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Diaz challengers' toughest campaign is name recognition

Miam Herald

Nov. 6, 2005


The four challengers hoping to unseat Miami Mayor Manny Diaz on Nov. 15 face long odds, but they haven't given up.




Sure, they'd like to win. Yes, they want your vote. But perhaps more than anything else, the four candidates challenging Miami Mayor Manny Diaz ask to simply be taken seriously.

Since their last-minute entries into a race dominated by a tremendously well-funded, popular incumbent mayor, the foursome have been dismissed by political observers, shunned by the big-money political donors, and -- in the eyes of many -- given less than a ghost of a chance.

Getting serious political respect is tough, it seems, if you're a radio comedian who has made a career out of sophomoric pranks, a socialist seeking office in a fiercely anti-Castro town or a perennial candidate known more for his countless defeats at the polls than his one election to a minor post.

That about sums up three of the four. The final challenger is Overtown activist Charles Cutler, who in addition to lacking the financial resources to mount a strong campaign, lacks the Hispanic surname that would help appeal to Miami's majority-Hispanic electorate.

But as mayor, Cutler says he would foster increased unity across all ethnic groups.

''We need to have greater collaboration,'' Cutler said. The region could draw even more tourists, he added, if it featured more events that tap into Miami's ``cultural aspect.''

The other challengers seeking the mayor's post are community newspaper editor Evaristo ''Ever'' Marina, socialist Omari Musa and radio host Enrique Santos.

Diaz is strongly favored to win reelection.

But the mayor does have his enemies, and just over a week away from the Nov. 15 election, those folks seemed to have united behind one challenger in particular: Santos.

Santos, 30, with essentially no prior political experience, is benefiting from that most coveted of campaign advantages -- name recognition.

As co-host of El Zol's 95.7 FM's highly-rated morning show ''El Vacilón de la Mañana'' (The Morning Hijinks), Santos is a household name in South Florida's Hispanic community. Billboards promoting his show adorn major Miami thoroughfares as well as the sides of public buses that crisscross around town. Of course, Santos is more known for potty humor and his over-the-top radio characters -- such as ''Elba the Pot Smoker'' -- than for his stance on city budget issues.

But El Zol listener -- and Miami voter -- Franklin Machado, 36, respects Santos for dishing raunchy subject matter some might be uncomfortable with.

''We need to have a sense of humor,'' Machado said. Santos might lack experience, Machado said, but ``he's young and vibrant. . . . I like the sincerity.''

Another boost for Santos: His platform offers strong, anti-Diaz rhetoric the mayor's critics love -- complete with accusations of special interests run amok in government spending.

But the shock-jock's learning curve has sometimes showed -- like when he told a Herald reporter the city had sloppily spent its bond money, but then provided the wrong year regarding when the bonds were issued.

For those who question his qualifications, Santos said his seven years on-air have prepared him quite well for public office -- namely, by exposing him on a daily basis to the real-life problems encountered by listeners. Santos notes his radio station has provided free legal services for listeners dealing with immigration issues, while raising money for causes such as sick children and hurricane victims.

And the show is no stranger to politics, having hosted a number of prominent politicos as guests -- including Gov. Jeb Bush -- and featuring Miami City Commissioner Tomás Regalado as news director.

A few years back, former Miami Mayor Joe Carollo even did a station promo.

''This is your mayor, Joe Carollo, speaking,'' listeners heard a serious-sounding Carollo saying. ``Listen to this jam, here on Zol 95.''

Santos has been conspicuously absent from the airwaves in recent weeks. At first, his campaign told The Herald he removed himself voluntarily so opponents wouldn't accuse him of having an unfair media advantage.

But soon after, Santos said he'd been pressured by station higher-ups to drop out of the race entirely, and that a publicity company tied to Diaz had also been involved in attempts to silence the young upstart.

Diaz denies ever complaining that Santos' on-air presence while a candidate might be in violation of federal regulations.

Raúl Alarcón Jr., president and CEO of El Zol's parent company, Spanish Broadcasting System, could not be reached for comment.

Santos said in an interview that he hadn't given bosses at the station advance notice about his plans to run for mayor because it was said his run for office was ''none of their business,'' as he didn't anticipate it would interfere with his job performance.

While Santos is focusing on turning out younger voters who previously snubbed politics, Marina has his strongest support among elderly residents.

Marina, who edits the Spanish-language paper El Nuevo Universal, has run for public office more than a dozen times.

He lost races for a variety of posts, including the Miami-Dade School Board and mayor of Miami.

His only election to public office was in 1996, when he won a place on the Miami-Dade Fire Board.

He resigned from that position in 1999 to launch an unsuccessful bid for mayor of Sweetwater.

Marina remains undeterred in his latest political quest, citing the many times former President Abraham Lincoln lost at the polls early in his political career.

''At the end, he was president of the United States,'' Marina said.

Socialist mayoral candidate Musa acknowledges that he may face an even more dramatic uphill climb to achieve his vision for Miami.

''You have to get rid of the rich who run everything,'' Musa said. ``To make revolution. Socialism.''




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