Politics produce more laughter and anguish than anything else, and there comes a point where we must choose the former reaction lest we herniate with rage. South Miami election campaigns are underway, and they’re as hilariously hernia-inducing as ever. While this will attempt to serve as a (not impartial) guide to the candidates, it will also describe some of their idiosyncrasies, and will endeavor to add some levity to what is too often a frustrating, sad aspect of our democratic republic.
The mayoral candidates
The three candidates for mayor are incumbent Mayor Philip Stoddard, Commissioner Valerie Newman and local barbershop owner Rodney Williams.
The clearest way to illustrate the vast difference in professionalism between these folks is this: Newman and Williams don’t have websites, blogs, or any personal online forum to platform their ideas (or if they do, they’re not well-used or easily found). I will allow them the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is not meant to conceal insidious political leanings, but a failure this basic paints them as disconnected and probably incompetent personal and public communicators.
Mayor Stoddard, a biology professor at FIU, has a frequently used and well-maintained blog (philipstoddard.net) which he uses to offer neighborly advice to, and solicit input from, his community. What really pushes Stoddard to the fore of this pack are 1) his forward-thinking environmental activism and awareness, and 2) his unquestionable role as the astoundingly fair and honest arbiter of the city council (if you’ve ever attended or seen a circus South Miami Commissioner Meeting and observed his calm and industrious attitude, you’ll know this is self evident).
In lieu of the dearth of official information on Newman and Williams, my best educated guesses at their motives (culled from years of local news coverage) are that Newman is an obstructionist driven more by ambition than public service, and that Williams is an opportunist looking to bank on the black vote (upon which Commissioner Newman famously told then-commissioner Randy Wiscombe to ‘screw’ [the black vote]). While Mr. Williams may indeed have valid and constructive ideas about how to serve as a South Miami Commissioner, his inability to communicate this to the people of this city wholly discounts him from consideration. (The most certain thing I can say about Mr. Williams after cursory research is that he charges $10 for ‘eyebrow arching,’1 which sounds like something I can photoshop for free.)
Regarding Newman, besides her clear indifference towards black people’s votes, she seems to conduct herself in Commission Meetings with all the passive aggressive charms of an elephant in heat (q.v. the infamous video wherein she repeatedly shames a city volunteer for a lack of qualifications, which divulges a huge misunderstanding on the part of Newman regarding the meaning of the word ‘volunteer.’) Here’s an excerpt from the Miami Herald‘s recent article on the candidates: ‘In 2011, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust dismissed a slew of complaints against Newman, but issued a letter telling her that “rude, boorish and tyrannical behavior by elected officials, while perhaps not actionable under an ethics code, is inexcusable nevertheless.”’
Furthermore, she writes in South Miami News2 (like an ineffectual marketing exec no less, capitalizing the word ‘image’) that ‘Branding and Image are most important’ for the city’s beautification. Also, she wants South Miami to have a boutique hotel. Gross.
Have I mentioned that Mayor Stoddard is considered a state leader in clean energy advocacy, and has outstanding marks on ratemyprofessor.com?
Verdict: Stoddard all the way
*eyebrow arching courtesy of MS Paint
Commissioner – Group IV race
The race between CommissionerWalter Harris and disgraced former mayor HoraceG. Feliu is as simple a choice as Rocky versus Ivan Drago, good versus evil, or bacon versus no bacon. Horace Feliu, while acquitted, was charged with three counts of election fraud during 2008’s elections, so I feel the term ‘disgraced’ is warranted. The Miami New Times described him as the kind of guy who hires ‘volunteers’ (yet another misuse of the term) to hold his signs and ferry elder voters to the polls: “…old people provide the essence of democracy. Indeed, they were being bussed in to the polls like cattle in a variety of “volunteer” cars and vans. Here’s Feliu’s wife preparing a van for a load of old people. She rode shotgun. …The incumbent added that people complaining about hired drivers and sign-holders were just bitter that they didn’t have any volunteers or money to pay for such things.”3
Now that Mr. Feliu has turned your stomach, let’s reflect upon what he’s accomplished in his four years away from politics:
Yes, this is real. Horace G. Feliu wrote a Da Vinci Code ripoff a-la Nicolas Cage (q.v. National Treasure films) about biblical aliens, or something. Following is the most informative of the novel’s five (5) Amazon reviews:
(2 stars) Really? December 15, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
This book was too stupid for words. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Two thumbs and two big toes down.
