For School Board District 9: Old pro with palanca vs grassroots newcomer

The following story was written by Ladra’s new cachorro intern. Be nice.

By Brandon Rosado for Political Cortadito

The race to replace longtime Miami-Dade School Board Member Larry Feldman can be described as a classic David and Goliath battle between a veteran politician with much palanca and a young, idealistic newcomer with not-as-much palanca, but double la pasion.

County Commissioner Dennis Moss, who led the field of six running in the Aug. 18 election, but with only 28%, however, might look like the favorite, with more money, more name recognition, and, more importantly, the official United Teachers of Dade endorsement, as reported here earlier by Ladra this month.

But I’m here today to tell you that UTD was wrong. Probably.

The rationale behind their decision, according to union leader Karla Hernandez-Mats, was based on this hypothetical question they asked Luisa Santos, who faces Moss after getting into the runoff with 22% of the vote: Would she be “willing to not take financial help from charter schools and voucher groups?” Um, no, said Santos, who needs all the help she can get because she doesn’t have the bully pulpit that the 27-year commissioner has.

What’s interesting, though, is that a quick look through her campaign finance records reveals that there was no such help; her finances are clean as a whistle. Santos raised a total of $83K, putting her last in money raised, but she had more individual donors than every single candidate in the five-way primary.

Read related: UTD teachers union endorses 4 Miami-Dade School Board candidates in 3 races

On the other hand, Dennis Moss not only had the least amount of individual donors of the entire primary field, but the real estate industry accounted for more than half of his $165K raised — with a few companies standing out, including kingpin Florida East Coast Industries, and a prolific Homestead developer by the name of Cornerstone Residential Management.

Now, one might ask, “Why would the real estate industry pour so much money into an old man’s run for a School Board seat?”

I don’t know.

It could be that they are repaying favors or getting in line: In late 2018, as District 9 County Commissioner, Moss supported legislation introduced by fellow commissioner and mayoral candidate Esteban “Bobo” Bovo that allowed for development along the South-Dade Transit Way (there was a common donation trend found for both).

It could be that it’s in their best interests precisely because real estate companies can sell or lease properties to charter schools — which makes UTD’s endorsement look very silly.

Or it could just be that the real estate industry felt pity and funded the old man’s retirement run.

What I do know, however, is that UTD’s decision was not a thoroughly informed one. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that minimal effort went into it, seeing as all this information is public record and fairly accessible. And also because just ask them: Both Moss and Santos told Political Cortadito that they did not support adding or expanding charter schools.

Read related: For Miami-Dade School Board, Dennis Moss and five others head to runoff

Moss also said the his real estate campaign contributions came from longtime supporters who have backed his career: “They’re just friends.”

He says he wants to teach employability in schools, but frankly, he hasn’t had a real job in almost 28 years and this run simply smells like a desperate attempt to stay in office to further avoid working in the private sector.

Perhaps that is why more than 70% of the voters rejected him in the primary.

Luisa Santos on the other hand, about 43 years his junior, graduated more recently from a District 9 public school (Coral Reef Senior High, Class of 2009) and founded her own small business (Lulu’s Nitrogen Ice Cream). She understands the dynamics of today’s schools, unlike Moss, who literally graduated before women could take out a credit card in their own name.

If Commissioner Moss was really committed to “providing youth with opportunities,” as he has stated various times throughout his 27-year reign, he would’ve hung up his gloves and let 25-year-old Santos sit at the adult table.

Since he didn’t, it’s up to voters to retire him Nov. 3.

Brandon Rosado was born in Miami and graduated from Coral Reef Senior High School. He is currently a student at the University of Florida majoring in English and Anthropology. He loves writing and politics and sarcasm and has been adopted by Ladra as her first cachorro, er, intern. Brandon will be helping Ladra cover the South Florida political landscape for Political Cortadito through the 2020 election and beyond. He can be reached at