Weak Democracy in the City of Coral Gables?

DEMOCRACY refers to a political system in which legislative and chief executive decision-makers are elected by majority or plurality rule by eligible voters, with a presumption that the franchise approaches universal adult suffrage among legal citizens and that mechanisms are in place to protect ideological, religious, ethnic, and other demographic minorities.

Source: American Academy of Arts and Sciences. OUR COMMON PURPOSE: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century. Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship. 2020. p. 1.

The big question is that if only 20 to 25 percent of the eligible registered voters actually vote in municipal elections, whether the city is a weak democracy. I would say that the answer is weak democracy. However, the City of Coral Gables is not that unusual in having such a low participation in municipal elections.

I would add that strong democratic systems should be conceived as encouraging voter participation. The City of Coral Gables discourages voter participation by having voting outside of routine national and state elections in November.

The impacts of low voter participation can be thought of as voter suppression via the charter of the city, which fixes the election dates at an inconvenient date to the electorate. There is good evidence that if elections are moved to November coinciding with national and state elections, then voter participation expands to twice the current participation.

The Commission considered charter revisions that did not include a change of election date to November to coincide with national elections. This disrespects citizens who are conceived as incapable to select the right candidates for the City Commission.

The City of South Miami should be respected as it submitted the election date change and the change in date was approved overwhelming by the voters.

Little Voting in Local Elections–A Lesson for the City of Coral Gables

This is a lesson for the City of Coral Gables.

The City of South Miami recently voted to move the date of elections to November coincident with national and state elections.

Many local elections are held on dates other than national elections. Sometimes it’s a different day; sometimes it’s an off-year, in between midterms and presidential votes. It’s hard enough getting people to vote for president and Congress; it’s even harder to get them out again to vote for county and city officials.

Fortunately, there’s an equally simple solution, and it comes at little cost: Move the dates of local elections to coincide with statewide and national contests. The logic is clear. When local elections are not held on the first Tuesday of November with other statewide and national contests, local voters need to learn the date of their local election, find their local election polling place and make a specific trip to the polls just to vote on local contests….

That small change in timing makes a huge difference in turnout. In 2016, Baltimore moved to on-cycle elections and its participation soared. Registered voter turnout went from just 13 percent in the last election before the switch to 60 percent in the first on-cycle election.

San Diego has on-cycle city elections and generally high turnout — 76 percent in November 2016. But when scandal forced the city to hold an off-cycle mayoral contest in 2013, turnout dropped to 35 percent.

Research shows that participation in local elections in cities doubles in on-cycle elections. And when turnout doubles, the skew in turnout declines, local government becomes more representative of its residents and policies become more responsive to the broader public.

Opinion | Why Does No One Vote in Local Elections? – The New York Times


Too busy, we guess.


Our Brutal Capitalism

  • No universal healthcare–growing millions of people with no access to healthcare and worse during the pandemic and the high unemployment of those depending on employer-based healthcare.
  • Concentrated wealth and income in the upper 10 to 1 percent of people.
  • Concentration of political power in corporations and high wealth groups.
  • Broken presidential voting favoring small, rural, poor states with undemocratic local voting and the electoral college.
  • Low minimum wages and declining value of median incomes.
  • Racially segregated education, healthcare, employment, housing and public services like clean water, internet access, clean air, equity justice.
  • Socialism (meaning government benefits and subsidies) for big corporations and the wealthy, and the free market competition and harsh capitalism for the workers, poor and underprivileged.
  • Unchecked monopoly power of large, powerful corporations.
  • Exploitation of undocumented immigrants in low-wage dangerous work.
  • “Great wealth flows from great power; great power depends on great wealth. Wealth and power have become one and the same.” (p. 10. Robert B. Reich. The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It. 2020)
  • Economic growth now mostly favors the rich.
  • Weakening social safety net of social security, medicare, medicaid, unemployment insurance, SNAP (food stamp) benefits…

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.


  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”



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.”