« June 16, 2014 | Main | June 18, 2014 »

17 posts from June 17, 2014

June 17, 2014

PortMiami tunnel hasn't opened due to leaky pipes, other mishaps


A month after its ballyhooed but entirely ceremonial opening, PortMiami’s billion-dollar tunnel has yet to carry a single vehicle under Biscayne Bay — and it may be several more weeks before the tunnel is ready for real traffic, officials say.

Leaky pipes and other matters of literal nuts and bolts have prevented the tunnel from getting the necessary permits to open. The tunnel contractor is scheduled to give its latest progress report to state and local transportation officials Wednesday, but even the most optimistic no longer expect it to open before July.

“The whole project team is disappointed,” conceded Gus Pego, the senior Florida Department of Transportation official in Miami-Dade County. “The contract called for it to be done May 19, and we were fully expecting to open it then.”

The failure to deliver the tunnel has already cost the contractor, the Paris-based Bouygues, more than $3 million in fines — a sum that grows $115,000 each day. The fines go to the private consortium MAT Concessionaire, which will operate the tunnel when it opens.

Meanwhile, the state of Florida hasn’t started writing checks for the $34 million annual fee it will pay for public access to the tunnel. And the 16,000 vehicles the tunnel was expected to take off Miami’s downtown streets continue to clog the traffic grid.

More here.

Ethics complaint filed against Scott over investment in oil drilling company

An investment in a French oil services company that drills in Florida poses a conflict of interest for Gov. Rick Scott, according to a complaint filed with the Commission on Ethics on Tuesday by a Broward County activist.

In the complaint, John Lundin alleges that Scott’s past $135,000 investment in Schlumberger LTD., once held in a blind trust, is grounds for a broader investigation into Scott’s portfolio. Lundin said he filed the complaint after reading about Scott’s investment in Schlumberger in the Times/Herald on Sunday.

“Gov. Scott’s blind trust does not exempt him from complying with State of Florida ethics laws for financial conflicts of interest,” said Lundin, 60, who now lives in Hollywood.

After becoming governor, Scott set up a blind trust for his extensive investments in 2011. It revealed his stake in Schlumberger LTD, the world’s largest oil services company that is currently involved in oil drilling in Collier County, near the Everglades. Scott and the Cabinet oversee the Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates oil drilling in Florida. Scott's release Monday of his tax returns showed he no longer owns interest in the company.

Lundin said that Scott should have instructed his brokerage firm, C.L. King & Associates, to divest his portfolio of any financial investments that he oversees through the DEP.

“Gov. Scott failed to do this, which is a financial conflict of interest,” Lundin states in the complaint.

Continue reading "Ethics complaint filed against Scott over investment in oil drilling company" »

Miami congressman: David Beckham should put his MLS stadium in Homestead


With David Beckham and his investors taking some time to consider their options for a Major League Soccer stadium in Miami, everyone's chiming in with a proposed location.

The latest politician to weigh in: Congressman Joe Garcia.

The Miami Democrat sent a letter Tuesday suggesting Miami Beckham United look south to Homestead and Florida City, which are in his district.

Garcia cited support from local elected officials, lower land purchasing and development costs than in downtown Miami and ethnic diversity as selling points for a suburban stadium. 

"In addition to the residents of the City of Miami, these South Dade communities would help form a devoted fan base that would fuel attendance at games and contribute to a strong sense of solidarity with a with the team," Garcia wrote to Bill Talbert, president and chief executive of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Beckham's group, however, has made it clear that it wants to be near the county's urban core, preferably by public transportation. MLS has indicated that a potential site in Little Havana next to Marlins Park is too far from downtown to work, given the league's experience with expansion franchises elsewhere.

That message has done little to stop politicians from throwing around ideas, some wilder than others.

On Tuesday, Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman called the Miami Dolphins' Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, which seats more than 70,000, "perfect" for MLS -- even though MLS averages about 18,000 fans a match.

