By: Leon Kellner, Coral Gables resident and retired federal prosecutor
Last Wednesday, a group of Coral Gables civic organizations sponsored a debate between the runoff candidates for Seat II – Ronda Anderson and Jose Valdes-Fauli and Seat III – Javier Baños and Kirk Menendez. I was to be the moderator. We feel that Coral Gables is at a tipping point and the City Beautiful is in danger of changing forever.
With the unprecedented vitriol being tossed around in the campaign, we wanted to clear the air, put the candidates on the hot seat, pin down their positions and provide us with insight about who will make the best commissioners.. All the candidates agreed to participate but at the last moment two candidates stated that they had conflicts- Messrs. Menendez and Valdes-Fauli. (I am not implying their excuses were prevarications, only that it was a missed opportunity for the residents to hear the unvarnished truth.)
Ms. Anderson and Mr. Baños each spent an hour answering our questions, taking firm positions on the issues and responding to the slings and arrows being thrown by their opponents. When they were equivocal, we pinned them down.
Whether you agree with their positions or believe they were telling the truth, these candidates went on the record and gave all of us a chance to see them in an unscripted setting. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Messrs. Valdes-Fauli and Menendez. We had a lot of questions that will be now left unanswered. For example, it has been reported that Mr. Menendez beneficially owns three heavily mortgaged homes in the crafts section that was recently up zoned. Mr. Menendez supported that Zoning change as well as the original Miracle Mile changes. Did his investments motivate his position? Has he met with developers about selling his homes? We just don’t know. I,
for one, was eager to question him about these financial ties. He also appears to have personal financial issues such as being sued by credit companies for delinquent payments. While not a disqualification, shouldn’t the residents know about these issues to determine suitability. Now, we will never get to the bottom of these questions. Finally, I wanted to question Mr. Menendez” involvement with an obvious politically motivated lawsuit filed against Mr. Baños the day before the debate. Another question that will go unanswered.
Similarly with Mr. Valdes-Fauli; for the three years the Zoning changes wended their way to the commission, why didn’t he say anything? What does he think about development in Coral Gables? We would have had the opportunity to pin him down and follow up if answers were evasive. That opportunity is now lost. Also, there appears to be questionable people associated with his campaign who were involved with a pay for play scheme in Miami involving developers. Mr. Valdes-Fauli missed an opportunity to clear the air.
I’m going to the polls today to enthusiastically cast my vote for Rhonda Anderson and Javier Baños. Based on their answers to the tough questions we threw at them, I am convinced they are forthright, have the interests of the residents at heart, and will stand up to the entrenched forces that control our city.