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9 posts from August 21, 2014

August 21, 2014

Miami mayors, past and present, unite to support Jose Javier Rodriguez

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and three of his predecessors held a joint event Thursday night to raise money for Democratic state Rep. José Javier Rodríguez.

Rodríguez, whose district includes part of the city of Miami, is facing a challenge from Republican Daniel Diaz Leyva. The race, which is expected to be tight, is one of the most closely watched in the Florida House.

Regalado hosted the event with former Mayors Manny Diaz, Xavier Suárez and Maurice Ferré.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham also hosted and attended the fundraiser at the Chart House restaurant.

"The guy deserves it," said Suárez, who now sits on the Miami-Dade County Commission. "He's a very good legislator."

The four mayors have different political affiliations. Regalado is a Republican. Suárez is an independent. Diaz and Ferré are Democrats.

Rodríguez called their bi-partisan support "a great honor."

The Florida House hopeful has another reason to thank Ferré. He recently married Ferré's granddaughter, Sonia Succar Ferré.

Miami hunting for new police chief


Wanted: executive to oversee more than 1,100 gun-toting employees. Must be willing to work with a cantankerous union, massage the needs of five crime-conscious bosses, and occasionally respond to scandal.

With current Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa retiring at the end of the year, the city is hunting for his replacement. The decision is an important one for City Manager Daniel Alfonso, whom commissioners have told will be judged based upon the performance of the next chief. Alfonso says he’s looking for someone who understands Miami’s diverse neighborhoods.

Applicants can apply until Sept. 5. The position is advertised at a salary of between $150,000 and $190,000.

Acquitted Miami Lakes mayor sues Florida Gov. Rick Scott over suspension


Suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi sued Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday in an effort to force him to revoke the suspension so Pizzi can reclaim his mayoral office.

The legal showdown before the Florida Supreme Court was perhaps inevitable after the governor refused to rescind Pizzi’s suspension following his acquittal a week ago on federal bribery charges.

Under the Florida Constitution, Pizzi and his defense team assert he is automatically entitled to regain his job immediately after a 12-person jury found him not guilty in Miami federal court. They argued that the same law that Scott invoked to suspend Pizzi after his arrest last August required the governor to reinstate him after he beat the criminal charges.

Pizzi’s attorneys, Ben Kuehne and Ed Shohat, said the governor was “flouting Florida law.”

But Scott has refused to revoke Pizzi’s suspension. Scott’s general counsel issued a letter saying the town’s charter allowed for a special election and that Pizzi’s elected replacement, Wayne Slaton, could serve the remainder of his term until 2016.

Slaton has refused to leave office, provoking Pizzi to hold a press conference earlier this week at town hall where he insisted he should be the mayor, not Slaton.

That chaos gave way to Thursday’s unprecedented lawsuit, filed with the Supreme Court in Tallahassee.

More here.

Rep. Joe Garcia records robocall for Miami-Dade commission candidate


In the feisty Miami-Dade County Commission contest between incumbent Lynda Bell and challenger Daniella Levine Cava, both candidates are now trumpeting support from members of Congress, in an attempt to persuade partisan voters to the polls on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Levine Cava's campaign revealed a new automated phone call that Congressman Joe Garcia recorded for the local race. Like Levine Cava, Garcia is a Democrat, though commission races are nonpartisan, and Garcia never mentions his party affiliation on the call.

"I can tell you that now, more than ever, we need Daniella," Garcia says on the call. "Daniella is prepared to lead our community with integrity and vision. I trust Daniella will deliver real results to South Dade because she is one of us and will fight for us."

Garcia goes on to invite listeners to the South Dade Regional Library early-voting site on Saturday to meet with him and Levine Cava and cast their ballots.

The robocall comes a day after Bell's camp unveiled a web ad with Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's endorsement.

Levine Cava supporters have privately questioned Ros-Lehtinen's move, noting that Bell opposed adding transgender protections to a county ordinance. Ros-Lehtinen has promoted LGBT rights.

Likewise, Bell backers are likely to point to Garcia referring to Levine Cava being "one of us" -- perhaps in reference to being a South Dade resident. Levine Cava moved into the district before filing to run for office, drawing accusations of being a carpetbagger. (Garcia, whose congressional district spans Westchester to Key West, didn't live in his district when he ran; he has since secured a Key West residence.)