Scott won't say whether he'll debate GOP opponents

For months, Gov. Rick Scott's campaign and the Republican Party of Florida have flogged Charlie Crist for ducking Democratic rival Nan Rich. It's fair game, but Crist has said for months he won't debate Rich and give her the statewide exposure her low-budget campaign desperately needs.

The GOP launched a "Demand Charlie Crist do the right thing" online petition and a "Charlie's debate clock," counting the hours Crist avoided debating Rich.

Now, Scott has two opponents who have qualified for the Aug. 26 primary ballot. Unlike Rich, who was Senate Democratic leader, neither of Scott's rivals, Yinka Adeshina and Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, have held elective office.

Scott sidestepped the question of whether he would debate them. "I haven't even met them yet," he said.

Such a debate would be entertaining, at least. Adeshina sent a statement to The Buzz in which she said: "I was excited when Howard Dean became governor." 

Dean, a doctor, was Vermont governor before he ran for president and was Democratic national chairman. Adeshina's point was that she's a pharmacist and, like Dean, is in the health care field. But singing Dean's praises is probably not a sure-fire way to get votes in a Republican primary in Florida.


Fourth TV debate in the works for governor's race

Gov. Rick Scott and his Democratic challenger may be spending a lot of time under the TV lights this fall.

Florida's Fox stations, in conjunction with Florida Blue Key and the Florida Law Review, have announced yet another statewide TV debate in the 2014 governor's race. The fourth debate would be held first, on Monday, Sept. 29, at the University of Florida in Gainesville and will air from 6:30-7:30 p.m. before a live studio audience, moderated by anchors John Brown of WOFL in Orlando and Mark Wilson of WTVT in Tampa.

Florida Blue Key said it has invited Scott and the two leading Democrats, Charlie Crist and Nan Rich, and that "the debate may also include other candidates who meet the criterion for eligibility to be released at a later date." Libertarian Party of Florida candidate Adrian Wyllie qualified on Monday for the November ballot for governor.

If the candidates accept the invitations, Florida voters could see four TV debates in the span of two-and-a-half weeks. Three other live debates are planned in the first two weeks of October -- two in Tampa and one in Davie. Scott and Democrat Alex Sink debated each other twice in the last campaign for governor in 2010.

Nan Rich qualifies to run for governor

Count former state Sen. Nan Rich in the race for Florida governor.

Rich, a Weston Democrat, filed her qualifying paperwork Tuesday. She was joined by a dozen supporters at the Department of State office in Tallahassee.

Rich will face former Gov. Charlie Crist in the Democratic primary on August 26. She is widely considered the underdog in the race, having raised only a fraction of the money Crist has raised for his campaign.

"Any election to me is a challenge once someone else's name is on the ballot, too," Rich told reporters Tuesday. "We feel we have the right message. People really are looking at going forward not backward."

Rich has branded herself as the only "true Democrat" in the election. Crist started his political career as a Republican. He became a Democrat in 2012.


Nan Rich files for gov race


Former State Senator Nan Rich filed this morning to run as a Democratic candidate for Governor of Florida, ensuriung a credible - though perhaps not viable given her paltry fundraising and lack of name recognition - primary challenger to Charlie Crist.

“Today, I reaffirm my commitment to this race and my commitment to Florida’s voters,” said Rich in a news release.  “When I announced my candidacy for governor a little over 2 years ago, I was answering the call of a growing chorus of Democratic voices rising across Florida.  They were the voices of voters and activists who were frustrated with the failure of the last 3 Republican governors to offer real leadership to help solve Florida’s critical problems or to face the challenges ahead.

“We can get our state back on the right track if we reset priorities and focus on making Florida better for its people – all of its people.  That means investing in our public schools, colleges, and universities; ensuring heath care is available and affordable to all; creating new jobs and opportunities for all Floridians; defending women’s reproductive health rights; protecting Florida's fragile land and water resources; and protecting those among us who are at greatest risk – our children and frail elderly.  As governor, those will be my priorities.”

