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Miami-Dade candidates debate again, collegially

Carlos Gimenez and Julio Robaina played nice in their second debate Wednesday, where they disagreed on relatively little and tried to show off their experience and vision to become Miami-Dade's next mayor.

The most contentious moment came over gambling, where the two candidates wrangled over the legality of video-game slot machines known as maquinitas. Robaina stood behind a controversial law he put forth as mayor of Hialeah that Gimenez has criticized as too permissive.

"The machines themselves are illegal," Gimenez said as Robaina shook his head. "Are we going to sell our soul because of revenue? I don't think so."

That prompted robust applause from the more than 100 people at the debate, organized by The Miami Foundation and held at the Newman Alumni Center at the University of Miami. The event was sponsored by The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, WPBT-2, the Knight Foundation and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

Countered Robaina: "It's up to the state of Florida to change the statute." Robaina argues that some of the uses of the machines -- not necessarily the machines -- are illegal.

The rivals, however, agreed that casino-style gaming would be all right in some instances in the county.

"We have to limit it in, the areas that it exists," Robaina said.

"I'm OK with maybe one or two sites, but I'm not OK with having Las Vegas Two come down to Miami or Miami Beach," Gimenez said.

The debate was peppered with moments of levity and chuckles as the two men patted each other on the back and shook hands on the stage.

Robaina maintained the position he took Monday to balance the county's budget -- which faces a $400 million shortfall -- mostly by restructuring Miami-Dade government and not so much by rewriting the terms of employee-union contracts

"This community should not accept anything less," he said. Gimenez has said renegotiated contracts will be central to his plan, because employee salaries and benefits make up the bulk of the county's budget.

More specifically, Robaina said he would target duplicate procurement, human resources and information technology services spread out throughout the county and consolidate them into central departments.