August 24, 2016

Enter the mosquito: Miami candidates debut fliers on Zika



Miami voters have seen an uptick of mosquitoes over the past few days -- in their mailboxes.

Candidates on Tuesday's primary election ballot have raced to campaign on the local outbreak of the Zika virus. 

In one flier, Democrat Scott Fuhrman, who's hoping to challenge Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, shows off photos of his wife and infant daughter. "My wife is pregnant and we live just a few miles of south of Wynwood, where the first cases of Zika were reported," the mailer says. "Like so many families, we're terrified, but Congress refuses to act."


Another flier, for Democrat Jason Pizzo, an attorney running for state Senate, screams, "Fight the bite!"

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And then there's a mystery flier, shown atop this post, from a group named Stay Safe Coalition, apparently working on behalf of Republican state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. "Zika awareness tips from Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla," the piece says. "Hang this letter on your fridge to make sure your family stays safe!"

Stay Safe Coalition isn't registered as a political organization with either the state or the county, or in state corporate records. It lists an office building on Miami's Coral Way as its address.

Miami's Zika politics: Lots of talk, little action

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One by one, the politicians sat before a flock of TV cameras and went around the table, commending each other for their arduous work to fend off the Zika virus.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott lauded the state’s “very good coordination” with the Miami-Dade County health department. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam praised the “extraordinary job” of local mosquito control. “Thank you on behalf of the citizens of the state of Florida,” Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera told Miami-Dade health administrator Lillian Rivera.

It all sounded very Kumbaya. But to some people waiting for their turn to speak Monday, the words seemed to ring a bit hollow.

“This roundtable that we’re sitting at now is really what we would’ve liked to have seen several weeks ago,” said Joseph Furst, chairman of the business improvement district in Wynwood, the Miami neighborhood hardest-hit by the mosquito-borne virus.

Politicians have seized on Miami’s Zika outbreak this election year to get their faces on TV camera and show hands-on involvement in a crisis. It’s a role public-health experts say elected leaders need to play, keeping the virus in the news and helping educate constituents on what to do about it.

Yet the talk has done little to help municipal leaders tasked with battling Zika day to day. And it’s led to zero action in Congress to fund a long-term Zika response — suggesting Florida, the nation’s largest swing state, may not wield any serious legislative clout.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

A Gables fundraiser for Rubio, five days before the primary


Five days ahead of Florida's U.S. Senate primary, incumbent Republican Marco Rubio will be in Coral Gables -- raising money for the next phase of the election.

A phalanx of top, longtime Rubio donors will host the senator at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Riviera Country Club, according to an invitation host Bernie Navarro published on Twitter. The minimum contribution is $2,700, with $10,800 required to co-host the event.

Rubio is so confident he'll defeat primary rival Carlos Beruff next Tuesday that he's hardly campaigning in public this week. The fundraiser is another sign that the senator is mostly focused on the Nov. 8 general election, when he's likely to face off against Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.

Recent polls show Rubio leading Murphy, but the potential race has gotten tighter, as expected, and the Florida electorate during presidential years leans Democratic.

The intriguing storylines of Miami-Dade's judicial races

via @DavidOvalle305

One judicial candidate is suing his opponent over her ownership in Miami erotic motels. A prospective judge has a résumé that includes being suspended from practicing law for three years. One incumbent judge is fighting for his seat against a former Florida House representative.

Though Florida judicial elections feature normally dry campaigns, next week’s races in Miami-Dade nevertheless offer some tantalizing story lines.

In all, 10 seats — six in Miami-Dade circuit court, four in county court — are up for grabs in the Aug. 30 election. Another 18 judges earned reelection in May when no one chose to run against them.

In Florida, candidates are limited in how they campaign. They can’t make promises other than to be fair and impartial, can’t commit to positions about the law and can’t personally solicit donations.

But allegations laid out in a lawsuit have elevated the interest in the race of incumbent circuit judge Jason Bloch, who earlier this month sued his opponent, Marcia del Rey, saying discrepancies in financial disclosures and credentials should bar her from being on the ballot.

More here.