“For the past eight years, Republican governors Rick Scott and Charlie Crist and the right-wing Republican leadership in the legislature have taken Florida down the wrong path,” said Rich, who served 12 years in the state legislature and was the the first woman elected leader of the Florida Senate Democrats.  “It’s time we changed direction.  I believe it’s time Florida had a genuine  progressive governor again.  And, this year, I am the only genuine progressive Democrat running.

If Jack Seiler runs statewide in future, expect tonight's Fort Laud commission vote on gay marriage to resurface

The Fort Lauderdale City Commission is expected to vote tonight on a resolution asking the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to enact a law allowing same-sex marriage.

The resolution is sponsored by City Commissioner Dean Trantalis, the city’s first openly gay commissioner.

The vote is purely symbolic -- the city can’t force the state to allow same-sex marriage. However the vote could become a flashpoint in future campaigns if Democratic Mayor Jack Seiler decides to run for statewide office in the future (he took a pass this year but hasn’t ruled out a future bid).

It appears that Seiler will oppose the resolution tonight.

“I still support civil unions with full benefits. I have been a supporter of domestic partnership benefits for City employees for almost 20 years, and I signed such benefits into law as Mayor of two different cities," he said in an emailed statement today, referring to Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors. "I am proud of my record on promoting equal rights for all, and I will continue to provide equal benefits on issues that fall under the City's governance and jurisdiction.  As you know, the City of Fort Lauderdale does not regulate marriage and has no authority to make laws impacting marriages in the State of Florida.”

Seiler has been viewed as a longtime supporter of gay rights beginning in the 1990s when he was on the Wilton Manors city council and later as a state representative. A Catholic married father of four children, Seiler told the Miami Herald last year that he had no position on same sex marriage but supported civil unions. That position for a high-profile elected Democrat in liberal Broward is unusual and puts him at odds with other notable Democrats who have become supporters of same sex marriage in recent years.

Though his views on same-sex marriage could resurface during Seiler's re-election race next year, that race will largely focus on issues such as city spending and services. Seiler has never lost a campaign. 

The text of the resolution states that the commission supports “equal access to legal marriage for same-sex couples” and opposes laws that prevent that access. The vote tonight could be close, according to gay activist Michael Rajner.

Fort Lauderdale -- and Broward County -- has one of the state’s most visible gay resident and tourist populations. The city drew nationwide attention in 2007 when then-Mayor Jim Naugle made comments about gay sex in public bathrooms leading to the “Flush Naugle’’ protests.  



Miami judge confirmed as first openly gay black male on federal bench


Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Darrin P. Gayles reached an American milestone Tuesday when the U.S. Senate confirmed him as a federal judge, making Gayles the first openly gay black male jurist to sit on the bench.

The noon vote was 97-0.

Gayles has served on the Florida circuit court since 2011 and before on the Miami-Dade county court, beginning in 2004. He graduated from George Washington University School of Law.

In February, President Barack Obama nominated Gayles and White House officials noted that he would be the first openly gay male African-American federal judge. That distinction had previously generated political opposition to the president's nomination of another Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge.

Last year, Obama's appointment of state Circuit Judge William L. Thomas as a federal judge for the Southern District of Florida ran into a dead end. He was not renominated this year. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the conservative Republican from Miami, blocked Thomas' appointment — after first backing him along with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

More here.

Candidates qualify for Miami-Dade commission, property appraiser political races


Two Miami-Dade County commissioners were automatically reelected Tuesday after drawing no opposition.

Sally Heyman and Rebeca Sosa will each serve another four-year term. No candidates qualified to run against the two by Tuesday’s noon deadline. 

At the last minute, an opponent qualified against Jose “Pepe” Diaz. The District 12 commissioner, who represents Northwest Miami-Dade, will face political newcomer Marjorie C. Figueira.

Challengers also qualified, as expected, against three other commissioners who will be on the Aug. 26 ballot.

More here.