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Congressional District 26, or: Who’s the Ugliest One of All?

September 16, 2012

The contest between Democrat Joe Garcia and the scandal-ridden Republican incumbent David Rivera in the 26th Congressional District now looks like the most competitive in South Florida. The district includes southwest Miami-Dade and the Keys (see map), and redistricting has put it within reach of the Democrats.  It’s two-thirds Hispanic, but almost half of those are non-Cuban.

This looks like a grudge match, since the two candidates ran against each other in 2010, when  Garcia actually won in the election day and early voting ballots (i.e., the ones cast in person), but lost the election on the absentee ballots, which went 2-to-1 against him.  Given the on-going absentee ballot fraud scandal, this still smells pretty fishy.

The race would be interesting if for no other reason than the two candidates’ positions on Cuba.

  • Garcia, whose parents fled Castro’s Cuba in the 60s, has advocated relaxing restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba.  According to his website, he would “strive to get rid of bans that prevent people-to-people humanitarian aid from assisting the families of dissidents and political prisoners on the island.”
  • Rivera, whose Cuban background is a bit murky (see below), built his political career on the traditional hard line on Cuba, and has attacked the Obama administration for loosening travel restrictions.   Yet his congressional website says almost nothing substantive about Cuba, and his campaign website oddly does not mention Cuba as an issue.

Both Garcia and Rivera worked for Jorge Mas Canosa’s ultra-hardline Cuban American National Foundation, but Garcia’s views have evolved somewhat, while Rivera’s apparently have not.  If, as some observers believe, the Cuban-American community is ready to embrace a more flexible policy toward the Castro regime, then this race might provide some evidence of that.

Rivera’s official biography is strangely devoid of any of the references to family and the circumstances of his upbringing that politicians normally provide, aside from the fact that he was born in New York City in 1965.  The bio is a blank between birth and graduating from college (FIU) and makes no mention of his parents.

I don’t know if Rivera’s parents were Cuban refugees or not, but since he has hitched his political fortunes to the hardline Cuban exile political machine, you would think his bio would mention it if they were. The Almanac of American Politics refers to him as “a child of Cuban exiles.”  A Google search turned up no references to his father, and we know about his mother, Daisy F. Magarino (aka Daisy F. Rivera), mainly because she (or companies she is involved with) have turned up in investigations of Rivera’s use of campaign funds.  One Daisy F. Magarino graduated from George Washington High School in Manhattan’s Washington Heights in 1960, so if that is the same person, it seems rather unlikely that she would have fled the Castro regime which came to power only a year earlier.  Okay—benefit of the doubt—maybe it was his father, who according to the Almanac of American Politics, was a New York taxi driver who was divorced from Rivera’s mother when little David was two years old.

I don’t mean to get all “birther” about this and mention it only because Rivera’s bosom buddy, Marco Rubio, got into a patch of trouble by claiming that his parents were political refugees from communist Cuba when in fact they left Cuba in 1956—well before Castro took power or even seemed likely to do so.  And Rivera has proved willing to include a little fiction in his curriculum vita, claiming to have worked for the US Agency for International Development, which denied any record of his employment.

Of course, this campaign isn’t really about Cuba, or any other national issue.  It’s about the scandals that follow Rivera like a bad smell.  The scandals are so numerous and complicated that it’s hard to keep track of them all.  If you want to read chapter-and-verse in painstaking detail, check out this report by the organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which has put Rivera on its “Most Corrupt” list.  (And, no, the others are not all Republicans.)  Or check out Eye on Miami’s archived posts.

But here is a brief synopsis:

  • Allegations raised in 2002 and again in 2010 by Rivera’s Republican primary rivals that he was the David M. Rivera named in a domestic violence complaint and request for a restraining order by Jenia Dorticos in 1994.  Rivera (the politician) denied that he was the person named in the complaint, and Dorticos later claimed that she didn’t know Rivera the polician, though the press dug up indications that perhaps she actually might have.
  • The bizarre 2002 incident in which a car driven by Rivera (then running for the state legislature) ran down a delivery van in the middle of the Palmetto Expressway.  Rivera reportedly released a statement saying that he wanted to pull the truck over to “retrieve a batch of his own campaign flyers” that were on the truck after he learned that the mailing company was also producing flyers for his opponent.  (Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?)
  • A threatened foreclosure in 2010 on a house Rivera had purchased with his BFF Marco Rubio in Tallahassee when both were in the state legislature.  The pair reportedly failed to make payments on the interest-only mortgage, and Deutsche Bank started foreclosure proceedings. But then it all went away.
  • False statements regarding outside income sources on sworn statements required as a state legislator.  These involved Rivera’s claim to have worked for USAID (see above), which the agency denied.  It also involved claimed payments from other companies, including his mother’s firm Millennium Marketing, which reportedly was inactive at the time.
  • Charges prepared by the Miami-Dade state attorney on 52 criminal counts involving racketeering, petit theft, grand theft, money laundering, and illegal campaign expenditures.   This was a big one and involved, among other things, alleged misuse of campaign funds for personal purposes, and payments totaling more than $510,000 allegedly made by the Flagler Dog Park (now the Magic City Casino) to Millennium Marketing (purportedly managed by Rivera’s 70-year-old mother) to handle a campaign to win voter approval for Vegas-type slot machines.  The first payment was made in December 2006 (when Rivera was in the state legislature) and the referendum passed in January 2008; the remaining payments were made in February and March 2008.  The case never went forward, reportedly because the statute of limitations had expired, which raised other questions in itself.  But the Herald reported: In a memo wrapping up their case, Miami-Dade prosecutors said Rivera “essentially live[d] off” campaign contributions for almost a decade while serving as a part-time state lawmaker, paying mortgages on four different properties and jetting around the globe though he never held a full-time job or earned more than $28,000 a year.
  • Mysterious payments allegedly made in 2006 by the “Republican National Hispanic Assembly” to Rivera’s mother’s company Millennium Marketing Strategies.  According to state records, the company went dormant in 2001, and his mother told prosecutors that Millennium was “almost a non-existent company” and she couldn’t recall any work that the company did.

Rivera managed to wriggle his way through all of these like a greased pig, but may finally have overreached with the latest scandal, which allegedly involved financing a fake “Democratic” candidate to run against Joe Garcia in the Democratic primary election.  As usual, the story is complicated, but includes such juicy details as payoffs in envelopes stuffed with $100 bills and a disappearing key witness—so far.  The problem is that this escapade could have violated federal election laws, and the FBI has more resources and is less likely to be constrained by political pressure from pursuing the case than Florida state and local law enforcement.  A federal grand jury will be hearing witnesses in the case, which almost certainly will drag on beyond the election.

A reasonable person wouldn’t require a criminal conviction to conclude that Rivera looks crooked as hell and shouldn’t be in the US Congress.  But this is Florida.  He has raised a lot of money—Eye on Miami lists some of the donors.  Incredibly, it’s still possible that he might win.  I mean, jeez, what does it take???

4 Comments
  1. Victor permalink

    Wow. David Rivera is SO CORRUPT! HOW IS HE EVEN ALLOWED TO RUN. When I see people like Joe Garcia running I feel proud because when someone really wants to make a difference they never give up. Joe Garcia has dedicated his life to politics and to working for equal rights, while we all know David Rivera has worked really hard at gambling and stealing money! There are two people running and only ONE who deserves the seat and that’s Joe Garcia.

  2. Good job! Thanks for the shout out.

  3. Monica permalink

    Nicely said Victor!

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