The Miami Dolphins’ push for a subsidized renovation to Sun Life Stadium appears to have divided the local Democratic Party, whose leadership has opposed the plan for weeks.
The divisions were evident Wednesday night at a forum the party organized featuring Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan, a renovation proponent, and former Commissioner Katy Sorenson, a critic. Both are Democrats.
Jordan accused the party of “bias” for taking a public stance against the Dolphins’ proposal.
“If the party has taken a position on this, there’s bias,” she said. “The party should stay out of this race.”
Party Chairwoman Annette Taddeo-Goldstein issued a statement last month opposing the stadium deal, which will go to voters in a May 14 referendum unless Florida lawmakers block Dolphins-backed legislation by Friday.
At the forum, party members said that while the party’s steering committee took a vote against the stadium renovation, the full Democratic Executive Committee will not weigh in until Monday.
“I will never criticize one of our Democratic elected officials,” Taddeo-Goldstein said. “I want everybody to make their own decision.”
Still, there was unrest among some attendees at the forum, hosted by the Miami Gardens Democratic Club, the Democratic Black Caucus of Miami-Dade and Democracy for America-MD. A few wondered aloud whether party leadership was undermining black elected officials such as Jordan, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert and state Sen. Oscar Braynon II, also of Miami Gardens. All support the Dolphins’ effort.
Sorenson, who is white, said the party should be allowed to vote just as Miami-Dade residents.
“I don’t think that stadium funding is really a partisan issue,” she said.
The $350 million renovation, funded in part by county hotel-bed tax dollars, has also split the Miami-Dade Republican Party, whose divided executive committee voted last month to oppose the plan.
Jordan and Sorenson answered audience questions asking about the stadium deal basics. They also had spirited exchanges over whether the project would bring the 4,000 jobs the Dolphins have promised (PolitiFact Florida has rated that claim “Half True”) and whether team owner Stephen Ross, a billionaire real-estate developer, should pay for the upgrades himself.
Sorenson said as commissioner she voted against public funding for the Miami Marlins and the Miami Heat.
“The mantra was always jobs, jobs, jobs,” she said. “Somehow these jobs never really materialize to the extent tat they were promised. It seemed like the owners and the players always got a lot more than people got.”
She also suggested any jobs would do little to dent the county’s unemployment – a contention Jordan rejected.
“You go with what you have to work with, Katy,” she countered. “You’re trying to sell a pipe dream.”
When Sorenson cited Miami auto magnate Norman Braman’s opposition to the Dolphins, Jordan added: “Braman called it corporate welfare. What did he call it when he got it for the Philadelphia Eagles?”
Sorenson didn’t argue, but said, “The fact that other sports franchises are getting this money I don’t think justifies public money going to sports franchises.”
Sorenson predicted Ross would still pay for the upgrades even without money – even though the team has said otherwise.
“He’s still going to do the improvements because he’s going to benefit from them,” she said.
Countered Jordan: “If I had billions of dollars, yes, I could afford a whole lot in terms of the deal, but that is not, as far as I’m concerned, the issue here…The Dolphins, unlike the Marlins, opened their books.”
Sorenson said that, when she was commissioner, Dolphins lobbyist Ron Book invited her to a football game to meet the team’s owners. She declined, she said. “They’ve been plotting to make this happen,” she said.
Jordan emphasized that the Dolphins would be required to refund $112 million to $120 million to the county at the end of 30 years.
“It has never happened before, in terms of any group paying back money that they’ve gotten from the county,” she said.