Clinton pitches public-health fund for Zika, other outbreaks

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In response to Miami’s rash of Zika infections, Hillary Clinton on Wednesday will propose the creation of a public-health fund with money available year-round to quickly respond to disease outbreaks.

The Democratic presidential candidate cited congressional inaction on Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that has spread in South Florida during lawmakers’ seven-week summer recess. Legislators left Washington in mid-July after having failed to pass President Barack Obama’s emergency-funding request to fight Zika — and won’t return until after Labor Day.

“Uncertain long-term budgets leave our public health agencies dependent on emergency appropriations — meaning that when Congress fails to step up, communities are left without the resources they need, vaccines languish in development, and more people get sick,” Clinton said in a statement that in addition to Zika referred to the Ebola virus and other diseases and public-health threats.

Clinton’s proposed “Public Health Rapid Response Fund” would be aimed at providing financial relief to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health and Human Services Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state and local public health departments and hospitals.

Clinton did not specify where money for such a fund would come from, or how much would be in it — other than she’d like for it to have “consistent, year-to-year budgets.”

More here.

Photo credit: Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

August 22, 2016

Miami Beach mayor blames Florida governor for slow Zika response


Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine on Monday blamed Florida Gov. Rick Scott for the confusing way in which his city conveyed information about the Zika virus outbreak.

"The governor made, I believe, a big mistake by not believing the folks that are on the ground -- myself, [Miami-Dade County] Mayor [Carlos] Gimenez -- informing us, telling us what he knows," Levine told reporters at a news conference.

"This issue is serious," Levine continued. "To play politics with people's lives is wrong, and there's no place for that. Information must be timely. It must be coming out."

Levine, a Democrat who wants Scott's job, had insisted to reporters Thursday night that Miami Beach had no confirmed Zika cases -- even after the Miami Herald and later other news media reported otherwise, citing sources inside the Florida Department of Health.

The next day, Republican Gov. Scott traveled to Miami to announce the new Zika cases on the Beach, making Levine look like he was either uninformed or more interested in protecting the city's tourism business.

Continue reading "Miami Beach mayor blames Florida governor for slow Zika response" »

Joe Garcia declines to explain post-debate outburst

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In an apparent attempt to turn the page on an embarrassing incident, former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia declined in an interview aired over the weekend to offer any details on his outburst last week at a Spanish-language TV debate moderator.

"I've been friends with these people for a long time," the Miami Democrat told "Al Punto Florida" in an interview aired Sunday. "In all these things, they as well as I have said what happened."

In fact, neither side has explained the incident, which was overheard by several América TeVé employees and related to the Miami Herald. Garcia wouldn't comment to the Herald last week. His spokesman, Javier Hernandez, insisted nothing had happened -- though it's clear from Garcia's response to "Al Punto Florida" that something did.

After a televised debate against primary rival Annette Taddeo, Garcia lashed out about perceived biased in the questions he was asked. During the heated argument, Garcia at one point used the insult "comemierda."

Garcia did reiterate to anchor Ambrosio Hernandez on "Al Punto Florida" that he apologized for using the wrong name last week for debate anchor Felix Guillermo. Garcia had repeatedly called him "Ricardo."

"But that's all that happened," he said.

Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff

August 21, 2016

Miami Beach mayor talks Zika outbreak on New York radio show


UPDATE: It's not completely clear from the audio, but the first segment of the radio show referenced in this post was pre-recorded Tuesday, Aug. 16. Mayor Philip Levine's statements about Zika in South Florida were made before news reports a few days later about the virus spreading to Miami Beach. Levine spoke with the host again in a follow-up phone interview (attached to the end of the segment) after Friday's announcement that Zika had spread. This post has been updated to reflect the timeline.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine appeared on a Sunday morning AM radio show in New York to talk about the Zika outbreak in South Florida.

Speaking in a pre-recorded segment from last Tuesday on the CATS Roundtable, a weekly show hosted by millionaire grocery-chain owner John Catsimatidis, he said the "small, little outbreak of Zika" in Wynwood was contained and compared increased concerns to an old wive's tale.

