Saturday, March 10, 2012

Memo to Democrats: Reasons Alex Penelas cannot run for Congress ... by gimleteye

The notion that Florida Democrats are ready to forgive Alex Penelas, allowing him to revive his collapsed political career with a run for Congress against David Rivera, is delusional as any I've heard in Florida politics: and that is a long list. But there you have it: reasonable thinking people are talking about Penelas as though his refusal to push the recount forward in the botched 2000 presidential election is just water under the damn.

Alex Penelas had a full hand in Al Gore's defeat in 2000. For that he earned a footnote in the history yet to be written about a dismal era in American history.

Penelas never had the guts to publicly detail the source of his disagreements with Clinton and then Gore. Jim DeFede's "Dead End Kid", published by Miami New Times in November 2000;
"Alex Penelas is a fucking asshole," one state Democratic Party official says angrily. "Whether we win or lose, we'll never forget that he sat on the sidelines. I guess once his own national ambitions fizzled because of his jackass comments on the Elian Gonzalez case, there was no reason for him to get involved in helping Al Gore win the White House. I guess he decided that since he was screwed, screw everyone else in the party."
DeFede and his sources were wrong about Elian and Penelas and Clinton/Gore. Elian was a show under the Big Top. It was the Homestead Air Force Base (that DeFede first tracked for Miami New Times) and Clinton's promise, first, to turn over the base to the Latin Builders Association reconstituted, as HABDI and then retreat that burned Penelas with his money men including Ramon Rasco, who would later establish the failed, insider piggy bank: US Century Bank.

There was enormous money at stake at Homestead, with visions of sugar plum fairies in the billions dancing in their heads. The issue was the brainchild of then county commissioner Larry Hawkins after Hurricane Andrew decimated the air base in 1992. By 1994, Penelas was in full regalia (just like Joe Martinez is, today, carrying the torch for the money men) setting sail to commandeer the air base with tens of millions of county (ie. taxpayer) resources. The Homestead Air Force Base was important enough to have been highlighted by Penelas in a final meeting with Clinton in late October, 1996. Four years later, and Gore still wouldn't say, one way or another, if he would keep the promise and Penelas had his own response to Gore: fuck you.

Never mind, Elian. The HABDI team had lined up every politician in South Florida behind its pipe dream of $10 billion in economic impacts. (Penelas was Senator Bob Graham's protege.) But by November 2000, the issue had blown into one of the most controversial environmental debacles in the nation. And costly. I know, because I was in the middle of it.

If Penelas wants to run for Congress, he can run as a Republican in a primary election against the ethically challenged David Rivera. The GOP owes Alex Penelas, big time. As far as the Democrats are concerned, allowing Penelas to run would only underscore the party's weakness and alienated voters in droves.

(If you have amnesia, do click 'read more' for the Miami New Times report by DeFede.)

