You may not be familiar with the names Keith Donner and Mark Herron. And if you’re not, you ought to be. They know you by name. In fact, in recent weeks, they sent a lot of mail your way, addressed to you.
You’re not meant to know their names, only what the slick, glossy, oversized campaign mailers with which they have inundated mailboxes this election season scream, shout, and snarl.
“Citizen Action, Inc.” was in the return address of some of those mailers you may have gotten. The address given – 1172 South Dixie Highway, #280 – is, in fact, nothing more than a mailbox at a Coral Gables UPS store, across from the University of Miami campus.
Donner was one of the two consultants (Jeffrey Garcia being the other) who worked for failed statehouse candidate Adam Kravitz‘s bid to go to Tally and represent Miami Beach, North Bay Village, and parts of downtown Miami.
Donner’s and co-manager Pastor Gonzalez‘s political advertising firm, 50 Blue, listed as operating out of a South Miami residence near Sunset Dr. and Red. Rd., was the bakery that churned out such mud pies as these that dirtied our mailboxes in July and August:
“David Richardson is Getting Fat on Our Tax Dollars”
“David Richardson is Bad News for Taxpayers”
“David Richardson: Ethically Challenged, Revolving-Door D.C. ‘Consultant’”
“David Richardson: Questionable Background, Questionable ‘Consulting’ Deals”
“Deadbeat Mark Weithorn Doesn’t Pay His Taxes, His Government Loan, His Bills”
“Mark Weithorn: Breaking the Law, Breaking the Bank, Breaking the Public Trust”
“Mark Weithorn: Just Another Deadbeat Candidate Out for a Paying Job”
“Mark Weithorn: The Rules Don’t Apply to Him”
The allegations made against Weithorn in his mailers, Donner told the Miami New Times earlier this month, were “all backed by the public record.”
What makes for a case of stra-a-a-nge political bedfellows – or, in this case, what one may imagine must have been interesting pillow talk in the Weithorn household – is that the same Donner who was slamming Weithorn this summer is the same political ad-meister who, just last fall, was flooding Beach mailboxes with ads promoting Mark’s wife Deede in her reelection race for the Beach City Commission against Maria Maruelo.
The pro-Deede mailers – “Weithorn vs. Meruelo: Who really measures up? You decide.” – went out from the same UPS mailbox on Dixie Highway registered to Donner, but under the PAC name “Women’s Voter Coalition of Miami Beach.”
The SunPost reported in October 2011 that Donner’s Citizen Action PAC sent out a mailer featuring both Deede and Mayor Matti Bower, who, too, was seeking reelection.
When asked at the time about her connection to Donner and his PAC, Deede Weithorn told the SunPost in an email, “I do not know what you are referring to. If it’s the mailer for Matti and I, it was done by someone paid for by them on our behalf. We did nothing except provide artwork which I have sent to lots of people for meet and greets, fundraisers and the like.”
Both Weithorns employed local consultant Randy Hilliard in their most recent campaigns.
Deede’s and Bower’s weren’t the only 2011 campaigns in which Donner was stirring his spoon. He was also busy trash-talking Carlos Gimenez‘s initial run for county mayor.
For that race, “The Accountability Project, Inc.” was the PAC name Donner used on mailers that slammed Gimenez – then trying to win office in a June 2011 special election – as “just another politician who sold out our community” and who “got a Mercedes [while we] got massive cuts in transit service.”
“Carlos Gimenez: He Gets $1.3 Million Pension, We Get Robbed” was another mud pie that 50 Blue served up during the Gimenez-vs.-Julio Robaina slugfest.
Those mailers, too, contained the same return address – the UPS store mailbox on Dixie Highway – as all the others.
Accountability Project, according to the blog Political Cortadito, bankrolled $90,000 for negative ads in the anti-Gimenez effort. The blog terms Donner a “political junkmail guru-turned-consultant.”
“We blend art and science to craft political communications that is [sic] on target, on message, on time and on budget,” says the 50 Blue’s website. What sets them apart from other consulting firms, the firm adds, is “our creative [sic] that punches through the fog of political war.”
At least their clients’ ads appear to have been well proofed, even if the firm’s website was not.
Gonzalez is 50 Blue’s president and creative director. Donner, a former Miami News and Miami Daily Business Review reporter, describes himself as a “seasoned political professional and former journalist who’s worked in wildly competitive campaigns and cutthroat legislative battles.” He is the firm’s strategy man.
“Cutthroat” could also aptly describe his ads on behalf of client candidates.
50 Blue has produced campaign mailers and ads in past elections that have been anti-Michael Gongora, anti-Mario Diaz-Balart, anti-transit cuts, pro-Jerry Libbin, pro-Luis Garcia, and pro-Dan Gelber, among others. Unashamed of its attack ads, the firm even showcases them, as well as its positive ones, on its site.
Campaignmoney.com shows that last November, Donner created another “527” PAC run out of the UPS location, one called Vision 305. A “state-wide organization dedicated to promoting good government in Florida,” as its website declares, Vision 305 lists as “associated legislators/candidates” Democratic legislators Gwen Margolis, Ana Rivas Logan, and John Patrick Julien in addition to Kravitz.
