BATTLE OF THE CUBAN TITANS
And then there's what the Miami Herald has described as the "Battle of the Titans: Martínez vs. Díaz-Balart."
As far back as August of last year, the rumors of former Hialeah Mayor Raúl Martínez running against Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart had been circling. But, finally, this morning in front of Hialeah City Hall, renamed in 2006 as the "Raúl L. Martínez Government Center," Raúl Martínez (Democrat) made it official. And, it will most certainly be one of the most contentious and most watched political races that Miami has ever seen.
Back in October, it was reported in The Hill (Ian Swanson) that Raúl Martínez's main opponents would concentrate on two issues: Martínez's opposition to the Cuban family travel restrictions, and his 1991 conviction of federal extortion charges (which he later appealed and was exonerated from after hung juries). Swanson quoted one of Rep. Diaz-Balart's long-time campaign managers, Carlos Curbelo, saying: "I don’t know what would hurt [Martínez] more in an election — the criminal conviction or opposition to key elements of the embargo... His being on the ballot would end up hurting Democrats statewide." Curbelo seemed to look forward to campaigning against Martínez saying: "How often do you get a chance to race against a guy convicted of a felony?"
But, Martínez has his supporters, such as former Florida Sen. Bob Graham and other current leaders in the Democratic Party. At Hialeah City Hall this morning, Martínez stood with three city council members (all Republicans), and expects more Republicans to join him soon, especially Hialeah's current mayor, Julio Robaina. In 2006, these same Republicans renamed Hialeah City Hall in honor of Raúl Martínez, and had many praises for him, as articulated in the official resolution [PDF]:
"... in honor of Raúl L. Martínez and in commemoration of his 28 years of distinguished and exemplary public service to the City of Hialeah in elected office, representing the city for 4 years as a City Council member and leading the city for 24 years as Mayor with inspiration and extraordinary vision, and whose dynamism and direction transformed the city of Hialeah during his tenure, leaving a legacy of a leader who guided the city to a firm and secure financial standing, who enhanced municipal services that surpass all other cities, who utilized financing and revenues to repair and rebuild miles of roadway and drainage facilities throughout the city and to rehabilitate the water and sewer distribution network for the benefit of present and future generations... all within the confines of annual balanced budgets, while reducing municipal taxes, and who gave his heart and soul to the city of Hialeah as his first priority, dedicating his prodigious energy and intellect to each and every citizen of the City of Hialeah, each day of every year, for the enhancement of the community and for the significant improvement of their lives."
And, Raúl Martínez doesn't shy away from his opponents who continuously bring up his prior conviction. He told Diario Las Americas earlier this month that (former lawyer) Rep. Diaz-Balart "apparently didn't take the course that says that if you go for an appeal and win, you are exonerated... The day he wants to discuss it... I'm in the best mood to do it, hand-to-hand, face-to-face, like men."
Several other political organizations are supporting Martínez because of his opposition to the Cuban family restrictions. Plans to unseat the Diaz-Balart brothers are part of a larger plan (including the formation of a PAC) for those who are advocating normalization of US/Cuba relations. Larry Luxner of CubaNews covered this angle earlier this month, and interviewed Cuban-Americans like Tony Zamora (Bay of Pigs veteran and President of the Cuban American Commission of Family Rights), Alvaro F. Fernandez and Joe García who want an alternative to the hard-line. These same men, along with Alfredo Duran (another Bay of Pigs Veteran), participated last year in a conference entitled "Imperatives for a New Cuba Policy, highlighting the discontent with US policy towards Cuba in the congressional districts of both Diaz-Balart brothers.
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart has told El Nuevo Herald that he has about $900,000 behind his campaign. There's no indication how much money Raúl Martínez has behind his. While it was rumored that Joe García would possibly run against Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, no official announcement has been made yet. Such a coordinated challenge was reported to possibly cost $1.5 million.
According to Joe García: "The ability to raise money isn’t something that troubles me greatly... It’s going to require a great deal of money to run for a congressional seat. I assume that people of conscience will want to make a difference."
Actually, I forgot to mention that an online poll conducted by Telemundo51.com earlier this month asked viewers who they would vote for in this "Battle of the Titans." Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart won with a strong majority of 67% over Raúl Martínez with 33%. These results were from a total of 3369 online votes.
And, according to Rui Ferreira from El Nuevo Herald, maybe in two weeks we will see a challenger for Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart. (Which will most likely be Joe García.)