MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Lynda Bell won her Miami-Dade county commission seat in 2010 largely on a platform of no new taxes and fiscal conservatism. Bell is a Republican.
Daniella Levine Cava is a Democrat looking to unseat bell in the August election. County commission races are bipartisan, but Levine Cava is supported by Miami-Dade Democratic Party – as well as public employee unions who often back Democrats.
Bell, campaigning at the WellMax health center in South Miami-Dade Thursday, lamented the partisan tone of the campaign.
“The fact that the Democratic party and all the unions have injected themselves is not good,” Bell told CBS4’s Gary Nelson. “When people call me up with a problem, I don’t check their party.”
But the Republican Bell has enjoyed some high-powered GOP support. A recent fundraiser hosted by a Republican state lawmaker was crowded with party movers and shakers.
The contest between the incumbent and challenger in this county commission race may set a new record for nasty.
In a video ad, Bell supporters claim Levine Cava paid herself a $500,000 salary as director of a non-profit foundation. The ad claims Levine Cava put money in her pocket intended to help the poor. Only in the smallest of small print does it note that the $500,000 was paid over a ten year period. Levine Cava averaged a salary of only $50,000, and one year imposed a pay cut on herself to make ends meet.
“That ad is despicable. That ad does nothing but tear down the wonderful record of service of the nonprofit that I founded 18 years ago,” Levine Cava said Thursday.
Bell says her campaign didn’t run the spot.
“I can’t be responsible for third party communications,” Bell said.
But the spot was created by Bell’s main political support committee, Good Government Now.
Cava’s supporters have also played the attack game. A flyer poses Bell with Governor Rick Scott and calls her a Tea party Republican, an extremist with a record of discrimination against the gay community.
A video spot for Levine Cava accuses Bell of downplaying the need for cleaning up arsenic found on school grounds.
“When I tell you that Daniella Levine’s campaign is a campaign that’s based on lies, that’s what it is,” Bell said.
Bell says Levine Cava has misrepresented her votes on gay rights, and the arsenic cleanup remarks. Bell says she is not a Tea partier.
The ethnicity card has been played in the race.
In a flyer produced by Good Government Now, there are tax and Florida Bar forms that show Levine Cava listing her last name as only Levine, “to appeal to Hispanic voters,” the flyer says.
Bell makes no apology for the flyer.
“Why did she never use the name Cava for 31 years of marriage until she decided to run for office? That’s a fair question,” Bell insisted.
Levine Cava counters she kept her maiden name for professional purposes but her friends call her Cava.
“My legal, married name is Levine Cava. It’s on my passport. It’s on my mortgage,” Cava said.
Speaking of mortgage, another attack ad from the Bell camp says, “Daniella Levine changed her home” to run for office. “She has lived in district eight for ONLY A FEW MONTHS!” the ad declares.
“You buy a house just to run for office? You don’t live here, but you buy a house just to run for office,” Bell said Thursday.
Levine Cava counters she has lived in several cities during her three decades in Miami-Dade.
“I recently had the opportunity to move to Palmetto Bay, and I recently decided to run for office,” she said.
Bell calls Levine Cava a tax-and-spend liberal.
“She is going to raise taxes. She is already committed,” Bell said. “You don’t get the nine (union) bargaining units to back you unless you’ve promised to raise taxes.”
Bell said she will work to cut the number of high-paid bureaucrats in county government, and reduce lavish perks enjoyed by the union members that support her opponent.
“We are paying flex pay, premium pay, longevity bonuses, holiday pay, and it goes on and on,” Bell said. “We even pay people not to come to work.”
Bell pledged she will never support a tax increase.
Levine Cava said that she would go through “the budget process” next year and look for “efficiencies” to balance the budget. She stopped short of saying with certainty that she would not vote for increased taxes.
Levine Cava claims Bell has not improved the quality of life in district eight, which spans from Homestead through Cutler Bay and Palmetto Bay and west into the Falls and The Crossing neighborhoods. She says Bell has catered to development-related interests, who comprise a large portion of her contributers.
Bell said she enjoys the support of business because she’s been good for business and the community.
“My four years are going to be marked by job creation, fighting for jobs, keeping taxes low and government reform,” Bell said.
Cava sees Bell as a gal in a good old boy system.
“We need to have government that’s more open, more transparent and accountable, and to try to get rid of some of the special interest money that’s driving decisions today,” Cava said.
When it comes to money, Cava is believed to have raised more in her campaign than any commission challenger in history. She reported donations of roughly $363,000 as of July 4th. Bell beat her on the donation front, reporting contributions totaling about $544,000.
Before the August 26th primary, the candidates may set a record for money raised contending for a county commission seat.