How head-hurting must it be to be one of the couple thousands of voters in Homestead, FL. This half suburban, half agricultural city in South Florida has had its own share of scandals in the past few months as its citizens try to choose a new local government.
We first had Mayor Steven Bateman arrested and suspended from office by Governor Rick Scott for his backroom deals with real estate and developer friends. Then came the mailers, accusing candidate Jeff Porter of corruption as a former city councilman. And all this came before voters got to take a look at an even greater problem: frontrunner Mark Bell's campaign treasurer reports.
Jeff Porter and Mark Bell are now facing each other for the November 5 general election. Jimmie Williams and Norman Hodge, a political neophyte are also going head-to-head for the only council seat left after the primary elections two weeks ago. Sadly, voters will only be able to pick the lesser of two evils.
At first, there were five candidates running for Mayor of Homestead. But time passed and by the mayoral debate last month, Lois Jones, a former Homestead Housing Authority Board member, dropped out the race. Reverend Joseph Sewell, who had only a few three-digit contributions reported, was taken out easily. And so was Steve Bateman, especially after Governor Scott's statement that the former mayor would be suspended again if he were to win in October.
October 1st came and voters ended up choosing Jeff Porter with almost 100 votes ahead of Mark Bell. But both Republican candidates now have to face each other on November 5th. And you can be sure that big money interests are betting their chances on either one.
Mark Bell is a hotel owner in the Redland area. But he is mostly known for being the husband of County Commission Vice-President Lynda Bell, who used to rule Homestead until 2009. Bell is running the typical conservative campaign, criticizing Bateman for being a big spender, and proposing fast-tracking solutions for business permits.
But any political observer will be able to see through the promises and actually look at the candidate's backers. In fact, Wayne Rosen, the construction and real estate mogul of southern Miami-Dade County, has invested thousands of dollars into Bell's campaign. Many experts believe Rosen to be the real ruler of Homestead, choosing winners and losers with his millionaire account. Almost a hundred thousand dollars were used to help Lynda Bell's race for County Commission.
Other developers, such as the Smith family of Jacksonville, and the Frank Castro dynasty of Homestead, have been putting in thousands of dollars in Mark Bell's fund.
Jeff Porter, on the other side, is way underfunded. With only about $25,000 (compared to his opponent's $100,000), his campaign has proven much more effective than Bell's. Porter is a former councilman who oversaw Homestead's reconstruction after Hurricane Andrew's ravages. Critics point to the councilman's support of big construction in what used to be a rural town, but they tend to forget that the 1990s were a rough time for South Florida and a makeover was necessary.
Moreover, Porter's invitation to add a new exit to the Homestead Extension of the Turnpike might be a plus for the city. After all, with Mexico's tomatoes slowly taking over the South Florida market, a lot of farming land will soon become available for modern development.
But Porter is not perfect. Far from it. As a councilman, he managed to obtain a backroom deal with the City Manager to get a contract for a $25,000 alarm system at a community center. It turns out that the year before, the system only cost $2,000 and $25,000 happens to be the limit on discretionary spending given to the City Manager.
Even today, Porter is more than dubious as a choice for Mayor. His contributions from Alger's Farms are more than questionable. He even hired Tim Melton, a Florida City thug known for bullying voters in the neighboring town and pushing around the Establishment's opponents, as an absentee ballot coordinator.
So Homestead has the choice between a man bought and paid for by the Miami-Dade Establishment and big corporate interests, and a former politician with shady connections and the will to steal from the City to enrich himself. It's easy to understand why voter turnout is so low.
But the Miami-Dade Establishment is becoming a real threat in South Florida, with corruption reaching even the State Attorney's Office. Because these interests must be stopped, at least temporarily, the Examiner recommends Jeff Porter for Mayor of Homestead.
FOR VICE-MAYOR AND SEAT 4 COUNCILMAN
Homestead is one of the few cities in Miami-Dade County with a vice-mayor, who has almost no power besides being an extra council member and replacing the seating mayor if the latter is sick or, more likely, on vacation. The vice-mayor tends to also hold a council seat as all council candidates running up to the General Election are automatically placed on the ballot for vice-mayor, unless the candidate doesn't want to seek the post.
The next vice-mayor in town is poised to be a councilman, as interim mayor John Burgess is going into an early retirement (probably getting ready for 2015). Incumbent councilmen Stephen Shelley and Jimmie Williams III are facing each other and Norman L. Hodge, a surprisingly well-performing neophyte, is playing the third horse in the race. Both Williams and Hodge are also facing each other for the Seat 4 of the City Council.
But money walks in Homestead and the special interests behind Stephen Shelley are highly-positioned. The Becker & Poliackoff Law Firm of Fort Lauderdale has spent thousands of dollars to get Shelley elected, via different attorneys. Becker & Poliackoff is the same firm that had hired Richard Candia, the lobbyist arrested in August with Miami Lakes mayor Mike Pizzi and Sweetwater mayor Manny Marono.
Jimmie Williams III, who represents the southwest area of Homestead at the City Council, shares a lot of money with Shelley. Not only the lobbying firm has given him a few thousands of dollars, but so has Dade Medical College, the establishment whose CEO was involved in the Bateman arrest weeks ago. But their contributions do not come close to Wayne Rosen's and his cronies.
Norman L. Hodge is definitely a political neophyte. But that doesn't mean he isn't well-funded. It turns out former mayor Roscoe Warren, who has a park named after him, has endorsed the candidate, who wants to bring "honesty and integrity" to Homestead. So has Community Bank of South Florida, but neither seem to have heavy interests in having a hitman inside City Hall.
Are all of Mr. Hodge's ideas good? No. He wants more police officers in the streets, which means more room for corruption, more bureaucracy, more power abuse, and more divisive environment in the neighborhoods. He wants to focus on bringing jobs to the city, which is a traditional campaign promise but is always a secret code for "Let me give tax money to my friends so they can open a business".
But as political as Norman Hodge seems to be, he is by far the best candidate in the field. And to the Miami-Dade Libertarian Examiner, this is enough for us to recommend Norman L. Hodge for Vice-Mayor of Homestead and Seat 4 Councilman.