Sandra Murado Tops (George Volsky)

SANDRA MURADO TOPS                                                                GROUP 5 COMMISSION SEBATE

By George Volsky

Coral Gables, March 4. The first thing that most people ask after a political debate is: “Who won?” This is a sport-related question, and even in some sports there is a draw. The proper question is who was the best between two or among several debate participants. In politics voters anoint the winners. (And not even voters. George W. Bush in affect became president after five conservative members of the Supreme Court stopped the counting of Florida votes when it appeared they were favoring Al Gore.)

Monday night the Coral Gables Forum sponsored the first debate leading to our April 14 election. At stake are the post of mayor, in which Mayor Jim Cason, seeking his second reelection, is challenged by former commissioner Ralph Cabrera, in his second try to defeat Cason. Then Commissioner Frank Quesada faces Enrique Lopez, involved in local politics as an acolyte of former mayor Don Slesnick and a close friend of the former, disgraced city manager David Brown.

The third position on the April 14 ballot is the open seat of Vice Mayor William Kerdyk, Jr. who had decided to take a two-year hiatus from active politics for business and family reasons. Six contenders in this contest are: Ariel Fernandez, whose own résumé stresses his 11 years of unspecified service for Con. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R.FL); Rip Holmes, a perennial, unsuccessful commission candidate who says he runs so that his views can be heard; attorney J.P. Mitchell and business executive Tony Newall, both commission candidates two years ago; attorney Sandra Murado, in her first electoral try; and Jeannett Slesnick, the wife of the former mayor, who had run for the same job 32 years ago.

In the April 12, 1983 election she was one of nine candidates who vied for the seat of William Kerdyk, Sr. She was trounced. She came sixth, leaving in her wake only three virtually unknown men.

Back to the Monday debate. The view of a number of serious, independent viewers, and my own, is that Sandra Murado – surprisingly because that was her political debut – topped the group. Why? The consensus of opinion was that she was the only one who answered the debate moderator’s questions with clear, well-articulated declarative sentences; she was a young, serious woman who projected quiet authority and good grasp of city affairs. She did not begin – as many politician do – replying a question with “this is a very good question” or ending with “we have to study this problem carefully,” both trite phrases indicating a lack of knowledge of the subject. In the course of the 100 minute debate several candidates even deferred to Sandra’s previously-expressed views.

A couple of my friends also stated that Tony Newell also did well. But all agreed that the two losers were Jeannett Slesnick and Ariel Fernandez. They opined that the Jeannett candidacy was harking back the voters to the unfortunate, decade-long Slesnick-Brown rule, which everybody wants to forget. The Slesnicks would have us forget it too, commented one humorously: “Before Jeannett threw in her towel, the family at least paid the city $846 which their son, Don III, owned for unpaid garbage collection.”

Why is Jeanett Slesnick now running for office? residents are asking. It’s because on Dec. 22, 2014, a few weeks before she filed her candidate application, she sent out a public letter to friends stating: “I have Lymphoma Cancer.” Explaining in detail her extensive cancer treatment, including “two surgeries,” and “chemo” sessions that would end in January, she declined a request from a close friend to chair a volunteer effort this Summer. “I also thank several hundred of you who continually ask me to run for mayor or commissioner… However, I am devoting myself to the healing process at the moment. It is amazing how time consuming it is to get well (and how expensive too).”

Jeannett, one supporter wrote, “is arguably more popular and better known than her husband… a seasoned pro who has run all his campaigns.” While the “more popular & better known” is making the eagle scream, she has been – and at the end of the debate she acknowledged it – totally in league with Don’s leadership.

Thus the first topic of the evening – the $245 million deficit in the city’s pension obligations – must have been embarrassing to Jeannett. The pension debt is the most infamous and long-lasting “gift” that the Slesnick/Brown 10-year long regime left to Coral Gables’ present and future taxpayers. In 2001, when Slesnick was elected mayor, Coral Gable’s current and future pension obligations were fully funded, and the city had a sizeable cash reserve. When the Slesnick-Brown administration ended, it left the city almost cash empty.

The entry of Jeannett Slesnick into electoral arena also means that the Slesnicks have candidates in the three races. Enrique Lopez could not be more a Slesnick poodle. He was chairman of a small Slesnick publicity group called “Good Government,” and is, or was, with Don Slesnick an executive of the controversial Dade Medical College, whose president/owner, according to the Herald a convicted felon, was charged in Miami “with two counts of perjury.”

Ariel Fernandez is also on the Slesnick bandwagon. Last September he participated in what residents saw and one described as a “Jeannett-orchestrated crime scare.” Ariel, witnesses recall, after talking at length with Jeannett outside the City Commission chamber, spoke to the commissioners supporting her view that crime was on an increase in Coral Gables, insinuating that the Police Department was covering it up. Several weeks later, an FBI inspection team concluded that our police reporting was totally accurate.

Considerably incorrect, however, are the numbers in Ariel Fernandez’s chronology of his “life achievements.” He says he graduated from high school in 1999 and that in his senior year he was an intern in the office of Con. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Then (presumably after four years) in 2003 he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from FIU, after which he worked in the Ros-Lehtinen office for 11 years, without indicating where and in what capacity. That brings Ariel up to 2014 and his job as president of a PR and marketing firm.

Ariel’s chronology is wrong, disturbingly wrong. According to the U.S. Congress House Staff Directory, only between 2009 and 2011 Fernandez was “Congressional Aide” of Rep. Ros-Lehtinen – 3 years not 11 as his résumé states. Moreover, in 2011, 2012 and 2013 Ariel was “Deputy District Director” of Con. David Rivera.

Can a man, especially one who aspires for an elected position, forget several years of his life when he was the “Deputy District Director,” a high post on an U.S. congressman’s staff, maybe even with a high security clearance?

According to multiple news reports, while Fernandez was working for Rivera over $85,000 in cash was given to a penniless politician to run in his reelection race, presumably to syphon off votes from his Democratic Party opponent. Two persons connected with the case, including the recipient of the cash. have already been convicted of felony by a Miami Federal District Court.

About Stephen E. McGaughey
Resident of the City of Coral Gables

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