Don’t expect any mudslinging in the Dec. 3 election for president of the Cuban American Bar Association.
While past CABA presidential elections may have been contentious, candidates Nelson Bellido and Manny Crespo Jr. are friends, and neither has an ill word to say about the other.
“It’s refreshing that CABA has two qualified people vying for the presidency,” said Sedgwick partner and former CABA president Ramon Abadin. “Their resumes are different, yet they are handling themselves as professionals and gentlemen and allowing members of CABA to make informed decisions.”
Bellido agrees: “In our case, this is a friendly election. We are in a gentlemen’s race. There aren’t personal attacks. I want to focus on the positive and not the negative.”
The election for CABA president and six board seats will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Regions Bank Tower at 2800 Ponce de Leon Blvd. in Coral Gables. The presidential term is for one year beginning in January 2015. Eight candidates are seeking the two-year board terms beginning in January 2014.
This is Crespo’s second run to lead the powerful, 2,500-member bar association. He lost his first attempt in 2009 to Victoria Mendez.
The current candidates have nearly identical platforms.
Both want to expand CABA’s presence beyond Miami to Orlando, Tampa and Washington. Both want to continue the recent mission of launching CABA student chapters at the University of Miami, Florida International University, University of Florida and Florida State University. Both want to ramp up mentoring efforts for young lawyers and students as well as professional networking events for CABA members.
It’s not their platforms that offer a clear difference to voters, but the ability to accomplish those goals and their backgrounds, observers say.
Getting The Job Done
“I don’t think it’s a popularity contest between us,” said Crespo, 44. “You have two qualified individuals here. Both feel it’s their time to lead the organization. The differences may lie in how we get the job done.”
Crespo practically grew up in CABA. His father, Manny Crespo Sr., was one of the first presidents of the 40-year-old organization and a former Miami-Dade circuit judge.
Currently one of two CABA vice presidents, Crespo counts one of his biggest accomplishments as serving on the committee that reinvigorated the group’s pro bono project, “which was on life support.” He is also one of the organizers of the push to set up CABA student chapters.
“There are a lot of things I’d like to take to the next level,” he said, adding he also has plans to make internal changes at CABA that he can’t detail.
Crespo is a partner at Sanchez-Medina, Gonzalez, Quesada, Lage, Crespo, Gomez, Machado & Preira in Coral Gables and was previously a solo practitioner.
Bellido, 46, has been involved in CABA since 1996. He lost his first attempt to win a board seat in 1999 but ran again in 2006 and has been on the board ever since.
He chaired the association’s recent Legal Aspects of Doing Business in Latin America conference in Miami and last year’s corporate counsel conference. He also chaired the CABA on Cuba and rapid response committees and heads the ethics, professionalism and diversity committee.
Leading By Consensus
If elected, Bellido wants CABA to host more professional networking events and reach out to lawyers who have not felt included, such as those who practice in the areas of bankruptcy and personal injury. He also wants to include corporate counsel in networking events.
“CABA has always been well-known for throwing great parties, but I think somewhere CABA can improve is to provide more business networking opportunities,” he said. “My vision is to unite CABA and give members who have not been actively involved in CABA in recent years a reason to return.”
Bellido added, “I remember when it wasn’t popular to be a CABA member.”
“I learned a lot by sitting on the sidelines and forging relationships. I’ve been able to lead by consensus without taking credit for being a leader,” he said.
Bellido is a partner at Concepcion Martinez & Bellido in Coral Gables. He previously worked at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Fowler White Burnett and Hinshaw & Culbertson. He also is vice chair of the Miami-Dade County Ethics Commission.
Both candidates have been busy holding cocktail fundraisers and lining up endorsements. Crespo claims the support of 21 former CABA presidents, including Marlene Quintana, Elizabeth Hernandez and Cori Lopez-Castro.
Bellido boasts endorsements from former CABA presidents Victor Diaz, Hector Lombana and Eddie Cosio as well as former Florida Bar president Gwynne Young.
“CABA is extremely influential, and it’s a powerful organization to lead in that you represent a vast number of people in the community,” Lombana said. “You’re seen as a leader in the minority bar community. It can’t help but give you a higher profile.”
Board nominees include incumbents Dax Bello, Gina Beovides, Isabel Diaz, Javier Lopez and Nicole Mestre and three others, Nory Acosta-Lopez, Wendy Polit and Olivia Rodriguez.
CABA’s president-elect, Podhurst Orseck partner Ricardo Martinez-Cid, takes over in January.