Documents filed with the state elections department show that Kravitz paid Donner, through Vision 305, $100,742 in the month leading up to the Aug. 14 primary. In the same papers, $118,250 worth of expenditures were reported under the name Citizen Action for roughly the same period.
If only months after helping Deede coast to reelection with 50 Blue-generated mailers Donner was slashing the tires underneath hubby Mark’s own election effort to the statehouse, it seems that money – and who’s willing to fork it over for the services he renders – most motivates Donner. Nothing wrong in that. Any political consultant is likely in it for the profit.
But as long as the money pours in for negative campaign ads, the sludge will continue to flow out. And right into our mailboxes.
Judging from the election results over the last year, the mudslinging may have enriched Donner’s pockets and 50 Blue, but it didn’t exactly win the respect of local voters; they rejected both Donner client Kravitz and Robaina, Gimenez’s 2011 runoff opponent.
I’ll fill you in on the August primary’s other mud-slinging heavyweight (you got mail from him, too) – Herron and his PAC – next week.
WINNERS & LOSERS
…from the Aug. 14 primary election:
– Norman Braman (WINNER and LOSER). His slate of County Commission candidates didn’t fare so well from a fickle electorate that signaled only a year ago in the Carlos Alvarez recall that they were fed up (guess they weren’t all that fed up). But the revelation that a cabal – comprised of the Marlins’ Jeffrey Loria, the Dolphins’ Stephen Ross, mega-developer Jorge Pérez, and an entanglement of PACs – was shoveling a sh–load of money into an effort to discredit him and defeat his roster only makes it easier to hate all of them and love him. Way to go, Norm. You pulled a win out of an otherwise loss.
– The Miami Beach establishment (LOSERS) for endorsing ill-fated statehouse candidate Mark Weithorn in droves. A love-fest at the polls for his wife just nine months ago did not translate into a shared love for hubby (he reaped 1,780 fewer votes in his contest than she did in hers, by the way).
– The Miami Beach convention center (WINNER) and its future. Redevelopment was looking rather iffy there for a while, owing to the Gus Lopez scandal, the ouster of its main cheerleader, Jorge Gonzalez, and grumbling from some influential citizens. But the voters’ mandate effectively assures the city will get both a redeveloped center and the means to pay for it.
– The Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (WINNERS), among other backers of the 1% resort tax hike. Their “VOTE YES” campaign successfully pitched the hike to voters as the smart and do-able way to pay for the convention center’s re-do. Now if only they could mount a similar forceful campaign to get City Hall to cap and clean up its corruption. (That might be asking for the impossible.)
– Bruno Barreiro (LOSER), who, for not putting this thing away convincingly, must now face a runoff. He goes into November facing a fierce and determined Luis Garcia, who is up for the fight and has considerable backing on the Beach, owing to his years as a city fire chief, commish, and state rep. Garcia has already landed a few punches on the incumbent, charging Barreiro’s camp with having engaged in some underhanded electioneering involving absentee ballots during the primary.
– Pit bull dog lovers (LOSERS). We won’t be hearing as much as a yelp from them again anytime soon.
BLAME IT ON ISAAC
Once they ever do complete a new Miami Beach Convention Center, one event you can expect never to be booked there is another national political convention. Tampa’s GOP confab will be the last this state will host, ever. Issac will forever remind the national parties of the millions of dollars and cancellation they risk should they award future conventions to the Sunshine Hurricane-Prone State.
Nope, Tampa was the last. Bet on it.
QUESTION TO CONVENTION ORGANIZERS:
I see that you’ve prominently installed a national debt clock inside the Forum, an obvious slap at Obama. Were you guys planning to have an adjoining digital display showing us what portion of that debt was run up by GOP presidents and Congresses?
Nah, didn’t think so.
“WE’VE NOMINATED THE WRONG GUY”
There was no more memorable a GOP convention in my lifetime than the first one I ever watched, the 1976 Ford-vs.-Reagan battle royale in Kansas City.
On the last night of the convention, following his acceptance speech, President Ford beckoned to the other side of the convention hall to where the governor and Mrs. Reagan’s box was. Reagan had sat there every night that week, but had never been invited to speak to the delegates, even though, the night before, he came up 60 votes short to wresting the nomination away from Ford.
Now, to the cheers of the crowd, the winner was inviting the loser to the podium to speak.
Arriving minutes later, and to a hushed hall, Reagan extemporaneously delivered one of the most profound and mesmerizing speeches of his career.
“I had an assignment the other day,” he related. “Someone asked me to write a letter for a time capsule that is going to be opened in Los Angeles a hundred years from now, on our Tricentennial.”
Setting out one day for a ride down the PCH, “the blue Pacific out on one side and the Santa Ynez Mountains on the other,” Reagan wondered if the world of 2076 would be as beautiful as it was on that summer day in 1976.
“Then as I tried to write – let your own minds turn to that task. You are going to write for people a hundred years from now, who know all about us. We know nothing about them. We don’t know what kind of a world they will be living in.
