KISSIMMEE – For years, Armando Ramirez worked in the New York City Police Department, where he was assigned to the New York Attorney’s Office. His job was to help root out corruption in high places.
“We locked up judges,” he said. “I did a lot of undercover work.”
Now retired and a resident of Kissimmee, Ramirez is working on an entirely new investigation – only it’s one much closer to home. He’s put together a team made up of family members and supporters to root out what he considers corruption within the halls of Osceola County’s municipal government. His main target: election fraud, particularly the election he lost last November when he challenged Osceola County Commissioner John Quinones. It turned out to be a race thin result: Ramirez got 4,213 votes to Quinones’ 4,269 votes — a margin of just 56 votes.
Ramirez said he went on bed on election night believing he had won.
“That night, I was getting good results from the TV networks,” he said. “By 11 o’clock, they had declared me the winner.”
But the next day, it was Quinones who was declared the winner by the Osceola County Supervisor of Elections Office.
“This is the reason why I was so shocked,” Ramirez said. “They claimed they found additional absentee ballots. I was astonished.”
Ramirez has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging fraud and irregularities in that election, and is asking the court to void the results and order a new election for Osceola County Commission District 2.
“My lawsuit claims lots of irregularities occurred,” he said. “It is like camouflaging fraud and outrageous conduct perpetrated by the Supervisor of Elections office. I know they had stolen my election.”
Ramirez said he now plans to fight back.
“I focus on finding justice to regain the seat I lost through fraudulent conduct,” he said.
Amber Smith, spokeswoman for the office of Osceola County Supervisor of Elections Mary Jane Arrington, said her office does not comment on pending litigation.
“At this point, because it’s an ongoing lawsuit, the office does not have a comment,” Smith said. “When everything is cleared up, we will definitely have a comment.”
Ramirez, who moved to Florida in 1989, is known as a community activist. He’s run for public office numerous times, including local offices in Kissimmee. Last year’s bid for the Osceola County commission seat was the closest race he ever ran.
“My platform was to be able to restore integrity for the county,” Ramirez said. “A lot of the small business owners came to me and said the commissioners were outsourcing contracts to outside vendors,” thus cutting local businesses out of the picture. Ramirez said he wanted to shake up what he considered to be a good old boy network operating county government.
He knew he was an underdog, having just $3,000 to spend on the campaign. Instead, he did an intensive door to door campaign, getting out and meeting the voters directly.
“The people were very receptive,” he said. “I never had to carry water with me. They gave me water. Occasionally they fed me. The people were very, very happy to see me. They were surprised I was knocking on their door.”
Although 2010 was a very bad year for his fellow Democrats, Ramirez said he had reason to believe he would win, although he believed the county’s top political leaders badly wanted him to lose.
“I’m dedicated to serving the people, I’m not doing this just for myself,” he said. “This is the reason why I am not a popular person in Osceola County. They accused me of being pro-Hispanic, and the rest of the people could go to hell, and that’s not true.”
After losing by a razor thin margin, Ramirez requested a recount, but four years ago the Florida Legislature overhauled the state’s elections law, making it harder to argue for a recount. That was a result of the 2000 presidential election, in which Democrat Al Gore lost this state to Republican George W. Bush by just 500 votes, leading to a lengthy recount battle.
“They said that ever since the great fiasco in the state of Florida in 2000, they made it more difficult for candidates to challenge election results,” Ramirez said. “I knew they had stolen my election, and I was trying to get an automatic recount that would resolve everything. They didn’t want to comply with my request.”
Ramirez also believes 304 votes didn’t get counted, possibly because election officials challenged the right of voters from the county’s minority-majority precincts, questioning whether they were legally registered at the right address.
“Usually the politicians who are in power target neighborhoods where they see minorities – it could be Hispanics, Haitians, whatever – and this is done very maliciously,” Ramirez said. “They look for ways to change their house numbers so they have a problem voting.
“This is so complex, I have been compelled to form a special team,” Ramirez added. “This is a team of volunteers using my son, my wife, and some of my supporters who have volunteered their time to help me.”
Ramirez said this isn’t a matter of being a sore loser in such a close election.
“I have never been a sore loser,” he said. “Winning is not everything, and failure is not the end of the road.
“I only want justice to be done,” Ramirez added. “I want a judge to give me a fair trial. A judge could examine my claims and be able to throw out those absentee ballots that were the culprit. I have the proof. I have the evidence. Believe me, this is not just empty talking.”
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