Salerno’s supporter, was undercutting the manager through various means, none overt.

Cason’s relations with the other commissioners are expected to be friendly as well, certainly with the reelected  Bill Kerdyk and the newly elected Frank Quesada. The situation of Ralph Cabrera might be rather awkward. Initially he is said to have “flirted” with Cason but in the end decided that Slesnick would be the winner and campaigned with and for him.  In any event, Cabrera will be termed-out in two years, as will be María Anderson, now reportedly undergoing conversion from the Roman Catholic credo to Protestantism and studying to be a preacher. As a result, it is noted that her interest in Coral Gables affairs, let alone her political clout, has diminished considerably.

Anderson supported to the bitter end one failed candidate for commissioner, Brad Rosenblatt, whose chances for a decent showing in a 6-candidate race, were fatally derailed by the disclosure of less than attractive past.

Other losers in the Tuesday election will be a group of  organizations controlled by Slesnick his family and friends,  which have been operating in the shadow of City Hall, as well as several appointed officials who have managed to keep they jobs despite their ineptness because of the former mayor’s strong backing, or that of Slesnick’s family.

Another loser was the Miami Herald which supported attorney Tom Korge for mayor, and for commissioner  a totally unknown insurance salesman, named Rene Alvarez.  Initially a  mayoral front runner, Korge literally sat for several months on his $100,000 electoral war chest; he came third after Slesnick. Alvarez, who reportedly was “persuaded” by Slesnick and Rosenblatt to enter the race and thus weaken two Hispanic candidates in Group 4, received only 601 votes.

What will the commission be like after Mayor Cason is sworn in Friday? To quote his words Tuesday night: “Together with them (the commissioners) and our new City Manager, I will work on cost cutting, leaner government and pension reform…As I embark on my service as your new mayor, I do so with humility and a recognition that I have a lot to learn. You can count on me to devote many hours doing so. I am honored by your trust, and you will find me a good listener open to new ideas and respectful of diverse opinions.”

While writing with pleasure the political obituary of the  failed mayor, it gives me much greater satisfaction to end with a hope for a better elected leadership and better times in store  for Coral Gables. 

A New Era of Participation in Coral Gables?

This is clearly a new stage in the political life of Coral Gables.  The mayor’s program of a happy future was rejected by about two-thirds of the voters, in favor of two candidates Cason and Korge, who pushed for financial, management and political-cultural (openness and participation) reforms in the city.

The new commissioner Quesada will be a young, fresh, analytical voice on the commission.

The agenda they face is a huge and difficult one, but the new Mayor Cason and the commission will have the active support of many members of the community–all they have to do it seek it out.

Recommended: Robert Burr’s CORAL GABLES BULLETIN on the Candidates and the Election

I reproduce this excellent and lively description of the candidates, with some of his personal views.  Worth reading, indeed.  Thanks Rob.

Gables Voters: Tuesday Is Election Day
If you’re tired of hearing about local elections and politics, delete this message now. Do not read further.If you don’t give a hoot about voting in your city, please delete this message now.

If you could care less what I think about the candidates for mayor and commissioner, please delete this message now and get on with your life.

If you’re still reading this message, I’l going to give you my recommendations for candidates in the coming election on Tuesday, April 12.

First, by virtue of having your attention, I want to thank you for being an active member of our community and taking an active interest in our governance. Coral Gables is blessed with an informed and engaged base of registered voters. This is the strength of our community and our greatest asset.

I spend a great deal of time promoting Coral Gables. I know this city inside out and I care deeply about our quality of life. I’m not a casual observer. The good news is I understand what makes this one of the best little cities in the world. The bad news is I am painfully aware of our flaws and have concrete ideas of how to fix them.

When I’ve been critical of leadership in this city, I’ve spoken out. This has cost me dearly in terms of retribution, but my contributions have helped to expose some of our worst problems and bring in new leadership to clean up the mess. I’ve been a victim of personal vendettas paid for by your tax dollars. It’s shameful and wasteful, but it hasn’t shaken me one bit.

