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13 posts from August 18, 2014

August 18, 2014

Mitt Romney campaigns, fundraises for Miami congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo


RomneySweltering heat, protesters and key-lime pie cupcakes greeted former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday when he campaigned in Miami's West Kendall suburb for congressional hopeful Carlos Curbelo.

"It's nice to be out campaigning for other people," Romney told reporters at Vicky Bakery, where he went behind the serving counter to try the cupcakes. He appeared relaxed in jeans, shirt-sleeves and a loose tie.

When asked if he would consider a third presidential run, he said, "No, I'm not doing that."

The Obama administration, Romney said, "has a good heart but doesn't understand what's needed to get America working for the middle class." 

Romney had already endorsed Curbelo. The brief campaign appearance preceded an evening Coconut Grove fundraiser for the Miami-Dade School Board member, who's running in the 26th congressional district GOP primary along with Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez, attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck and ex-Congressman David Rivera.

Democrats have ignored the other candidates and instead focused on Curbelo, the presumed frontrunner in the race to challenge incumbent Joe Garcia. The party organized a group of about 20 demonstrators outside the bakery. They brought back chants from the 2012 presidential campaign, including "We are the 47 percent." At one point, a Curbelo supporter yelled at them, in Spanish: "Comunistas!"

Photo credit: Charles Trainor Jr., Miami Herald staff

Council aims to fight human trafficking

Human trafficking is a crime that reaches a broad spectrum of victims -- teenage runaways, the homeless, undocumented workers and even "kids who hang out at the mall every day,"  Mike Carroll, interim secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families said Monday at the first meeting of the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking.

Many victims are also foster care kids who are under state care or have aged out of the state system and have no where to go, Carroll, the council's vice chair, said.

Florida has been ranked third in the number of calls received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which estimates there are 27 million people enslaved worldwide.

"Four years ago, no one wanted to believe this existed," said Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has reached out to truckers, emergency medical workers, business owners, law enforcement and recently Mexican authorities to fight human trafficking. "It has to be stopped."

Now, Bondi, is also counting on a new panel with law enforcement, health care officials, educators, advocates and experts to fight the crime. The 15-member trafficking council, which Bondi chairs, was created during the 2014 legislative session to tackle specific goals in the human trafficking realm, including recommending programs and services to help victims; certifying safe houses and safe foster care homes; recommending ways to better apprehend and prosecute traffickers; and organizing a statewide summit.

Continue reading "Council aims to fight human trafficking" »

Acquitted but still-suspended Miami Lakes mayor vows to go to court to be reinstated


The dueling mayors of Miami Lakes, battling over which man is truly in charge, tussled again Monday in sloppily disjointed press conferences that were at times off the mark, but intensely theatrical.

First up: Mayor Wayne Slaton. Standing before cameras and constituents at Town Hall, Slaton defiantly declared he is the mayor of Miami Lakes and that Florida’s governor agreed — and then incorrectly argued that a similar case in Miami four years ago wasn’t similar at all.

With Slaton done, Michael Pizzi, the still-suspended mayor, held court in a baking parking lot, telling the crowd he had reclaimed his seat the moment a jury found him not guilty of federal corruption charges. Then Pizzi marched to the back door of Town Hall — but the door was locked.

With a pack of reporters in tow, and one woman booing furiously from the sidewalk, the mayor-in-limbo made his way to the front entrance, where he asked receptionist Laura Munoz to contact the city clerk and manager. For 20 minutes, Pizzi entertained the crowd with stories, including one about how as a child he would sing himself a lullaby when he was stressed out.

When the two hours of tit-for-tat finally ended, little had changed.

More here.

New Dania casino wants to close for a year but regulators have final say

Dania Jai AlaiSix months after opening, Dania Casino and Jai-Alai announced late Friday that it will close for a year starting in October, putting an estimated 300 people out of work.

Company officials say closing the brand new casino is necessary to expedite the company’s $50 million in renovations needed to help Broward’s newest casino compete in the rigorous South Florida gaming market. But the move also comes after the company’s revenue performance was the worst in the region, and its owners were forced to write a check to the state for nearly $400,000 after it under-reported its taxes for three months because of an alleged software glitch.

"We are not shutting down because there are any money problems,’’ said John Lockwood, Tallahassee-based lawyer for the company. "It’s about speeding up our investment in the property. This has nothing to do with the performance of the facility."

Meanwhile, the Division of Parimutuel Wagering could have a say on whether the facility will be allowed to close at all.

The company needs the agency’s approval before it can alter its jai alai schedule and the division is "still reviewing it,’’ said Tajiana Ancora-Brown, spokeswoman for the agency. State law requires that the facility perform a certain number of performances to maintain its permit.

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Soon-to-be-closed charter school once hosted Gov. Scott, Michelle Rhee

As thousands of students went back to school on Monday, the state Board of Education voted to close three failing charter schools.

One of the schools, Florida International Elementary Academy, has been in the news before.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott visited its sister middle school, Florida International Academy, just days after taking office in 2011. While touring the Miami-Dade campus, he and former Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced a plan to increase the number of charter schools statewide.

"We have to make sure our system does exactly what you are doing here at Florida International Academy," Scott said.

At the time, Florida International Academy was an established middle school that had recently earned consecutive A grades from the state. Its elementary school, Florida International Elementary Academy, was just getting off the ground.

The schools share a common campus and administration.

The elementary school earned an F in its first year. It improved to a D in 2012, but earned failing grades in 2013 and 2014.

State law requires the closure of any charter school that receives consecutive Fs.

Florida International Elementary Academy had applied for a waiver that would have granted the school an additional year to boost its grade. But the state board denied the request, saying the school did not improve as much as neighboring schools had.