Florida set to get $1 billion of Bank of America settlement

The U.S. Department of Justice announced a record settlement with Bank of America on Thursday that will provide $1 billion in relief for about 17,000 Floridians.

But it’s still not clear which ones will qualify.

They’ll likely be in addition to the 120,000 who were offered $9.2 billion in relief in a separate 2012 settlement with the nation’s largest banks, including Bank of America.

On Thursday morning in Washington, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced the newest settlement with Bank of America -- a $16.65 billion mortgage deal that includes a $9.65 billion cash penalty and $7 billion in relief to homeowners and blighted areas. It’s the largest government settlement by a company in U.S. history.

The settlement was the result of multiple U.S. attorney offices investigating the seemingly endless reams of bad mortgages approved by Countrywide Financial and Merrill Lynch, which Bank of America bought. Along with the Department of Justice, six states --  California, Delaware, Kentucky, Illinois, Maryland, New York -- were party to the settlement. While Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office was not involved in the settlement, it had discussions with Bank of America regarding how Florida homeowners would be affected.

What’s not known yet is how most consumers affected by the foreclosure crisis will be helped. Of that $7 billion in homeowner relief and aid to blighted areas, Florida will get about $1 billion. It’s not clear which Floridians or blighted areas will be eligible for aid. According to Bondi’s office, consumer relief will come in the form of first and second lien principal reductions, loan forgiveness and other relief.

Although both Thursday’s announcement and the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement tout large penalties, some experts say consumers don’t get much relief.

“It’s all accounting tricks,” said Matt Weidner, a St. Petersburg consumer protection attorney. “Rather than provide real relief to consumers, these settlements provide tax relief to the banks.”

Police-Union Peace Talks, Part II [Updated: Not so peaceful]


Updated at 3:05 p.m.:  Talks between Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the police union's executive director did NOT go well. Whether it's initial posturing or a true rift between County Hall and the Police Benevolent Association remains to be seen. Formal contract negotiations will start soon. 

Gimenez joined PBA executive director Blanca Torrents Greenwood in a Biltmore conference room Thursday to talk about stalled union talks. Both sides reported tension during the closed-door session, and afterwards Greenwood gave a definite thumbs-down to the talks.

"From my perspective, it was a completely useless and unneccessary meeting," she said in a telephone interview, citing a separate meeting Tuesday between Gimenez and PBA president John Rivera. Gimenez  "certainly didn't indicate any willingness to make law enforcement a priority."  

Last week, Gimenez announced his budget would require eliminating 110 police-officer jobs, about half as much as the initial proposal of 228 officer cuts. Gimenez said he would impose healthcare changes on supervisors and other non-union employees to create the extra savings, as well as redirect funds earmarked for the county's reserve funds and cancel a planned $1.4 million increase in tax funding for the Perez Art Museum Miami. All but $300,000 of the savings went to police payroll, allowing the lower job-cut figure, according to the county's budget office. 

Now, Gimenez says if police and other unions will accept a new healthcare plan with some benefit reductions and cost savings, MIami-Dade can avoid all police job cuts. 

In the interview, Greenwood said laying off "even one police officer is a disservice to this community." She also dismissed Gimenez's shrinking jobs-cut number, saying "it's like when a store has a sale and they hike-up the price" first. 

Gimenez and Rivera have been exchanging barbs through spokesmen and media interviews, but this week was designed to notch down the public animosity. The mayor's side said they were happy to meet with Rivera and Greenwood together, while the PBA blamed County Hall for the separate sessions. On Thursday, Greenwood continued the harsh tone Rivera had adopted during coverage of the mayor's budget, which currently includes cuts to 110 police jobs.

"From my perspective, he's condescending," she said of Gimenez. "It's the same thing you see on TV." 

We'll update this post when we get official word from the Mayor's Office on their take of the session.



Police Détente Week continues for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Two days after a sit-down with a top antagonist, police-union chief John Rivera, Gimenez is slated to meet Thursday with the union's executive director, Blanca Torrents Greenwood. Like the huddle with Rivera, Gimenez will meet with  Greenwood on neutral territory, at the Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables, according to his public schedule.

It's not known why Gimenez and the Police Benevolent Association arranged separate meetings for Rivera and Greenwood, a lawyer and former prosecutor. People on both sides blamed the other for Rivera not being on the guest list for Thursdays' meeting.