"Dead End Kid", Miami New Times, Nov. 16, 2000

Where's Alex?
In the midst of the closest presidential election in U.S. history, at a time when the eyes of the world are riveted on South Florida, our sexy little mayor is nowhere to be found. And I'm concerned. I fear that Alex Penelas may be thinking about ending it all. Certainly if I were in his diminutive loafers and had just wrecked my career, I'd be looking for a tall tree and a short rope.
After all, as mayor of Miami-Dade County, Penelas is one of the highest-ranking Democrats in Florida and presumably one of the most powerful. As such he was supposed to be the man who would deliver the Cuban-American community to Al Gore on November 7.
Instead Penelas abandoned Gore months ago and then jettisoned the Democratic Party after he won re-election in September. Under different circumstances that type of selfish arrogance might have gone unnoticed in the commotion of a national election. But with the presidency of the United States now being determined by a handful of votes in South Florida, Penelas's absence in the concluding weeks of the presidential campaign takes on colossal significance.
Penelas had a chance to be the hero of the Democratic Party. If he had set aside his bruised ego following the Elian Gonzalez fiasco and honored his pledge to vigorously support Gore, he could have helped the vice president secure more votes in the Cuban-American community. And as we now know, a few more votes would have made the difference. But rather than being hailed as a savior, now Penelas is viewed by some within his party as an abject traitor. Even those less hostile consider him to be nothing more than a fair-weather Democrat whose loyalty is expressed only when it suits his own agenda. Because of that he will never rise to a position higher than county mayor.
"Alex Penelas is a fucking asshole," one state Democratic Party official says angrily. "Whether we win or lose, we'll never forget that he sat on the sidelines. I guess once his own national ambitions fizzled because of his jackass comments on the Elian Gonzalez case, there was no reason for him to get involved in helping Al Gore win the White House. I guess he decided that since he was screwed, screw everyone else in the party."
A long-time local Democratic Party activist adds, "I can't tell you how many people stopped me on election day saying, “Where is Alex Penelas now?' When he was running for re-election, he went to the condos, to the precincts that were heavily Democratic, and he told them that he was a Democrat just like them and that they should vote for him. Now everyone wants to know what happened to him after he won his race in September and why he didn't try to help other Democrats like Gore and [congressional candidate Elaine] Bloom in November."
So where was Penelas in the final weeks of the campaign? After winning his own election, the People magazine dream boat flew off to Spain for an extended vacation.
Veteran Miami political strategist Bob Levy offers a blunt assessment of Penelas's future. "His career is probably over as a Democrat," Levy ventures. "The fact that he is absent during this crisis, when Democrats need every hand on deck, is something people are not going to forget."
Pollster Rob Schroth says he wouldn't be surprised if Penelas switches parties and becomes either a Republican or independent. "If he aspires to move up the ladder in the Democratic Party, it was ill advised for him to go to Spain," Schroth notes. "However, if Alex is contemplating changing his party registration, then his soft approach to this election was a good idea, and his behavior conveys a purposeful distancing of himself from the Democratic Party."
A few years ago, the notion of Penelas distancing himself from Gore and the Democrats was unthinkable. Through the first seven years of the Clinton-Gore administration, Penelas never missed an opportunity to be seen with the president and vice president. When Gore began his campaign for the presidency, Penelas hung so tightly to the vice president's coattails he could have been arrested for stalking.
In 1998, at the height of the impeachment scandal surrounding Clinton, Penelas unexpectedly met with Gore in Washington, leading some to speculate that Gore was preparing to tap Penelas for a cabinet post in the event Clinton was forced to resign. The mayor relished such rumors. "I've heard it on Spanish radio, from people in the street," he told the Miami Herald at the time. "I'm very flattered by it."
A year later he was no less flattered when Newsweek claimed he was included on a list of possible running mates being considered by the Gore campaign, a rumor Penelas's own minions had been eagerly spreading for weeks before the magazine's article appeared. In response to the story, Penelas proudly declared he was ready to serve "in any capacity." At the very least it seemed certain that if Gore were elected president, Penelas would be in line for a cabinet position. Conjecture leaned toward a post as secretary of housing and urban development.
Penelas's chief fundraiser, lobbyist Chris Korge, also has been among Gore's main moneymen. During one event in Miami last year, Korge vowed that during Gore's presidential campaign, Penelas would play a highly visible role in Florida and across the nation in "major metropolitan areas with a significant Hispanic population."
As 1999 drew to a close, Penelas's political career seemed to be unfolding exactly as planned. He was moving up in the Democratic Party, laying the groundwork for his own advancement to higher office -- governor, senator, and, yes, president. Driven by his mother's ambitions for him, Penelas always believed he'd one day be president. Serving as mayor of Miami-Dade County was only supposed to be a way station on that journey. Now it looks as though it will be his final stop.
"There was a lot of hope for him, and his future once seemed very bright," a Democratic official in Washington explains. "He was American-born, he was articulate, he was a Democrat. Whenever the president or the vice president went to South Florida, we always made sure Alex was the person to introduce them. We made sure that Alex was seen as someone who had access. This administration has been very good to him and very good to Miami-Dade County. And now he has turned his back on us."
This Washington official recounts that party stalwarts once before felt betrayed by Penelas. In 1996, when Clinton was running for re-election, the mayor made the mistake of being photographed in New Hampshire as part of a Florida delegation campaigning for Bob Dole during the Republican primaries. Penelas blamed the embarrassing episode on his Republican wife; he was just accompanying her on the trip. "Everyone forgave him for that," the official says. "But not this time. We are not going to forgive him this time."
Penelas's political future began unraveling with the arrival of little Elian Gonzalez. Even before the April 22 raid on the home of the boy's Miami relatives, Penelas believed the administration's handling of the Elian affair had hindered him. The mayor's now-infamous statement in front of the federal courthouse was a measure of his personal frustration with a Washington bureaucracy that didn't seem appropriately sensitive to his local political needs.
After Penelas personally attacked Clinton and threatened to hold the president and Attorney General Janet Reno responsible for any violent civil unrest in Miami, the president responded in kind: He froze out the mayor. According to one source close to Penelas, in the weeks following that defiant statement, Clinton refused to meet or talk with Penelas, despite repeated requests by the mayor.
Politically speaking, the president essentially sent Penelas to bed without supper. He didn't publicly humiliate the mayor or retaliate by trying to hold up federal funds intended for Miami-Dade. He simply spanked him.
Penelas's response, however, was stunning. Like a petulant child, he grew angrier and angrier with the Clinton administration. Then, inexplicably, he decided to exact revenge on Al Gore, the one member of the administration who had publicly argued that the boy should be allowed to stay in the United States.
In the weeks following the raid that removed Elian, Penelas's own mayoral re-election campaign began moving into high gear. Perhaps not surprisingly he figured it was best for him to steer clear of Gore, and so he refused to attend any functions with the vice president. Although members of the Gore campaign had hoped Penelas would have shown more loyalty to the vice president, they understood he was in a tough election battle of his own.
But there was an expectation among Democrats that after Penelas won his election, he would be free to help the vice president. Penelas supporters argue there really was nothing the mayor could have done to aid Gore, because Cuban Americans were still seething over the raid. Other Democrats, such as Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, point out that Gore needed surrogates like Penelas to vouch for him and make clear to Cuban Americans that the vice president had broken with Clinton and Reno in arguing that Elian's future should be decided by a family-court judge in Florida.
Martinez recalls that he and Penelas were supposed to host a joint press conference in support of Gore on October 18. Both the date and the time had been selected to accommodate Penelas's schedule. Yet Penelas failed to show. Later that day he boarded a plane for his vacation in Spain. "When the going gets tough, he just hides," Martinez says derisively. "Alex is weak; he doesn't have a backbone. He is just a wimp. He only cares for Alex Penelas and doesn't care for anyone else."
Penelas campaign advisor Ric Katz claims the mayor never committed to attending that press conference. Martinez disagrees. Lobbyist Korge floats this comical excuse: Penelas was unable to attend the October 18 event because he had to get home and pack for his vacation. Katz, however, did promise that when Penelas returned from Spain at the end of October he would actively barnstorm for the vice president and be "visible" in the crucial closing days. Despite that promise Penelas remained virtually invisible. Even during last week's star-studded midnight rally on the sands of Miami Beach -- the very last day of the campaign -- Penelas was a no-show. "It was just very late at night," sputters Penelas spokesman Juan Mendieta.
According to pollster Schroth, Gore ended up receiving only 22 percent of the Cuban-American vote, about half of what Clinton garnered in 1996. In retrospect, Schroth says, it's obvious Penelas could have played a key role in expanding those numbers for Gore: "I think any popular politician with his kind of appeal had a good chance to make a difference."
According to the Democratic official in Washington, Gore is said to be disheartened by Penelas's actions. "The vice president likes Alex and has spent a lot of time with him," says this source. "I think he is more hurt than shocked by the way Alex has distanced himself. When people make comments critical of Alex in front of the vice president, he doesn't say anything. He just looks hurt."
"I think changing parties is only a matter of time for Alex," the Washington official continues. "He's dead now within the Democratic Party. But even if he changes over to the Republican Party, he's not going to go anywhere. What's he going to be, another Cuban Republican? He's just going to be one of many. As a Democrat he stood out. He has absolutely shot himself in the foot with this election. He's not going to be welcome any longer in the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party doesn't need him."