Our new city manager inherited a mighty mess. It will take him years to turn around the administration, but he’s already make great strides in the right direction.

If you agree with me that citizens of Coral Gables deserve first-class leadership and professionalism, I’m here to tell you that there are still vestiges of mediocre governance and less than stellar talent gumming up the works in Coral Gables. It’s time we turned the page on these disappointing days of unremarkable and uninspired direction.

Thanks to term limits, we voters have ensured that life-long incumbencies are a thing of the past in Coral Gables. Bravo. Good people are coming forward, willing and eager to serve their community to the best of their ability. This is encouraging. This new atmosphere is enabling qualified people to come forward.

The Mayor’s Race
Thanks to voters, the mayors office was returned to a two year term recently after a close election in the recent past which onerously gave the current mayor the only four year term in the city’s history.

Don Slesnick smiles a lot, he talks a lot and he cuts a mean ribbon at store openings in Coral Gables. He’s a likable fellow who’s greatest talent is giving generously of his time to city affairs. Unfortunately, he’s a poor leader, has never inspired anyone, ignores obvious problems and loves to take credit for the accomplishments of others. There is no foresight, no ability to solve problems before they get out of hand, no proactive insight. I’m tired of watching our city deal with serious problems in crisis mode while Don grins ear to ear like smiley-faced goofball Alfred E. Neuman pretending nothing is amiss. That’s not leadership. The Miami Herald is right. Don should have stuck to his promise to step down for good. For his own good. For all our own good.

Jim Cason is not well known in Coral Gables, but I can tell you this. He’s certainly over-qualified to be the mayor of Coral Gables. With nearly four decades in the diplomatic service, he’s learned as an ambassador to jump right in and tackle the tough issues with diplomatic professionalism. He can systematically analyse and deal with serious issues, build consensus and deliver positive results. Jim will make a fine mayor for our city, and he’ll proactively serve as our ambassador to the world, something that would make our city founder George Merrick very proud. He’s retired, so he’ll devote nearly 100% of his time to bringing Coral Gables back to it’s sterling status of greatness that has faded steadily in the past decade. I have faith in Jim Cason.

Tom Korge is a good man. I proud that Tom has risen to the occasion and taken tough stances on the issues most important to Gables citizens. He’s well informed, he has good ideas and he’s well spoken. He would certainly be a great improvement over our current mayor. Before Tom entered the race, he asked if Don Slesnick was going to run. Don promised no. Tom took him for his word. Enough said. Tom is not the most exciting man I’ve ever met, but his heart is in the right place and he’s well qualified. He’s spent a lot of time on the inside dealing with the city’s most important issues over the past decade. I like Tom Korge. I admire him for coming forward to help get this city back on track and fix the glaring problems.

Group Five Commission Seat
With only two candidates in the race, the choices here are easy to digest.

Richard Namon is a very smart man. He reads city budgets and understands them better than anyone I know. He’s no-nonsense and he’s down-to-earth. I’m glad to know him as a friend and glad he’s seen the need to become engaged in our city and to lend his considerable talents to solving problems. Like many of us, he’s frustrated at what he sees as lackluster leadership consistently ignoring obvious problems. He believes in putting the needs and priorities of people first. I’d like to see Richard become more engaged in many of our outstanding civic and charitable organizations to get a firm understanding of all aspects of our community. If elected, he will serve us proudly.

Bill Kerdyk is my friend. I like him a lot. He’s been a good commissioner who consistently votes for fiscal responsibility, quality of life issues, proactive programs that make great sense for our city. Bill is now running for his last four year term, but he’s the exception to the reason we need term limits. Bill will do well to adopt some of his competitor’s ideas of how to radically circumvent the looming financial crisis in our city’s future.

