Recall Redux

A Deeper Look at the Failed Effort To Recall the Mayor

We reported last month about the attempt to recall Mayor Vince Lago, in which 1,719 signatures from registered voters were collected in order to meet the required threshold of 1,650 to move the petition forward (five percent of registered voters were required). At the time, we reported that only 1,533 were considered legitimate by the Miami-Dade County Elections Department.

This led to allegations by the chairman of the “End the Corruption” campaign, Mrs. Maria Cruz, that the disqualified signatures had been somehow planted by Mayor Lago supporters as part of a “scheme to de-legitimize valid petitions and undermine the will of the voters.” 

Recall Mayor Lago
Resident Maria Cruz at one of the City Commission meetings.

In comments publicized by the blog Political Cortadito, she went on to say that the Elections Department “have made us aware of this scheme” by “dirty tricksters.” Even the attorney for the PAC which backed the drive (with funding from un-named sources, by the way) agreed. “We are aware there are duplicate signatures that appear to have been intentionally placed,” said attorney David Winker. 

Curious as to these allegations, Coral Gables Magazine reviewed copies of all the signatures. Of the 186 rejected signatures, the reasons were as follows: 20 had invalid signature dates, two had no signature dates, 10 were signed by people who were not registered voters, one had no date of birth, two were illegible, one had no signature, nine were not Gables residents, 21 had incorrect dates of birth, 39 were duplicates, and 81 were “bad signatures” — i.e. forged. 

In summary, that means that even if there were duplicate signatures placed by “tricksters,” the petition would have fallen short. And the signatures by non-residents and non-registered voters are simply not contestable. 

One of the paid canvassers that collected signatures for the recall effort.

The crux of the issue is the lion’s share of the rejections that were forgeries. Upon closer examination, it appears these were forged by the teenagers who were illegally hired to collect the signatures (Florida state law prohibits the collection of signatures for a recall by paid personnel). When the collectors found that many residents refused to sign the recall, they apparently panicked and forged signatures from voter rolls in order to meet their quota.

Ironically, one of them even forged Maria Cruz’s signature. In the end, of the 88 kids who were hired at $15 an hour to collect signatures, some 35 turned in forgeries; two of the worst offenders forged 15 each. 

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is currently looking into the situation, with various options. The organizers of the petition paid Ven-Vamos Strategies at least $25,000 to collect most of the signatures. Payments from them could result in misdemeanor charges.

But the forging of signatures is a third-degree felony. Those charges could presumably by made against the teens who forged names that included the wife of an elected official, a board member at the Coral Gables Community Foundation, and others. 

The conclusion to the ill-fated recall of the mayor is that there was no ground swell of citizens rising up to recall him, as the organizers claimed. One telling litmus test: Of the 21 members of the board of the Coral Gables Neighbors Association — which successfully backed Commissioners Ariel Fernandez and Melissa Castro in the last city election, defeating two candidates endorsed by Mayor Lago — only 10 signed the petition. Requests for comments from Maria Cruz were not returned.

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