Florida International Academy middle, which earned a C in 2014, will remain open.

Neither Florida International Elementary Academy nor Florida International Elementary is affiliated with the university of the same name.


FDLE protected Lopez-Cantera after May threat

Florida taxpayers spent nearly $2.4 million last year to provide round-the-clock security protection for Gov. Rick Scott and to protect out-of-state elected officials visiting the Sunshine State.

Security for the governor cost $1.6 million between July 1, 2013 and June 30 of this year, slightly less than the year before, according to the report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. First Lady Ann Scott's security cost $381,000, compared to $225,000 the year before.

The biggest surprise in the report was a $27,000 expenditure to provide six days of security last May for Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. An FDLE spokeswoman, Samantha Andrews, said the reason for the security was a threat against the lieutenant governor. She provided no other immediate details. That was the first week immediately following the end of the 2014 legislative session.

By law, Lopez-Cantera is entitled to a Florida Highway Patrol trooper for his security and transportation, but FHP said he declined that detail when he took office in February.

FDLE agents also provided security on three occasions in the past year for Attorney General Pam Bondi that cost a total of about $4,000, and five times for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at a cost of about $6,400.

Miami's Exile Museum says Cuban loyalty gives it a fund-raising edge


Cuban Exile Park & Museum

On the heels of winning initial approval to build on county-owned waterfront, backers of the proposed Cuban Exile Museum pitched the project  Monday as poised for broader success. Key to the mission: Convincing the public they can raise the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to build and operate the museum without public funds, a key requirement of county commissioners who backed the project last month. 

Doing so would be a novelty for the neighborhood:  Both the Perez Art Museum Miami and the under-construction Frost science museum both rely on county subsidies for their budgets, even after securing a combined $265 million in county funds for construction of their facilities in Miami's nearby Museum Park. 

Exile Museum organizers, including former Miami city manager Pete Hernandez, say they aren't daunted. In a meeting with The Miami Herald's Editorial Board, the group pointed to unique support and passion in the Cuban community as their source of confidence. 

"With all due respect, no one has a personal saga with art or science,'' said  Nicolás Gutiérrez, who took the lead in Monday's presentation.

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Plaintiffs oppose redrawn congressional map, ask the court to draw districts

 RedistrictOldNewArguing that a newly drawn District 5 will establish a benchmark district "further entrenching the Republican Party in its position of power" the voters groups that brought the lawsuit against the Legislature are asking a judge to draw new congressional districts that would take effect this elections cycle in documents filed today.

"The Revised Plan emerged fully formed from a series of meetings held behind closed doors and then sailed through the special session without modifications while any opposing voices were ridiculed, distorted, or simply ignored,'' writes the lawyers for the group of voters led by the League of Women voters and Common Cause of Florida.

"The dispute over the Revised Plan centers primarily around District 5 and its surrounding districts. Legislative Defendants have again adopted a snakelike north-south configuration of the district that marginalizes minorities by concentrating them into a single district, harms tier-two compliance overall, and conspicuously benefits Republicans in surrounding areas." Here's the brief:  Download 2014 08-18 Jt-Objection to Defs Remedial Map (9057)

Graphic: Legislative congressoinal plans old and new

Charlie Crist voted for Charlie Crist

With Barack Obama's approval ratings lately barely cracking 40 percent, plenty of Democrats will keep their distance from the president heading into the midterms, just as Alex Sink did she when ran for governor in 2010. Not Charlie Crist, who said today he hopes to be campaigning side by side with the president.

"I hope so," he said when asked about campaigning with Obama. "I hope everybody does."

His comments came as he, Carole Crist, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman left the Supervisor of Elections office in downtown St. Petersburg, after casting their ballots early.

"It's so convenient, it's nice and quiet. You have the opportunity to really think it through," Crist said about voting early. We're not sure how long it took him to think through the Democratic gubernatorial primary choice, but "I voted for Charlie Crist," he said.

The other Democrat running is former state Sen. Nan Rich of Broward County, who has not had any money to air TV ad but has criss-crossed the state visiting Democratic clubs and activists. If Rich receives more than 25  percent of the vote, will that reflect on Crist's strength heading into the general election?

"What matters to me is hopefully being the nominee. That's all I'm focusedc on. I hope to win this primary next Tuesaday,"  responded Crist, saying he "would hope to" campaign with Rich after he primary, but there are no plans for that yet.

A TV reporter asked Crist about his recent campaign bus tour on a yellow school bus:  "Did you know there are rules about using yellow buses for things other than educational purposes?"

"Well,"  Crist said, "it was an educational purpose, no question about that. I think we had an opportunity to educate the public about Rick Scott's cuts to education."

Scott's Miami TV ad featured convicted smuggler

Gov. Rick Scott's campaign has ended a month-long run of a campaign ad touting support from small business owners, including a Tampa man convicted of human smuggling four years ago on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten.

As first reported by the Broward Bulldog site, Maikel Duarte Torres was featured in the spot. "The ad is no longer running," Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair said Monday, adding that the spot was removed from the airwaves last week. The Bulldog said the ad began running on one local Spanish-language station in Miami, America Teve, in late July.

The Bulldog reported that Duarte Torres, a native of Cuba, was convicted in 2011 of his role in trying to smuggle 10 Cuban migrants from St. Maarten to Miami. In the ad, Duarte Torres is seen praising Scott and saying, "I'm just like him. I'm like the American dream."

It's the second time that a Scott ad highlighted a person who has had serious run-ins with the law. The Times/Herald reported in April that a web-only ad featured Corey Alston, the former city manager of South Bay, who resigned from office after being charged with grand theft, corruption and misuse of office.