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Hispanic-Only FIU Mayoral Debate Draws Harsh Criticism

MIAMI (CBS4)-  A Miami-Dade mayoral candidate along with students are expected to protest a campaign forum Wednesday to express their outrage and disapproval of FIU hosting a Spanish-only event.

The debate, held at FIU's Wertheim Theatre, broadcast by Univision radio and set for rebroadcast by Univision channel 23 television, was open only to candidates Julio Robaina, Marcelo Llorente, Carlos Gimenez and Jose "Pepe" Cancio.

"I was appalled," said Luther Campbell, a former rap star and African American candidate for mayor.  "The university is having a Cuban-only forum, which is wrong to the students, because the students are from all different races and all different cultures and all the students don't speak only Spanish."

In its release announcing the forum, Univision said the "participants were selected based on the amount of funds raised" by their campaigns.  The four top fund-raisers are the only Hispanics in the race.  Cancio – in fourth place in fund raising – is a distant fourth.

A spokesperson for FIU said the school was only providing a location for the debate, and was otherwise not involved.

Campbell called that laughable, given that FIU's brass put out a notice touting the event.

In an email to students, faculty and staff, Sandra Gonzalez-Levy, an FIU vice-president, wrote, "We encourage you to attend and be part of the political process taking place in our community.  Be involved!"

Roosevelt Bradley, another African American candidate told CBS4 News he was "outraged" that FIU's president would allow such a "polarizing and divisive event" to be held on the campus of a public, state-run university.  Bradley said "this turns the clock back 50 years" on race and ethnic relations in the community.

Some students said they found the Hispanic-only forum troubling.

We have a large Hispanic community, but this is Miami and we like to celebrate our diversity here," said student Esra Erdogan.  "I don't think it's right to exclude any candidate."

Beyond denying any "real involvement" in the debate, a spokesperson for FIU declined comment.   The school did not respond to requests by CBS4 News for comment on criticisms raised by Campbell, Bradley and a third African-American candidate, Wilbur Bell.

Univision also declined to address the criticism, beyond saying that the participants were selected by the size of their campaign chests.  The company also said an English language transcript of the debate would be provided after the event was over.

After the forum, CBS4 News spoke with some of the Spanish-speaking candidates.

"Whenever we're invited, we show up, oftentimes not knowing who else is invited. Whenever  we have an opportunity to communicate to our community, we're happy to attend," said Marcelo Llorente, Miami-Dade mayoral candidate.

"Well what I was told is that the criteria wasn't whether you spoke Spanish or not, it was the four leading fund raisers," said Carlos Gimenez, Miami-Dade mayoral candidate.

Other candidates vying for the spot as Miami-Dade mayor include Eddie Lewis, Farid Khavari, Jeffrey Lampert and Gabrielle Redfern.

On Tuesday, the candidates met at a debate.

The debate, sponsored by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, featured five of the candidates: Gimenez, Cancio, Bradley, Llorente and Robaina.

Five other candidates were not present: Eddie Lewis, Wilbur "Short Stop" Bell, Farid Khavari, Jeffrey Lampert and Gabrielle Redfern.

Redfern appeared after the debate and complained that said she had not been invited. "I thought this election would be open to all, not a few," she said.

Chamber president and CEO Barry Johnson told Redfern that "everyone was invited." The candidate said they were not.

Meanwhile, Campbell, the former frontman for rap group 2 Live Crew, was invited but didn't show up until the conclusion of the debate. He walked in as candidates prepared to give closing remarks.

Campbell apologized for being late but promptly took aim at the Chamber. "I'm a little disturbed," Campbell said. "The Chamber says it is about the all the community. But I don't think it's been serving all the community, just some parts."

For more stories related to the Mayoral election, click here.

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