“We live in a world in which the great powers have poised and aimed at each other horrible missiles of destruction, nuclear weapons that can in a matter of minutes arrive at each other’s country and destroy, virtually, the civilized world we live in.
“And suddenly it dawned on me, those who would read this letter a hundred years from now will know whether those missiles were fired. They will know whether we met our challenge. Whether they have the freedoms that we have known up until now will depend on what we do here.
“Will they look back with appreciation and say, ‘Thank God for those people in 1976 who headed off that loss of freedom, who kept us now – 100 years later – free, who kept our world from nuclear destruction’?”
Reagan concluded: “This is our challenge…we have got to quit talking to each other and about each other and go out and communicate to the world that…we carry the message they are waiting for.”
I don’t recall what Ford said that night in Kansas City, or what others said that week, but I still recall Reagan’s moment. Recalling the event years later, Reagan biographer Edmund Morris remarked, “The power of that speech was extraordinary. You could just feel throughout the auditorium the palpable sense among the delegates that ‘we’ve nominated the wrong guy’.”
One could be forgiven for having concluded at the time that this was the valedictory of Reagan’s political career. After all, the man was 65. He’d challenged an incumbent president for the nomination and come thisclose to winning it. But he had failed. Now, he would return to California, his political aspirations ended, never to be heard from again.
Who knew, that August night in 1976, that the next time Reagan would appear before a GOP convention – four years later in Detroit – he would finally be claiming that nomination, then going on to win two terms in the presidency?
Between the ages of 12 and 14, I lived just outside Charlottesville, Va., less than two miles down the road from the mountaintop residence of the city’s most famous resident.
Since boyhood, I knew of and had admired “Mr. Jefferson,” as he was reverently referred to by all in Charlottesville, particularly the local denizens of “Mr. Jefferson’s university,” the University of Virginia. I had admired him long before I ever paid my first visit to my “neighbor’s” Monticello to see in person what I had only seen in books: the mansion’s awe-inspiring architecture, its creator’s ingenious furnishings and inventions, and its magnificent gardens and acreage.
There’s something else I have admired. Among the venerable Tom’s many literary and oratorical gifts, he bequeathed this one to posterity:
“…[W]hat country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms….The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
I cite it here to justify why I all but called for somebody, anybody (I specified Chechnyan terrorist in last week’s column) to shorten Dictator Putin‘s presidential term.
This is merely a clarification, not a retraction. I remain adamant that the Russian people have a problem. It’s their leader. If he does not share their desire to advance towards a democratic society, they are free to dissent. And – if he will not satisfy that desire – to remove him from office. By ballot or by bullet.
I would say the same for the Castro boys. And for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And for Hugo Chavez. Certainly for Bashar al-Assad. Follow the will of the people or fall to that will.
If Putin’s government persists in its rollback of democratic reforms and in its refusal, with its UN Security Council vetoes, to stop thwarting the international community’s efforts to punish Syria, then sanctions against Putin should commence, including but not limited to the suspension of Russia’s membership in the World Bank and IMF, expulsion from the G20, and various other retaliatory measures. This should be a concerted effort from all Western democracies, not the U.S. alone.
Roll back democracy, Vlad the Bad, and we’ll roll back all of Russia’s privileges and memberships granted and bestowed since the Cold War’s end two decades ago.
Let no one be fooled: He is a thug, pure and simple. It’s in his KGB past and remains part of his current construct as an elected leader. You can take the man out of the KGB but you can’t flush the unflattering thuggish, secret police tendencies from out of the man.
Putin must not get away with what he is committing. He should in no uncertain terms be made to be aware that the rest of the watching world will not tolerate it.
I reiterate: If he won’t change his ways, then the Russian people ought to turn him out.
By ballot or by bullet.
PEEVE OF THE WEEK
All those local yokel TV talking heads who blanketed our airwaves last weekend with tedious, round-the-clock squawking about the approaching Isaac. I for one did not linger and watch.
Nearly as dread-provoking as the uncertain twists and turns of a storm whose path we know not is the prospect of having regular TV programming preempted by all these Barbie and Ken Bryan-Norcross-wannabes plastering our local airwaves with their nonstop vacuous chatter, each clamoring for the face-time opportunity to tell us what we already know, enlighten us about that which we can certainly discern for ourselves, and waste hours of air time between National Hurricane Center updates showing us, for the umpteenth time, outdoor shots of empty street corners in Key West and dolling out, for the umpteenth time, preachy advisories to us to stay indoors.
When I saw that Michael Putney, of all people – WPLG’s venerable political reporter – had been dragged into the station’s coverage at some ungodly hour, I thought, well, there goes respectability.
I avoided becoming a captive audience for any of these yutzes on Channels 4, 6, 7, and 10 (I mostly cussed them out for preempting regular programming), preferring to get my storm updates online. And I went about enjoying my weekend as best as possible, watching other channels, free of the locals’ annoying yakkety-yak, and delving into other pursuits.
It’s a prescription for hurricane preparedness I heartily recommend: Just turn Barbie and Ken off. There will only ever be one Bryan Norcross, and these twits will never come close.
The author is an independent columnist. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and not those of the publication or its editors and owners.