“We have have a Jewish word for it. It’s called a "bubbameister," Levine said. "It’s a grandmother's tale. I mean, the media loves to build it up, but you know, it’s something that we’re watching, it’s closely contained and it certainly hasn’t disrupted the business of Miami.”

Listen to the entire segment here.

"Right now, business is booming," Levine said. "Everyone’s coming to Miami Beach."

That might not be the case going forward. On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott told the press — even before he told local elected officials — that Zika had arrived in Miami Beach with five confirmed cases.

After Friday's announcement, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention advised pregnant women were advised not to travel to a majority of South Beach, Levine spoke with Catsimatidis again for the show via phone. He talked about the city's ramped-up efforts to eliminate standing water across the city so mosquitoes can't breed.

"We hope to get that advisory for that one small section taken away as soon as possible," he said.

On Saturday night, it certainly seemed like nothing in South Beach had slowed down. A day after state officials confirmed five cases of Zika in the Beach and announced the new zone of local transmission, the tourist hotspot was business as usual.

Cher raises $130,000 for Hillary Clinton in Miami


Cher's fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in the LGBT community in Miami Friday night raised about $130,000, said Tony Lima, executive director of SAVE, a gay rights group.

The fundraiser was hosted by gay rights activist Bradley Carlson in Wynwood. State Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, the first openly gay state legislator, officiated. Clinton didn't attend.

Clinton has been courting the LGBT vote in Florida and other states. She is a supporter of gay rights and announced her support for same-sex marriage in 2013 before she ran for president. Donald Trump has consistently opposed same-sex marriage since 2000.

Both Clinton and Trump have made repeat visits to South Florida this summer as they seek votes in the swing state.

Clinton's running mate, Gov. Tim Kaine, will fundraise in Broward County Friday. No public events have been announced yet.

Photo supplied by Lima who is pictured above (left) with his partner Yonel Galano.

August 20, 2016

Miami Beach mayor accuses Rick Scott of "playing politics" with Zika information



Amid the public health concerns and worries about impacts on tourism, the news of Zika spreading to Miami Beach has set off a political quarrel between Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine — rumored to be eying a gubernatorial run in 2018 — and Gov. Rick Scott.

He's taken to cable news channels to accuse Scott of withholding information from him about the presence of Zika in the popular resort city, which is a crucial economic engine for the region's tourism industry.

Fourteen hours after Levine told reporters late Thursday that there was "no outbreak, no epidemic of Zika on Miami Beach," Scott held his own press conference in Miami to announce that five cases were confirmed and Zika was being transmitted locally in South Beach. 

On Friday, Levine blamed Scott for a lack of communication that left the mayor unaware of what was going on in his own city. On Friday night and Saturday afternoon, the mayor took to cable news networks to blast the governor. 

"On Friday, the governor played politics with this horrible issue," Levine told CNN's Martin Savidge on a live segment aired just after 1 p.m. Saturday.

That's after a Friday night appearance on MSNBC.


"It is so sad that this governor is withholding life-saving information and playing politics with it," he said.

When the Herald asked Scott's office for a comment Friday, a spokesperson seemed to say, in the same breath, that Scott has been in contact with local officials, but he didn't tell them about the new local cases until after his press conference.

"Governor Scott has been in contact with mayors, local officials and community leaders for weeks and will continue to keep them informed," a spokesperson wrote. "Friday afternoon, the Governor hosted a call with all of the local officials in Miami-Dade to give them updates on what is going on."

Meanwhile, Levine himself could benefit politically by throwing darts at Scott.

This isn't the first time the millionaire mayor has taken on Scott. Earlier this year, Levine bought a radio ad in California touting his proposal to create a citywide minimum wage, and the ad ran while Scott was in California. During that trip, Scott criticized the state's high taxes and labor costs.

He's also promoted Beach issues on a national level, putting the oceanside city in the spotlight when it comes to sea-level rise and U.S.-Cuba relations. And he is now a regular contributor on cable news shows talking about the presidential election (he's a Hillary Clinton surrogate and personal friend of the candidate).

Levine has said he wants to run for a third term as mayor, but he has not ruled out a run for the top spot in Tallahassee.