That should be enough to make your stomach turn. You decide to speak out against elected official and express your discontent with their actions, you go one step further and get involved in a recall campaign and now you get rewarded for your actions by getting harassed by investigators? Investigators going to recall campaign volunteers homes, then running background checks on them and questioning them? Demanding they produce ID? What the fuck is that? Considering the type of harassment these volunteers are receiving, what are the chances that anyone will ever mount a campaign like this again only to have the wrath of powerful career politicians come down on them? This is sickening and should have everyone who reads about it mad enough to spit nails. Who would have thought we'd see this type of Gestapo like behavior in this day and age here in the United States? This is pathetic.
Alvarez, Seijas in fight for survivalCarmen Carrigan said the private investigator showed up unannounced at her Westchester home on a Saturday afternoon, identified himself as Al Lopez and stayed for an hour asking how she and her husband, Rigoberto, had collected signatures to recall Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez. ``He asked us who interviewed us, who taught us to collect the signatures, how we filled the forms,'' Carrigan told The Miami Herald. ``We said, `Everyone really wanted to sign, because they don't want Alvarez.' ''
The investigator told Carrigan he had been hired by some sort of committee -- perhaps a political action committee. ``I'm not sure why he was there,'' Carrigan said. ``To scare us?''
With the recall elections for Mayor Alvarez and County Commissioner Natacha Seijas set for March 15, both politicians are employing private investigators, lawyers and political consultants in a bare-knuckles fight for survival.
Underlining the urgency: early voting begins Feb. 28, just six weeks away.
Last month Alvarez's political action committee, Citizens For Truth, hired private investigative firm Sessler & Lopez. The PAC paid the firm $5,000 on Dec. 17 and another $5,000 on Dec. 22, according to year-end financial disclosures. Seijas has hired ICDA Investigations, run by former county homicide detective Raul Diaz, to probe into the backgrounds of recall-petition gatherers, known as circulators, in search of evidence that may help discredit the petitions they were involved with.
Diaz has done a lot of private investigative work over the years for the county, and previously worked for Seijas. Seijas' PAC, Abre Los Brazos, paid Diaz's firm $5,000 on Dec. 22, according to the latest filings.
Stephen Cody, an attorney for Seijas, said the private investigations firm is doing background checks on those whom he will depose in her pending lawsuit, but hasn't interviewed petition circulators.
``It's not like I'm having people knocking on doors and saying give us the dirt,'' said Cody.
Alvarez's private investigator, Al Lopez, declined to comment. Said Alvarez's attorney, Bruce Rogow: ``The task was to get a handle on how the circulators were operating, if the circulators were willing to talk about it.''
The recall defenses for Alvarez and Seijas are moving on two tracks: legal efforts aimed at avoiding an election altogether, and political campaigning to sway voters. For support, each politician is relying on a mix that includes companies doing business with the county, county lobbyists, county unions and county employees themselves.
Seijas is waging a legal fight to have her election blocked, while Alvarez is scrutinizing petitions for a potential second legal challenge.
Both are seeking to bolster their campaign war chests.
Alvarez, a career cop who led a successful campaign to revise the county charter to become the first strong mayor, has assembled $261,600 in contributions and in-kind donations to beat back Miami billionaire Norman Braman's campaign to oust him.
The car dealer, an outspoken critic of local government, launched his drive after the county commission approved the mayor's proposed budget, which raised the property-tax rate while giving raises to most county employees.
According to the latest filing by his PAC, Alvarez continues to draw much of his support from county employee unions. The Transport Workers Union donated $20,000 on Dec. 27. The Dade Police Police Benevolent Association PAC previously wrote a check for $50,000. Lobbyist Ron Book contributed $10,000.
The mayor's PAC has received more than $70,000 from the Florida Marlins and its contractors. That strong support came two years after Alvarez pushed to spend public dollars to build a new stadium for the ball club.
For his part, Braman has assembled a war chest of $521,112 in his PAC, People Who Want Honest Government. The majority comes from his own pocket. Developer and art collector Martin Z. Margulies has contributed $25,000 and Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson has pitched in $1,000.
