Volsky on Cason-Cabrera Debate

CASON’S GRAVITAS WINS HIM THE DEBATE

By George Volsky

Coral Gables, March 10. Last night’s mayoral debate, a confrontation between Mayor Jim Cason and his repeated challenger, former commissioner Ralph Cabrera, did not, for me, change anything. It will not to be a surprise to the readers of this column when I say that I support Cason for mayor in the April 14 election. I did it two years ago when his reelection bid was also contested by Cabrera, and in 2011 when his principal opponent was former mayor Don Slesnick.

In 2011, the Slesnick electoral machine was out in force supporting Cabrera. That cabal, as many people call it, was humiliated more than Cabrera by his unprecedented trouncing. This time the “Slesnickites” are less visible in Ralph’s corner because they have three other candidates to support and fund.

These are: 1. Jeannett Slesnick who practically at the 11th hour decided to run for commissioner in Group 5; 2. Ariel Fernandez, a candidate in the same group, whose campaign was badly shaken last week by the disclosure that he had hidden from his pre-election political résumé two years of his life when he was a top aide of the former U.S. congressman David Rivera, said to be under criminal investigation by the FBI; 3. Enrique Lopez – a close ally of the Slesnicks and a very close friend of the disgraced city manager David Brown – who wants to replace Commissioner Frank Quesada. (Quesada and Lopez will debate March 16, and all 10 candidates again March 30.)

While the Monday night debate, moderated expertly by Elliott Rodriguez, did not change my preference, it apparently influenced some in the numerous public watching it at the Congregational Church: when the debate started more people applauded Cabrera, but after it ended Cason’s applause was much louder than that his opponent’s.

As is usual with challengers, Cabrera went on the offensive: he blamed Cason for: 1. supposedly not doing enough for public safety; 2. allegedly supporting overdevelopment ; 3. thus endangering “our style of life.” (For a good measure he also censured the mayor for traffic congestion.) Not coincidently, the three issues are exact copies of the platform of Jeannett Slesnick, as printed in her Herald advertisement Sunday.

Public Safety is a bogus but inflammatory issue that comes up periodically in the city. About 20 years ago, a number of mothers with children, residents of North Gables, in a well-orchestrated campaign, jammed the commission chambers demanding that streets leading to SW 8th Street be cordoned off to fend them from a “wave of crime” invading their neighborhood from Miami and threatening their lifestyle.

The commission closed 8th Street exits of some streets and nothing happened in the neighborhood except that owners of several houses, whose value increased by the closure, sold them quite profitably and moved elsewhere.

This time the “crime” campaign, launched at the beginning of 2014 by the Slesnicks’ lobby ”Good Government,” opened its first salvo last September when a number of people, among them Ariel Fernandez, addressing the City Commission accused the Police Department of “doctoring” crime reports to show that criminality was declining.

When an FBI inspection team certified the veracity the PD’s reporting – and thus of the decline in the city’s crime – the “crime vigilantes” changed gears. ”Yeah,” they began saying, as did Jeannett in her political advertisement and Cabrera on Monday, “but you [the mayor and the commission] did nothing to fill up the 18 vacancies on the police force”

When told by Cason that it takes a long time to recruit the best qualified police officers, and that the city is already getting them, Cabrera (no longer questioning the statistics reporting our crime decline) backed off the subject and moved to “over-development.”

What I found most objectionable in Cabrera’s Monday appearance was his suggestion that because Cason has received campaign contributions from several developers he would favor their plans with his influence and vote. This coming from someone who has insurance business in Coral Gables (and who also reported developer donations) was totally out of place. (Cason let it pass.)

Knowing Ralph as I do, I suspect that the Cason conflict of interest statement was insinuated upon him by some of his backers, and he, unwisely voiced it. It backfired,

Jim Cason is a retired U.S. diplomat with an unimpeachable record, the best proof of which is that he was asked by the State Department to inspect the operations of the U.S. Bagdad Embassy, America’s largest. Neither he or any member of his family is engaged in business activities. He and his wife Carmen live modestly in a comfortable Alhambra Circle house – not a mansion. Having observed his actions for the past four years, I can unambiguously state that he has been inspired – right or wrong – only by what he believes are the best interests of his city.

That brings me to the much repeated political slogan “the preservation of our lifestyle,” which Cabrera – and virtually all local politicians – want to ”fight for.”

The slogan seems to me as phony as they come. Has any politician defined what “style of life” he or she is being talked about? Is it the lifestyle of this city’s residents of the 1930s, 1940s, 1970s, or 2010s?

Let me explain it better describing my “historic” house build by a prominent architect in 1937. Its first owner, a physician, saw nothing wrong in that the house had small closets, that its bathrooms could barely accommodate one person and that its kitchen was minute. Between the 1930s and 1960s he probably had a cook. That she worked in a hot, cramped ambience that wasn’t his concern. (Having bought it 50 years ago, I had no means to make major internal changes.)

My house was built for the lifestyle of the 1930s or 1940s. Is this what we want to preserve? Residences today – even modest ones, have spacious bathrooms and a very ample kitchen where the family’s life is practically centered. This is the contemporary lifestyle that we enjoy, nobody knows what the next one will be like. So let’s stop exaggerating that subject, sometimes to the point of platonic absurdity.

I have known Ralph a long time and, although he might not think so, I like him. But because for years he has been susceptible to wrong advice, he has invariably been on the losing side of political battles. Following others, who have used him (often as a sacrificial lamb) for their own nefarious goals, he has failed to develop the quality of “gravitas,” the Roman virtue which in that time encompassed seriousness, dignity and importance. Jim Cason had it all along.

About Stephen E. McGaughey
International consultant in economic development programs and projects

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