Anonymous said...

Wonder if this all has to do with Ramon Rasco trying to save his bank. Bill Nelson, always in a fog, just nodding, yes?

Anonymous said...

Lovely to see democrats eating their own!

Anonymous said...

It's Chinatown.

Geniusofdespair said...

No last writer, it has nothing to do with him being a Democrat it has to do with Gimleteyes distrust of Penelas. There is a lot of history involved and as you can see, Gimleteye does not forget his history, nor does he blindly follow a candidate just because he is of the right party. I call that principled. I, on the other hand, would hold my nose and vote for him against Rivera.

Anonymous said...

Last I checked, the Democrats had hardly cornered the market for eating their own. 👀

Anonymous said...

You then have no principles God?

Geniusofdespair said...

I go into this issue with my eyes wide open. I know the Penelas history and the Rivera history. I don't like either but I dislike Rivera more. I ask myself, who would do worse for the country and the answer is David Rivera. If I were not to vote for either I would be giving up my right. I am not going to do that for either man. The current Democratic candidate in this race has little chance against Rivera. Are Democrats smart to to put a retread in that has plenty of baggage, with a chance of winning ( because memories are short..) you be the judge.

Anonymous said...

The unending rehash of the HABDI episode is tiring and shallow. The bottom line was racism: South Dade did not want a bunch of Cubans from Hialeah in charge of rebuilding Homestead Air Base. After the hurricane, "environmentalists" were engaged to shield the racism.

No one complains when Dennis Moss and the Beacon Council propose paving over huge tracts of land for tarmacs to showcase aviation merchandise at an international air show. Somehow it is OK to bring in aircraft from around the world to circle the Everglades at low altitude and there is no environmental impact. Curious, isn't it.

As a Democrat, I'd vote for Penelas in a minute over any Republican. Get real and get over the anti-Cuban stuff.

Anonymous said...

Penelas is also the politician who is responsible for the Heat using a taxpayer owned waterfront park site for a arena YET the Heat have NEVER paid a penny in rent. That is Penelas's fault.

