Bruno Barreiro chaired the Miami-Dade County Commission when it signed off on a new, mostly publicly funded Marlins ballpark in the heart of his Little Havana district. And now that he's seeking reelection, he has been forced to defend it.
He has been doing so, staunchly.
"We might have been able to get a little bit better deal, but it still had to be substantially funded from the public sector," he told WPLG-ABC 10 political reporter Michael Putney on Sunday on This Week in South Florida. "Obviously, this had to be a public-private enterprise." (See video of the debate here, beginning around the 20-minute mark.)
On the same show, his opponent, state Rep. Luis Garcia, called the stadium "a monument to mediocrity." The ballpark, he said, came "at the expense of the money that was earmarked to redo the convention center on Miami Beach."
Public money covered more than 80 percent of the stadium and parking garages, which cost about $634 million. The county spent some $376 million, the city of Miami $133 million and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria $125 million.
Garcia, a former Miami Beach city commissioner, has been hammering on the stadium since the Aug. 14 primary. Barreiro was nine votes from avoiding a Nov. 6 runoff. In a Spanish-language radio ad, Garcia touts opposing the stadium project. "Let's vote to restore our trust in government," the ad says.
On Sunday, Barreiro fought back saying Garcia in 2007 voted for a bill in the Florida Legislature (HB 323) that would have provided the Marlins with $2 million in annual sales tax revenue.
Garcia called the comparison "disingenuous."
"That was at a time to give the Miami Marlins, when they were in the old stadium, the same tax break that every other professional sports team gets," Garcia said.
"It's money for the franchise," Barreiro countered.
"It's very different to give $2 million out of tax revenues than over $300 million," Garcia retorted.
Garcia is backed by Miami auto magnate Norman Braman, who sued unsuccessfully to try to prevent the stadium deal. An electioneering communications organization linked to Barreiro has received money from other groups bankrolled in part by the Marlins (and the Miami Dolphins, who would like a retractable roof for their Miami Gardens stadium).
The two rivals also sparred on other issues, including fixing up and attracting businesses to Calle Ocho, Little Havana's Southwest Eighth Street, and on one of Barreiro's signature achievements -- the "Golden Passport," which allows senior citizens to ride Miami-Dade transit for free.
"He's given senior citizens a free ride," Garcia said, "at the expense of other people in the community."
"It's not a free ride -- it's a 'no-fare system,'" responded Barreiro, who said seniors had been promised help if they voted for the county's half-penny sales tax for transit. He also trumpeted a similar program extended to military veterans.
"We have to encourage more ridership on mass transportation systems," Barreiro said.
"The problem is the public transportation system doesn't work -- it's broken," Garcia said. "Try to catch a bus anywhere in Dade County. You can't."