Group Four Commission Seat
When Chip Withers, after 20 years on the commission, wisely decided not to run again, this seat attracted a robust crop of potential candidates to what should be an uplifting campaign for positive change. Unfortunately it spawned a disappointing series of mud-slinging and negative campaigning that only serves to feed the dominate attributes of ignorance and apathy among the Coral Gables electorate. Personally, I’m not going to judge candidates based on something they did or did not do years ago, with whom they associate or where they were born. I know most of these candidates fairly well based on their recent contributions to Coral Gables, their dedication to serving their community and the abilities I’ve seen them express in these regards.

Brad Rosenblatt is my friend. I like Brad. He’s dedicated to making Coral Gables a better place. I believe his positive contributions to the city outweigh some mistakes he’s made along the way. He’s young, ambitious, smart and has a good perspective on the importance of a thriving downtown, the key to Coral Gables success. Brad has a bright future in Coral Gables and I’m proud of his initiative to share his talents with his fellow citizens. He’s accessible, he’s forthright, and he’s genuinely dedicated to positive change.

Frank Quesada is a good man. He’s well versed in issues of importance to the citizens of Coral Gables, he’s thoughtful and considerate, polite and honorable. I believe he’s going to be a significant contributor to the betterment of Coral Gables for years to come. I commend him for stepping forward to give his time to our city. He’s young. I hope to see him continue his involvement in the community for many years. If elected, he will serve with dignity and grace.

Gonzalo Sanabria is my friend and he’s on a mission. Like most of us, he dedicated most of his time in the past to his family and his business. Thankfully, he had an awakening of the importance of being involved in city affairs and realized the serious problems in our city that need immediate attention. He analysed the obvious flaws of leadership that were causing Coral Gables to flounder and fail in critical areas. He spoke out. Bravo. I thank Mr. Sanabria for standing up and dedicating much of his time to making Coral Gables a better place to live and work. I believe as a commissioner, he would take his job very seriously and work hard to achieve his stated goals.

Richard Martin is a friend of mine. Like others, he had occasion to become aware of serious flaws in the way our city was being run and he stood up to say he thinks he can contribute to our collective betterment. He takes a common sense approach to tough problems. Richard offers solutions that are reasonable and sound on most issues.

Jackson Rip Holmes is a friend of mine. Has the best interests of Coral Gables in mind. He’s been consistently cheerleading for the betterment of business in downtown for many years. He’s largely misunderstood and often dismissed but there is no doubt about his dedication to Coral Gables business issues.

Rene Alvarez is not well known to me. He entered the race late and apparently does not have have a large budget for communicating with voters. He is politically active in volunteering and participating in local politics. Bravo. He’s well connected to county politicians, judges, senators and governors. Keep your eye on Rene Alvarez. The Miami Herald recommends him. I look forward to the opportunity of meeting him and getting to know him better.

Now, voter, the job is yours
You alone will decide who will lead Coral Gables forward in the coming difficult years.

I commend you for taking the time to read my recommendations and further challenge you to stay informed, get involved and find a way to make a positive difference in our community.

Robert Adams Burr
email: rob@robertburr.com
web: www.RobertBurr.com

Robert A. Burr
Recommends:

Coral Gables Watch:
http://coralgableswatch.com

Gables Home Page:
http://gableshomepage.com

Gables Gazette:
http://www.cggazette.com

Discourse:
http://www.discourse.net

George Merrick first published his Gables Bulletin in 1922 to keep residents informed of special events and items of importance in his city.This Coral Gables Bulletin notice is directed to registered voters in Coral Gables.

If you are not a registered voter, or do not wish to receive notices for voters, please use the following link to remove yourself from the Gables Bulletin email list. Send a blank message to:

GablesBulletin-off@lr.GreatGables.com

Coral Gables Bulletin is published by Robert Adams Burr
Quantum Leap Network
PO Box 144353 Coral Gables, FL USA 33114-4353
phone: 305-443-7973

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 283 other followers