Powerful businessman Norman Braman is casting a long shadow over the Miami-Dade County Commission election. He's backing a slate of four candidates against four incumbents, ostensibly in the name of reform and good government.
Braman, a civic activist, car dealer and former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles football team, was the prime mover in the recall of former county mayor Carlos Alvarez. He was also a bitter but unsuccessful opponent of the Miami Marlins stadium deal. Braman favors reforms that would limit spending and commissioners' political power.
One of Braman's targets is District 3 incumbent, Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.
"I think he has a lot of gall," Edmonson said. "He is a rich billionaire who is trying to come to selected communities -- communities he doesn't live in -- and try to control who represents the community."
The Braman slate candidate running against Edmonson is Alison Austin, director of the Belafonte Tacolcy Center in Liberty City. She says Braman is making it possible, for the first time in years, for qualified but underfunded candidates to challenge the entrenched incumbents. "There should be more businessmen like Norman Braman, who have nothing to gain from the county, saying, 'this is wrong, good people cannot run'," she said.
But others are not convinced Braman really has nothing to gain. Three commissioners not on his target list are already considered Braman allies. If his slate of four wins, says lawyer Keon Hardemon, another District 3 candidate, seven members of the board -- a majority -- will be Braman supporters. "It just gives the impression that he's going to have undue influence on the commission, and that's where the problem lies."
Braman is vacationing in Italy and did not agree to an interview. Vanessa Brito, who runs his political operations, says no promises were extracted from any of his candidates. "We don't need a promise from them to do anything for us," she said. "What we wanted to hear from them is that they wanted to change things and make things better."
Braman has given about five thousand dollars to each of the four candidates, but all remain far behind their opponents in direct fundraising. Braman's real muscle comes from his two unlimited fundraising committees which, so far, have about a half-million dollars to bankroll direct mail, phone banking and other name recognition efforts. According to Brito, it’s the only way the Braman slate can run on a level playing field.