In a recent Facebook post, Pembroke Pines Commissioner Jay Schwartz wrote a single sentence in simple white text on a purple background: "I am sure you will agree, we don't need Dade County politics in Pembroke Pines." What came next was a flood of confused comments followed by much debate and, eventually, allegations of dog-whistle racism.
Schwartz wrote the controversial post Saturday afternoon, seemingly out of the blue, on his public page. Almost a dozen comments came in response, including some combinations of question marks, a thinking emoji, and inquiries over what prompted him to write the post.
"Are you implying something with this? Is it because Dade is Majority Hispanic [sic] and black? What do you mean with this????" one person wrote.
Lourdes Diaz, president of Broward County's Democratic Hispanic Caucus, wrote, "Can you please explain what you mean by this statement? It can be interpreted as discriminatory and unbecoming of an elected official."
Another person offered more direct suggestion: "Throwing shade at someone?"
If shade is being thrown at someone — and Schwartz insists there isn't — it's Pembroke Pines Commissioner Angelo Castillo, a Cuban-American, who has filed to run for mayor. He's going up against four-term incumbent Frank Ortis, who ran unopposed in 2012 and 2016. Schwartz has endorsed Ortis.
"It's about the mayoral race; he wants to degenerate into name-calling and character attacks," says Castillo, who hopes to be the city's first elected Hispanic mayor. "[The post] sounds to me like a discriminatory comment... I hope Mr. Schwartz doesn't start using racist dog whistles to prove political points."
In response to commenters, Schwartz gave a lengthy reply mentioning examples of corruption in Miami-Dade from articles he found on Google. Schwartz posted multiple news stories, including a New Times article about an FBI bribery sting that took down former Sweetwater and Miami Lakes mayors, as well as a Sun Sentinel article about Miami being one of the most corrupt cities in the nation. He also posted a Local 10 story about the ties between the Broward Sheriff's Office (BSO) and lobbyist Jorge Forte, who was also arrested in the FBI sting that caught the two Miami-Dade mayors. In that article, Castillo is mentioned by name because he was a finance director at BSO at the time.
At the heart of the imbroglio is the question of what led Schwartz to make the comment when he did. According to Schwartz, who has represented Pembroke Pines' second district since 2012, the post was prompted by a 2018 New Times story about corruption in Miami-Dade County (likely this publication's ranking of the county's most corrupt cities). Schwartz says the article inspired him to look into corruption last weekend, which led to his post. Any coincidental timing with Castillo's campaign is happenstance, he says.
"Chicago-style politics, New York-style politics, or Miami-Dade politics. It's metaphoric. No one wants corrupt politics in their city," Schwartz says. "We have a national problem. No person or group was identified in my post. It's a narrative that's being drummed up by people who want to take it to that place."
But for Castillo, the post resembles derogatory comments he's heard before about "Miami politics," which he says are all too common in Broward.
"People will make negative references to Hialeah or Kendall in an offhand way. When I hear these comments, I discourage them. They smack, to me, whether intentionally or not, of dog whistles that appeal to prejudice," he says.
Schwartz would not say whether he can see why someone might interpret his post to be offensive to Hispanics in general or targeting Castillo specifically. He also did not comment on Castillo's campaign, though he did mention Castillo's past joke about opting not to undergo gender reassignment surgery ("a difficult decision" he made after Caitlyn Jenner came out as a transgender woman in 2015).
Castillo has caught flak in the past, including from New Times, for ethical conflicts regarding his former high-paying job as head of the government-funded charity Broward House.
In a reply to Diaz's comment on his post, Schwartz wrote, "Political corruption has no color, only greed and power. For you to assume that the post about politics had anything to do with groups of people based on demographics is baseless."
But Adriana Alcalde-Padron, a former Broward County prosecutor who says she heard plenty of "Miami politics" comments during her time with the State Attorney's Office, isn't so sure.
"To me, saying an article from over a year ago prompted you to write a post like this is disingenuous and, frankly, not believable," she says. "When he invokes Miami-Dade politics, he's talking about Hispanics and Cubans. He can't mean there's no corruption in Broward, because there definitely is. I've seen it myself."
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.