 "We are going so we won't slow anything down," Stephanie Womble, a PBA spokeswoman, said in a text message Thursday. 

Continue reading "Police-Union Peace Talks, Part II [Updated: Not so peaceful]" »

Scott rolls out plan to increase per-student spending

Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday announced a plan to raise per-student spending to a record level next year.

Scott's proposal calls for $7,176 for each student in Florida -- a $232 increase over the current school year and a $50 increase over the record high from 2007-08.

"I am proud to announce that in the upcoming legislative session we will propose an increase in Florida’s per-pupil spending to the highest level in our state's history," Scott said in a statement. "We already have the highest total spending in K-12 this year and gave every teacher the opportunity for a pay raise. Because we were able to get Florida's economy back on track, revenues are now projected to stay at a strong enough rate to support historic investments in education."

The announcement may seem a little premature, considering the November election still stands between Scott and the 2015 legislative session. 

But it makes perfect sense in the context of the campaign.

Last week, Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist traveled the state in a yellow school bus, reminding Floridians that Scott cut $1.3 billion from the state education budget during his first year in office in 2011.

Crist promised more money for public schools, but did not provide specific figures.

The Florida Democratic Party responded by calling Scott's announcement an election-year gimmick.

They pointed out that the record-high per-pupil spending level of $7,126 from 2007-08 equates to $8,191 in 2014 dollars.

"The truth is, Rick Scott cut $1.3 billion from Florida’s education system in his first year," FDP Chair Allison Tant said. "Every year since then, he has failed to bring school funding back up to where it was under Charlie Crist. This new proposal continues that four-year record of failure.

Tom Lee's anti-Crist robocalls target of complaint

Those recent robocalls to Democratic voters, featuring the voice and the conservative views of then-Republican Charlie Crist, have prompted Democrats to file a formal complaint with the Florida Elections Commission. Their target: Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon.

Lee engineered what he said were about two million robocalls to voters, using the same calls Crist used in his successful 2006 Republican campaign for governor, in which he called himself a pro-life, Ronald Reagan Republican who opposed same sex marriage and supported public display of the 10 Commandments -- views now starkly at odds with his Democratic philosophy.

Lee has taken responsibility for the robocalls and used an electioneering communications organization (ECO) called The Conservative, headed by Stafford Jones, a Republican activist from Gainesville, and there's also a site featuring many of Crist's re-robo'd audio clips at www.charlieinhisownwords.com.

The election law complaint was filed by Allison Tant, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party. It cites a state law, Ch. 106.147(1)(c), which states that "No telephone call shall state or imply that the caller represents any person or organization unless the person of organization so represented has given specific approval in writing to make such representation." 

A violation is a first-degree misdemeanor. Also named in the FEC complaint is Gov. Rick Scott. Democrats say Lee was acting on behalf of Scott's campaign in arranging the robocalls to Florida voters.

DNC chair Wasserman Schultz bucks lame-duck Obama on deporting unaccompanied minors


It's August, and in Washington Democratic insider circles that usually means some anonymous person from Obama World would have something nasty to say about Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Weston's congresswoman.

But the third time wasn't the charm.

And last night it looked like Wasserman Schultz was ready to put some daylight between her and President Obama over a most-sensitive topic: the unaccompanied minors who flooded the border.

Here's Politico:

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz also thinks deporting children detained at the border is sending them back to “certain death.”

The White House went apoplectic last month when likely 2016 presidential candidate Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said, “We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death.” Tuesday night, Wasserman Schultz said twice — strongly — that she thinks O’Malley was right.

“As you know, Gov. O’Malley said that to send them back would be to send them to certain death. Do you agree with him?” Fusion’s Jorge Ramos asked in an interview.

“Not only do I agree with him, but,” the Florida congresswoman said, launching into a long story about a boy she’d met during a visit to a facility in Miami who told her of being kidnapped and forced into the drug trade, and showed her a bullet wound through the back of his arm.....

“That was the first she was hearing about Martin O’Malley,” said Wasserman Schultz’s congressional office communications director Sean Bartlett. “She was reacting to Jorge’s question and thinking about the tour she had just come from.”

Putting aside the potential political calculus of courting Hispanics or firing up liberals or simply saying something heartfel, maybe it's just a coincidence that Wasserman Schultz happened to say this now.

But regardless, the lame-duckness of President Obama is looking lamer and lamer.