Feliu, like Newman and Williams, incredibly doesn’t appear to have a website of his own to communicate his ideas. (I mourn the fact that these prospective and extant politicians haven’t done us voters the small favor of making their values and ideals known through anything other than community newspaper quotes – is this the result of conceit or incompetence?) The first google result for ‘Horace G Feliu’ yields a smashwords.com biography – Smashwords is an e-book publishing company with a specialty in erotic fiction, which we can only hope doesn’t describe Feliu’s opus – and this bio is tagged with the telling terms ‘ancient ufos,’ ‘jesus alien,’ ‘ufo bible aliens,’ &c, and mentions that Feliu is working on a sequel to The Nativity Conspiracy. From ignoring his constituents’ scruples with Florida Power & Light to his chronic inability to correctly use facts, the list of his slights against the people of South Miami goes ever on; with his laughable epistolary hobbies, election abuse and indefatigable demagoguery, this would be an easy decision were he running against a chimp.
Thankfully, opposing Feliu is incumbent Commissioner Walter Harris, who resides at the opposite end of the integrity spectrum, and is not a chimp. Reelectwalterharris.com, his campaign website, touts recent endorsements from Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, The Sierra Club, the mayor of Pinecrest, and many local citizens and activists (many of these endorsements overlap with those of Stoddard). Harris stands with Mayor Stoddard against FPL’s schemes to abuse their monopolistic relationship with taxpayers (superfluous transmission corridor extensions and new reactors at Turkey Point, etc.), and helped prevent a boat yard from being built in Matheson Hammock. These are just the latest in his efforts to preserve our verdant community’s environment (and taxpayer wallets from predatory business practices). In pop music terminology, Walter Harris is to Horace Feliu as Freddy Mercury is to Justin Bieber.
Verdict: Walter Harris (will rock you)
Commissioner – Group I race
The final commission seat up for grabs is that of Commissioner Valerie Newman (not eligible for this seat as she’s running against Stoddard for mayor). This is big – reelecting Stoddard will kill two proverbial birds: it’ll keep the best man for the job in office and remove a spiteful hack from the city commission. The candidates are Gabriel Edmond, local history teacher and former congressional aide for Senator Bob Graham, and Donna Shelley, a grant writer with a background in arts management.
The sometimes off-color5 but benign Commissioner ‘Bicycle’ Bob Welsh endorses Edmond (along with Stoddard and Harris), while Shelley’s in the same camp as Newman and Feliu. So effectively, there are two groups of candidates: the Stoddard gang and the Feliu/Newman/Shelley group.
In comparing statements issued to the Miami Herald from these candidates, the distinction is manifest: Edmond talks about the community and its future; Shelley talks about herself and her credentials.
Verdict: Gabriel Edmond
Stoddard and his sometimes bumbling allies are well-meaning local politicians who’ve inherited a legacy of corruption and incompetence, and are now tasked with running against folks who are just the latest incarnation of a dysfunctional status quo. How can local editorialists6 be surprised with the mess of lawsuits, payouts and blown opportunities in the South Miami goverment’s recent history when the only players exhibiting signs of sanity have been fighting against corporate-funded mudslinging7 and working amidst a team of ambitious obstructionists?
With luck, the ne’er-do-wells will be replaced with less incompetent and more sincere public servants and this small city’s commission can get down to the business of righting a decade of mishandled government.
- Miller, Michael. “It’s Time for the Voters to Decide.” Editorial. South Miami News 4 Feb. 2014: 1+. Print.