Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Elections in Hialeah (Updated)

Speaking of elections, it is now guaranteed that there will be a race to watch in Florida’s 21st Congressional District and, good for voters, a real competition. Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez has announced that he will challenge Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

This story, broken last night by El Nuevo’s Rui Ferreira, is newsworthy because Diaz-Balart – notwithstanding all the fanfare about Cuban-American Senator Mel Martinez, his senior position, and his ties to the White House – seems to be the most influential outside figure when it comes to the Bush Administration’s Cuba policy; some would say he’s in charge. And while Martinez does not want to lift the embargo, the two candidates would clash on the issue of the Bush 2004 family sanctions; Diaz-Balart supports them, and Martinez wants them eased so that Cuban Americans can visit relatives in Cuba more often and send them assistance more easily. If Diaz-Balart were to be defeated, the unanimity among the six Cuban Americans in Congress would be broken.

Diaz-Balart has not run unopposed in past elections, but his opponents have not received national party support. Martinez is a different kind of challenger; he has been on the ballot, serving 24 years as mayor of the city in the heart of the district, and he has apparently secured support from national Democrats, which could lead to a well funded campaign.

Martinez was investigated for corruption charges while mayor, and while contemplating a bid for an open Congressional seat that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen won. Ros-Lehtinen’s husband, the prosecutor, brought charges, as the Herald story notes, leading to “a conviction, appeal, reversal by an appellate court and two subsequent mistrials…the case was ultimately dropped.” I don’t know if this hurts Martinez or not.

Surely this race will be about more than Cuba issues. But it’s safe to say that the Cuba issue will be prominent, and the result will tell us something about Cuban Miami: whether the moderation reflected in polls and the media will ever translate into something tangible, like an election result.

A similar competition could occur this year for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s seat. The potential challenger, Miami-Dade Democratic Chairman Joe Garcia, has not announced his intentions.

[Update: Here’s the link to the Martinez announcement speech today, 43 minutes long, alternating English/Spanish. (H/T Rui Ferreira.) The Cuba section starts around 28:00 – keep the embargo; increase U.S. funds for dissidents and make sure the money is spent in Cuba; increase family travel and remittances. At Los Miquis, opening shots from Diaz-Balart.]

1 comment:

theCardinal said...

I live in Lincoln Diaz-Balart's district and have made it a habit of casting a protest vote whenever challenged. I have longed to see someone dislodge him from his perch. Unfortunately, Raul Martinez is not the type of person that I want representing my community in the Congress. I will be obligated...much against my will to choose the lesser of two evils...even if I agree more with Martinez. Character has to count for something.