Dirty Politics Emerge in the Mayoral Race

The Coral Gables Mayoral Race Heats Up with an Attack on Lago

Even as mayoral hopefuls were vowing to run a civil campaign at last week’s election forum, Coral Gables voters were finding in their mailboxes an attack mailer accusing Vice Mayor Vince Lago as being “in the pocket of developers.”

The large-format mailer, featuring a picture of Lago and a yellow bulldozer shoveling cash, bore the return address of two Fort Lauderdale attorneys who run dozens of Political Action Committees, including one raising money for Lago’s chief rival in the April 13 race, Commissioner Pat Keon.

Keon told Coral Gables Magazine she knows nothing about the mailer. “The first time I saw it was when it arrived in my mailbox,” said Keon. “It is not in any way connected to me or my campaign.” 

Asked if she contacted Jason Haber, chairman, and Jason Blank, treasurer, of the PAC Floridians Against Career Politicians to ask about the mailer, Keon said she did not. “I looked at it, and I put it aside,” she said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’m not going to investigate.”

The PAC supporting Keon, called the South Florida Accountability Project, is also run by Haber and Blank and was registered with the state elections department in January.

Development – some say unchecked, over-development – has become the central issue in the mayoral race. Lago is the candidate who has most often voiced opposition to massive new projects. Last week he was the lone no vote on zoning code changes he argued could lead to higher buildings on Miracle Mile. He also voted against Gables Station, The Plaza Coral Gables and the Andalusia parking garages, massive projects that Keon favored.

A mailer was sent to Gables residences accusing Vince Lago of being pro-development.

Lago says he does not buy Keon’s denial of responsibility for the mailer.

“She lacks the temperament, the backbone or the true interests to serve this community, because anyone who would sign a civility pledge at the Chamber debate the evening before, and send such a misleading, derogatory mailer is not fit to lead this community,” he said.

Asked for comment, Jason Blank responded in an email: “Floridians Against Career Politicians is one of many political committees managed by our Firm. All of our contributors and expenditures are publicly reported to the Florida Division of Elections as required by law. Commissioner Keon has no involvement with this political committee.”

Blank did not answer a question about who paid for the mailer.

According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, “nonprofits such as 501(c)(4)s are generally under no legal obligation to disclose their donors even if they spend to influence elections. When they choose not to reveal their sources of funding, they are considered dark money groups.”

Susan MacManus, emerita professor of politics at the University of South Florida, said tracking the source of dark money used in attack ads “is very frustrating. That’s why people believe all candidates are on the take, because they can’t see where they’re getting the money from. It’s like trying to see through mud.” 

Keon says she has also been the target of political attacks. Some voters recently received a text message alleging that Keon favored “up-zoning Miracle Mile so that her developer friends can turn the Mile into another high-rise alley. Pat Keon hasn’t met a developer she doesn’t like. She lacks the right temperament to lead our city!”

Miracle Mile property owner Jackson Rip Holmes is also running for mayor.