Volsky on Cason-Cabrera 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.

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.

Democracy in Coral Gables, and More from George Volsky on the City Commissioners

I am mainly impressed by the weakness of democracy in Coral Gables.  Yes, we vote, but very few people do.  There is not culture of participation except to attend commission and other official meetings in which very little time is given to limited public comment.  We have commissioners who are quiet except called upon to vote and comment on prearranged agenda items.  We had just gotten over the culture of micromanagement and micro-intervention of commissioners in the daily work of the city.  In short, democracy in Coral Gables in just a shadow of what it should be.





By George Volsky

Coral Gables, April 20. The April 16th special meeting of the City Commission should be recorded in its annals as one of the very important – but for wrong reasons – in Coral Gables’ history.

Nothing of significance took place that afternoon in the commission’s chamber. After a brief spat, the five commissioners unanimously named the highly-regarded and general liked Assistant City Manager Carmen Olazabal to be Interim City Manager, replacing her boss, City Manager Patrick Salerno, who resigned eight days earlier.

Olazabal, a mild-mannered executive who can be steely when needed, will serve until the new “chief executive officer of the city” (City Charter, Sect. 20) is selected; that process could take up to six months. And how to do it, with input from the public, was deferred by the commission to another special meeting at 5. p.m. Monday.

(Commissioner Pat Keon, frivolously, floated an idea of a citizen nominating committee, like the one named in 2009 by the former mayor Don Slesnick, of which she was member. That partisan and amateurish panel, as most people remember, almost immediately politicized what, by definition, should be a strictly professional effort.)

The significance of the April 16, 2014 meeting lies in the fact that, as far as anyone recalls, three commissioners, using their City Charter- given powers, for the first time ever overruled the mayor. It was because on April 8 Mayor Jim Cason’s reasonable ruled that a “city manager search” meeting be held April 25, following the IRS tax reporting day and religious holidays.

The meeting override produced nothing useful. It only reaffirmed the unfortunate reality that a triumvirate composed of commissioners Keon, Vince Lago and Frank Quesada – three least experiences members of the five-member commission – is now in the saddle.

The triumvirs, for no apparent reason except perhaps personal prejudice, had crudely and stealthily engineered the resignation of Salerno whose managerial experience is many times higher than that of the trios combined.

Ironically also, the city manager quit on the day when the Finance Director Diana Gomez announced that Coral Gables, having emerged from the brink of bankruptcy (when Salerno took over five years ago), was now financially better than ever. Salerno’s unprecedented economic accomplishments -, that includes a surplus of $28,7 million – were recognized grudgingly by Keon, Lago and Quesada.

There was another irony on the triumvirate-mandated meeting. And it was that the meeting took place on Ash Wednesday which the three presumably- Christian triumvirs  presumably know begins a period of reflection, repentance and penance. Unfortunately during the meeting there was a nary sign of reflection and repentance, let alone of penance.

But there was something else: the reappearance in city politics , hopefully temporary, of two individuals who like bad pennies turned up in the commission chambers and whose presence could be connected to triumvirate’s “rule.” Jorge (George) Alvarez and Enrique Lopez addressed the commission (Lopez twice), having the gall – as one resident called it – to offer advice as to how Coral Gables should conduct its affairs.

That brought to mind the trite buttrue dictum that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. Of the commission’s five members, possibly only Vice Mayor Bill Kerdyk recalls the history of Alvarez and Lopez. The others had better learn it because both individuals have reportedly been talking to them about the Coral Gables parking case of their current employer, the so-called Dade Medical College.

(Alvarez and his aide were seen meeting one commissioner. If their talk was about the DMC’s application for parking in our Downtown – it is difficult to imagine they would discuss David Beckham or Obamacare – Alvarez and his aide were violating the city’s lobbyist rule. They are not registered as lobbyists in the City Clerk’s office. The commissioner in question could also be skirting the law by talking city business to Alvarez.)

Late in 2000, Alvarez, a minor Miami businessman who doubled in that city’s turbulent politics, was placed on Coral Gables’ ballot as candidate for mayor by another candidate, Don Slesnick, who wanted him to syphon Latin votes from the incumbent Raul Valdes-Fauli. In virtually no time, Alvarez surprisingly amassed a campaign chest of over $100,000 – about $200,000 in today’s dollars. Some of that money came from a Miami politician who later was jailed for fleecing Miami-Dade County.

Following his predicted humiliating defeat, Alvarez served without distinction on several city boards. For a while, he became a founding member of the City Hall influence group called the Don/Dave Gang, a small cadre of close friends of Slesnick and disgraceful former city manager David Brown. The leader of that “Gang” was reportedly no other than Enrique Lopez, whose toadying to Slesnick and Brown was for years a demeaning feature of every Slesnick-presided city commission meeting.

After Slesnick’s defeat, both Alvarez and Lopez disappeared from our city’s political scene. They re-emerged as executives of the Dade Medical College, Alvarez as a Vice-President, Lopez as Academic Dean of its School of Online and Continuing Education, and Slesnick as Dean for Public Administration.

While the epitaphic history of the three politicians mentioned above – the Miami Herald called them and several others “politicians for hire” – is yet to be written, the fate of the best know triumvirate – that of ancient Rome – is known: they killed one another leaving Octavian to seize dictatorial power alone.

Our City Hall triumvirate members, if they want to survive politically, should begin reading history of Rome, beginning with Gibbons.

City of Coral Gables: Salerno’s Achievements

The recently resigned city manager of the city of Coral Gables, Pat Salerno, published a list of achievements of his period of administration.

I think that these are his main achievements:

  • Strong and decisive management.
  • Minimization of the involvement of city commissioners in the day-to-day life of the municipal government.
  • Weakening of the culture of fiefdoms in the city offices.
  • Implementing sound financial management, including reducing taxes and growing reserves.
  • Ameliorating exaggerated salaries, benefits, and pensions of police and fire services.
  • Planned, organized and financed improvements in the city’s infrastructure and beautification.

Hopefully, the city commissioners will direct the new city manager to sustain the above culture, and not fall pry to the Slesnick/Brown culture of city commission intromission and micro-management.

City of Coral Gables–Achievements during the Salerno Era

The city manager circulated this rather impressive list of achievements.