The Miami Herald
Fri, Sep. 24, 2004

Attorney in Elián case to prepare Kerry for debate

A lawyer unpopular with many Cuban Americans for his role in the Elián González case will help prepare John Kerry for the upcoming presidential debate to be held at the University of Miami.


When John Kerry prepares for his first presidential debate at the University of Miami, he'll have a sparring partner with at least a passing familiarity with Miami politics: Gregory Craig, the influential Democratic lawyer who represented Elián González's father during the custody battle over the Cuban boy.

Craig, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who earned the ire of much of Miami's Cuban-American exile community for his representation of Juan Miguel González, will play President Bush as Kerry preps for the debate scheduled for Thursday. Craig served as a top foreign policy advisor to Sen. Edward Kennedy and a senior aide to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Craig's selection comes as Kerry's campaign seeks to woo Cuban-American voters from Bush by criticizing the administration's recent crackdown on travel to Cuba as family-unfriendly.

Three weeks ago, the campaign opened an office across the street from the Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho and last week it began airing Spanish language radio ads that assail the travel policy.

But Craig's appointment will probably be viewed as a misstep, signaling a campaign that is still learning its way around Florida -- and Miami's -- complicated mix of politics, six weeks before the election.

A spokesman for Kerry's Florida campaign said Thursday night that Craig's role will be solely debate preparation.

''He has not, is not and will not be advising the campaign'' on Cuba policy, said spokesman Matt Miller. He added he could not comment on how the campaign had selected Craig and said ``it will have no effect on the campaign. Kerry has long condemned Castro for horrific human rights abuses and oppression of the Cuban people.''

The Bush administration has questioned Kerry's anti-Castro credentials, saying he has shifted stances on Cuba policy. Kerry has said he would back ''principled travel'' to the island and said Bush's new travel policy is too restrictive.

Former Cuban American National Foundation executive director Joe Garcia, who now works for a Democratic group courting Hispanics, said Cuban Americans may view Craig's selection as ''unfortunate,'' but he sought to put a positive spin on Craig's role.

''If you're going to prepare to debate someone as arrogant as the president, there is no one more arrogant and pompous than Greg Craig,'' Garcia said. ``You've got to fight fire with fire.''

Craig, who didn't return phone calls to his office, has worked since Elián's return to secure the reunification of some Cubans living on the island with their families in the U.S. And in 1986, while working for Kennedy, he traveled to the island to negotiate the release of the last two imprisoned Bay of Pigs combatants.

But during the months-long custody battle over the shipwrecked boy, Craig antagonized Miami's Cuban exile community by keeping his client in Washington, surrounded by Cuban government advocates and operatives. Hired by church groups interested in seeing the boy reunited with his father, the exile community accused him of doing Castro's bidding.

''As to fees, Satan hasn't offered yet, and there's not one nickel from Cuba,'' he said at the time.