Meanwhile, Seijas' PAC has garnered $92,750, with big chunks coming from lobbyists and unions representing county employees. The Service Employees International Union gave $20,000 and the county police union anted up $10,000.
Overseeing fundraising for the PAC is her longtime campaign treasurer, Daniel Hernandez, a local businessman who is president of the Hialeah Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
Seijas, whose district includes Miami Lakes and Hialeah, knows the recall drill as well as anyone: She decisively defeated an earlier campaign to drive her from office in December 2006, winning 65 percent of the ballots cast.
Her opponents, meanwhile, have raised just $16,041 for Miami Voice, a political action committee headed by Vanessa Brito. That includes $5,000 from Braman and $5,000 from Brito's marketing firm Myami Marketing.
But while they lack money, those seeking Seijas' ouster have backing from vocal Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, a lawyer who is providing free legal counsel. And they can ride on the coattails of the Braman campaign.
With the election date set, Braman said he plans to unveil the next phase of his campaign this coming week. While laying out his argument for Alvarez's recall, Braman said, he will advocate for broader governance changes such as term limits and at-large county commission seats. ``I don't want to be perceived as someone who is just negative,'' Braman said.
Braman has hired pollster Dario Moreno to take the pulse of the community. As of year-end, Moreno received $8,000 from Braman's PAC.
Braman spent $1,733 on private investigative firm Wayne Black & Associates. His attorney, Stanley Krieger, said the private investigator spent ``a couple hours'' following up on calls from former county employees who contacted Braman's office.
``We did not investigate anyone,'' Krieger said.
Alvarez, whose second term expires in November 2012, is betting on showing residents that his budget, which raised widespread anger, was a responsible proposal that preserves core services.
``It's my hope that reality trumps rhetoric and substance beats out style,'' Alvarez said in a statement released Thursday, when the recall election date was set.
But he hasn't given up on derailing the recall through the courts. His team, led by political consultant Ivy Korman, has been meeting at a Doral warehouse in recent weeks and scrutinizing recall petitions for flaws. The warehouse is owned by Ralph Gazitua, an Alvarez supporter and father of mayoral aide Luis Andres Gazitua.
Alvarez has spent more than $20,000 on nearly 40 people, including Ryan Burgess, who is the son of County Manager George Burgess, to review the petitions.
``The game is still on,'' said Rogow, Alvarez's attorney, who withdrew an initial lawsuit challenging the recall in December.
Both the mayor and Seijas have hired Korman, a former county elections official.
The mayor has also worked to mobilize support from county employees. In recent months, when staffers log on to their county computers, they have sometimes been met with upbeat messages about the controversial budget, which triggered the recall drive after it was adopted last fall by commissioners.
While facing voters on the same ballot as Alvarez would by all accounts be challenging, Seijas has a strong power base to draw from and a long track record of prevailing in political confrontations.
However, an important supporter of hers in fending off the 2006 recall said he will not help Seijas this time around.
``I will not be involved this year,'' said Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, who recently announced a run for county mayor. ``In 2006, I thought it was a personal vendetta against her and it was wrong. This is different. This is based on a policy difference and I am against raising taxes.''
But Seijas' primary aim is to keep from appearing on a recall ballot at all.
At an emotionally charged commission meeting Jan. 13, Seijas argued unsuccessfully that commissioners should postpone setting her election recall date at least until the next commission meeting Jan. 20. She said she wanted time for a judge to hear her legal challenge on Jan. 18. There is little likelihood, however, a decision will be reached so soon.
Seijas, who also has veteran litigator Kendall Coffey on her team, filed suit to block her recall election, claiming that many of the petitions submitted were flawed, and when those are discounted there would not be enough signatures left to warrant a recall.
``I expect a just resolution and favorable conclusion to this process,'' said Seijas in a statement issued Saturday. She added: ``A district campaign to urge residents to say no to a recall of their commissioner will occur if necessary. I am always prepared.''
So this is it? This is how we treat people critical of government? People who are simply exercising their democratic rights are now having their lives turned inside and out by the very people they're looking to remove from office? So the question that begs to be asked is how are bloggers and people who comment on blogs that are critical of say police and prosecutors treated? Do they get their lives turned inside and out by the same people that they criticize?
We'll find out soon enough. Is it showtime yet guys?