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THE MIAMI HERALD
Jimmy Morales Shortcomings: In A Heavily Cuban Community, He Is Only Half Cuban, He Is Too Nice And He Can't Raise Enough Money
BY KARL ROSS
September 8, 2003
County Commissioner Jimmy Morales launched his campaign for Miami-Dade County mayor Sunday in an event at Miami Beach Senior High School, the campus he ruled about two decades ago as class president and homecoming king.
But Morales, now 41, said his latest popularity contest -- the 2004 county mayor's race -- is not about self-aggrandizement.
''My entire public life has been committed to the battle of ideas,'' he said, ``for communities are not built on scorched earth but on the fertile ground of the hopes of simple people who want a better life for their children.''
Morales highlighted his record as an advocate of ethical government, campaign finance reform, amateur athletics, the elderly and gay rights.
'ABILITY TO LISTEN'
County Commissioner Betty Ferguson described her colleague as ''a doer, not a talker.'' Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson praised his ''ability to listen to residents.'' Former Cuban political prisoner Servilio Pérez lauded his dedication to the exile cause.
Critics have been quick to point out Morales' perceived shortcomings: In a heavily Cuban community, he is only half Cuban, he is too nice and he can't raise enough money.
But he has consistently polled among the top three contenders in a field that includes School Board member Marta Pérez, Miami-Dade police Director Carlos Alvarez, former County Commissioner Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and media executive José Cancela.
Pinecrest Mayor Evelyn Greer told Morales' faithful to ignore the naysayers. ``We're going to smile at all the people who tell us he can't win. Then we'll toast each other at the victory celebration.''
The auditorium was nearly devoid of the lobbyists and interest groups that typically drive political campaigns. Instead, it was filled with families, the elderly, community activists and minority leaders.
''He's a really friendly guy and very compassionate,'' said Beverly Ransom, a black community organizer. ``That's one of the things I love about him.''
Luis Casas, a civic activist, said Morales had already clinched his vote. ''He's an honest man, and that's a rare commodity in politics,'' Casas said.
Morales' commission district includes Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove and parts of Little Havana. But he selected the school as the site of his inaugural event to underscore his working-class roots. His Cuban exile mother, Lazara, was a cafeteria worker there; his father, Policarpio, a native of Puerto Rico, was a school janitor.
Morales, a Harvard graduate and one-time Wall Street lawyer, said his parents taught him ``core values.''
His wife and high school sweetheart, Dori Foster-Morales, introduced him as a compulsive do-gooder who once volunteered to coach in Little League because coaches were needed, not because he had a child playing. But she issued a caveat to competitors and pundits about ``his niceness.''
''This special quality should never be confused with weakness,'' she said. ``You just don't go from where he was to where he is today without strength of character.''