Article Courtesy of The
By David Smiley
Published April 2, 2018
Imaginary people are writing to voters and political
attack ads are mailing themselves in a special election to claim a
Miami-area state House seat.
With election day one month away, some voters in Florida’s House
District 114 received letters this week trashing Democrat Javier
Fernandez for donating money to the Republican Party and working for a
law firm that once represented a manufacturer of semiautomatic rifles.
The letters were authored under different names and made to appear as if
they were written by Democratic voters.
“Fernandez is the exact type of person who does not share our values,
our conviction, nor our willingness to do what is in the best interest
of our families,” someone named Francine Gomez-Levine wrote in a letter
obtained by the Miami Herald.
Except, while it’s true that Fernandez gave money to the Republican
Party of Florida in 2016 and worked for Akerman Senterfitt in Miami six
years ago while one of the firm’s Tampa attorneys was representing Hogan
Manufacturing, it’s doubtful that Gomez-Levine exists. A woman who
answered the phone at The David William Condominium in Coral Gables,
where the author said she lived in unit 4203, said no one by the name of
Gomez-Levine lived in the building.
The underhanded campaign tactics are the just the latest in the
bare-knuckle contest to claim the seat of ousted Democrat Daisy Baez,
who resigned last year after admitting that she never lived in the
district and lied on her voter registration. Fernandez and Republican
Andrew Vargas have been attacked repeatedly by third parties. In this
case, the anti-Fernandez letters were all written in support of
independent candidate Liz de las Cuevas.
“I know Mr. Fernandez. He asked me about that. I have no idea” where
it’s coming from, de las Cuevas said. “I would never send anything like
Donna Di Giacomo, a Coral Gables resident who received one of the
letters, said two of her friends who live in the district also received
letters. The district includes Flagami, Coral Gables, West Miami,
Pinecrest and Cutler Bay.
“It’d be interesting to me, in an era of so much misinformation, who is
behind all this,” Di Giacomo said.
According to Di Giacomo, the letter she received came in an envelope
without a return address, but contained a disclaimer on the back side of
the paper attributing the correspondence to a political committee called
People for a Progressive Florida. That same committee has spent the last
two months ripping Fernandez with attack ads and email blasts made to
appear as if they’re coming from other Democrats.
And yet, as of March 1, People for a Progressive Florida had yet to
disclose any revenue or expenses to the Florida Division of Elections.
Jonathan Paul, chairman for the political committee, did not return
voice messages left with phone numbers listed on the committee’s state
Vargas has denied any involvement with the political committee. But the
Fernandez campaign blames their Republican opponent.
“Throughout my personal life and professional career, I have earned a
reputation for honesty and transparency that we have carried into this
campaign,” Fernandez said in a statement released through a campaign
spokeswoman. “It is ironic that my opponent's campaign, which seemingly
prides itself on similar virtues, is receiving the continuous help from
an organization that attacks my ethics while it flagrantly files false
reports in order to hide the sources of its funding.”
Fernandez himself was accused in January of improperly reporting
expenses. His campaign told POLITICO Florida the allegations were
Vargas has also been blasted by the Florida Democratic Party and a
political committee that shares a treasurer with Fernandez’s campaign.
He has been attacked over his law firm’s specialization in “assignment
of benefits” cases, which the insurance industry blames for spiking
premiums. The party has also accused him of “helping companies steal pay
from workers” due to his representation of several firms sued two years
ago in a federal overtime case that was ultimately settled.
“The only thing I’ve seen in the last several weeks of this election are
the negative digital ads against me,” Vargas said. “My law firm has
helped a lot of people in the state of Florida when they’ve had issues
with their insurance carriers. We’re one of the most reputable law firms
in the business.”
The election is scheduled for May 1. The contest will decide who will
hold a seat that will be up for election again in six months — before
the person who holds it can participate in a single legislative session.
Since the district was redrawn, the only two people elected to represent
it, Baez and Republican Erik Fresen, have both pleaded guilty to