Always corrupt.

Anonymous said...

There were plenty of Environmentalists who happened to be of Cuban descent who opposed putting a major airport between two national parks. Don't even go there.

Anonymous said...

To the anon above who suggests there were plenty of environmentalists of Cuban descent opposed to the HADBI proposal, pray tell.

The anti-immigrant Sierra Club played a high profile role during that episode.

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of revisionist history going on, anon. You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. Every single politician in Homestead and Florida City were falling over themselves to support HABDI. Name one, that wasn't. Go ask Shiver. The politics were wrapped up tight as a drum, from top to bottom, including Chamber South and all its members, CUBAN OR NOT. Name one, that opposed the HABDI deal that Penelas counted on to deliver his fortunes, political and otherwise.

Tito said...

If you lame brains can't use "Jobs" as an excuse for trampling our hometown, you resort to racism. I am Cuban and I was against the airport expansion in Homestead. Why should we give a no bid deal to a few developers to get rich off of. I care about Miami Dade County.

Sierra Member said...

Sierra club is not anti-immigrant. They have no such policy:

The Sierra Club, its entities, and those speaking in its name will take no position on immigration levels or on policies governing immigration into the United States. The Club remains committed to environmental rights and protections for all within our borders, without discrimination based on immigration status.
Adopted by the Board of Directors, February 24-25, 1996

Anonymous said...

Examine your timeline. The HABDI plan was around before Penelas was the sexiest politician and a darling of the Democratic Party. It was the Elian press conference that caused things to crumble. HABDI was not a a big deal with Clinton/Gore. Defede was right on target (per usual).

Anonymous said...

The Sierra Club is one of the most bigoted, racist and anti-immigration organizations I have ever seen. I experienced it first hand.
I was invited to speak to the group on behalf of my organization. I have an "Anglo" last name because on my father's side I come from Irish ancestors who lived in Cuba for three generations. I am blond and have green eyes. They "assummed" it was ok to bash immigrants as long as they are Hispanic. I let them go on for a while. Finally wanting to puke at the disgusting remarks I heard, I began speaking Spanish. Perplexed, they asked what was going on. I stood up and said, "i am Cuban, you fools!". To add insult to injury, one of the members said, "well, you surely could pass for white!"

Sierra Club = Bigots, racists, anti- immigration ethnophobes!

Anonymous said...

Miguel Diaz de la Portilla was against the HABDI deal, it was part of his platform when be ran for County Mayor. South Miami Mayor and former state legislator Julio Robaina also spoke up against the airport deal and for the national parks. Both very Cubanazos.

Geniusofdespair said...

Board members on the Sierra club Miami Group are Hispanic. I don't know what meeting you went to, but it wasn't here in Miami. I can say from years of going to meetings here, I have never seen Hispanic bashing.

There was a "0" population growth faction of the group but they never gained control.

Anonymous said...

Penelas can NEVER get elected for aything, in this town. In fact, all he can do is Dade County is run for the toilet! LOL

Anonymous said...

Make your calls to Debbie Wasserman Schultz re Penelas: don't go there!

Anonymous said...

Once again, the worm turns! The biggest organized criminal enterprise in this country is the governments therein. What's a CAFR? Find out and learn about how things really work!

Anonymous said...

Alex Penelas campaigned for Mayor promising to vote no on the proposal to give the Heat over 10 acres of waterfront park land. As soon he got elected he gave the Heat the land and a NO RENT lease.

Alex Penelas is a creep. Remind every voter.

Grillo said...

Alex Penelas is no Democrat. After the Al Gore fiasco, he has not participated in any way, shape or form with the Democratic Party in Miami-Dade. The DNC, in the persona of Chair Wasserman Schultz, and the DCCC (in the persona of Rep. Israel have been either smoking, injecting or sniffing (or all three) to even consider Alex Penelas as a viable candidate of the Democratic Party. But, we must remember the Chair of the DNC would not support Joe Garcia, Raul Martinez or Annette Tadeo in the 2008 Congressional elections because the Diaz Balart brothers and Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen were her congressional friends.

We seem to have very selective memories.

Anonymous said...

How about Luis Garcia? He is a Democrat and he is already running against the evil and corrupt David Riveria.

Has Congress finished the investigation into Riveria?

Stewie said...

Will someone explain what they wanted Penelas to do during the Bush-Gore recount? It would have been illegal for him to interfere.

Anonymous said...

Penelas disappeared during the last weeks of the Gore Bush Presidential election INSTEAD of showing up and aggressively supporting a Democratic candidate. Penelas stabbing Gore and the Democratic party in the back is the reason Bush won. That lead to higher fuel prices, the invasion of Iraq and a weakening of credit standards that ultimately lead to a world wide recession and massive unemployment.

Vote for anyone but Penelas.