March 13, 2015

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson pass Senate recognition of late Miami activist


The U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a resolution Thursday honoring the late Georgia Ayers, a longtime Miami community activist who died Feb. 17. The tribute was sponsored by Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.

The resolution highlights "the lifelong commitment of Georgia Jones-Ayers to bettering the lives of the people of South Florida" and offers condolences to her family. Ayers founded a local food bank and a renown program that provided first-time criminal offenders with an alternative to jail time.

"Ms. Jones Ayers dedicated her life to helping at-risk youth in South Florida, a career that touched countless lives and has inspired many others to carry on her work," Rubio, a Republican, said in a statement Friday. "Georgia will be missed, but her memory and the impact of her work will live forever on."

When the two senators introduced the resolution Feb. 24, Nelson, a Democrat, also issued a statement praising Ayers' life work.

"With the passing of Georgia Jones Ayers, we have lost a fearless community activist," he said. "Thanks to her efforts, many troubled youth were given a second chance for a better life."

March 11, 2015

Miami-Dade mayor raises $172,000 in February



January was an astounding fund-raising month for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, and February's results highlight that fact.

The political committee Gimenez is using for his 2016 reelection campaign reported $171,750 in contributions for February, according to a report filed this week. That follows a whopping $500,000 haul in January, Gimenez's first month of fundraising for an election that's still a year and a half away. 

Coastal Construction, a large commercial builder with offices in Miami, is now the top single donor for Gimenez's Miami-Dade Residents First. The company gave $20,000 in February.

Genting, the Malaysian-based casino company that owns the former Miami Herald site in downtown Miami, gave $15,000. Genting rival Magic City Casino donated $10,000. In all, Miami-Dade Residents First has collected $671,952 and spent $13,360, according to elections-department records.  

Gimenez's one declared challenger, school board member Raquel Regalado, is using a long-standing committee that backed past races for her and  her father, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. The committee, Serving Miamians, reported one contribution in February: $5,000 from Forum Real Estate Group.

Potential challenger Xavier Suarez, a county commissioner, reported no contributions to his political committee, Imagine Miami, since December.  

March 10, 2015

Miami: land of fun, sun, and soiled diapers

via @NewsbySmiley

The rich and the famous come to Miami for myriad reasons: fabulous weather, intoxicating nightlife and .... poopy diapers?

In what may be a first for Miami,  City Commissioner Frank Carollo invited actor Ashton Kutcher Tuesday to the Magic City in order to take advantage of diaper-changing stations added by the dozens recently to public restrooms.

The invite, issued through the city's press office, followed a gripe by Kutcher on his Facebook page after he recently took his baby to a men's room and discovered there was nowhere to change her diaper. "The first public men's room that I go into that has one gets a free shout out on my FB page!" Kutcher wrote on March 8 in a post that receive more than 200,000 "likes."

"I hope he manages to bring awareness to this issue so that men's restrooms across the nation are fitted with diaper-changing stations," Carollo said in a statement. The commissioner sponsored legislation in 2012 to add diaper-changing stations to men's restrooms in Miami, and fund-raised the money to install them.

March 09, 2015

Rebeca Sosa: I am not running for Miami-Dade mayor


The 2016 mayoral field in Miami-Dade County became a little clearer Monday when Rebeca Sosa, the former chairwoman of the County Commission, said definitively she will not run for the office.

"I'm not running," she said in an interview, one day after school board member Raquel Regalado announced she would. "I'm totally concentrated on my district, and so many needed issues at the county level."

Now in her fourth term on the County Commission, Sosa was said to be privately toying with the idea of a run against Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2016.

She led the failed opposition to Gimenez's $9 million subsidy package for SkyRise Miami, and sponsored legislation that gave one-time raises to non-union county workers after Gimenez's budget failed to include the extra compensation. After two years as chairwoman of the commission, Sosa could have brought high visibility to the race and a strong following among the all-important Hispanic voters. 

A close ally of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Sosa also courts the more liberal wing of Miami-Dade County with initiatives tied to climate change and carving out more time for the Ludlam Trail planning process. 

It was never clear how serious Sosa was considering a mayoral run. After drawing no challengers for her 2014 reelection effort, Sosa returned contributions from her $300,000 war chest. ("They gave it to me for a reason," Sosa said Monday of campaign donations. "If that reason goes away...")

In past interviews, Sosa has said she was happy with her current job. But this appears to be the first time she has definitely said she is not running for Miami-Dade mayor. (We'll update this post with other instances as they come up.)

Sosa did reveal one possible task in 2016 involving the mayoral post: Eliminating it as it functions today. She said she wants Miami-Dade to repeal its "strong  mayor" form of government, instituted by  voters in 2007, and go back to the system of a county manager being the top executive.  "I think the strong mayor is hurting us," she said. "The county is too big.

"The mayor needs to concentrate on connecting with the public and the people, and let the professionals manage the government," she said.

As for Regalado, Sosa had kind words but not an endorsement. "I think Raquel is a very bright woman. I have a great relationship with her father," Sosa said of Tomás Regalado, Miami's mayor. "Let's see what happens." 

On Gimenez, she said: "I agree on some things with the mayor, and I disagree on some things with the mayor."

Mike Fernandez resurrects Flag of Gratitude talks with Miami

via @NewsbySmiley

Coral Gables Healthcare mogul Mike Fernandez has resumed his efforts to fly a massive American flag some 40 stories above downtown Miami –- a city he recently ripped for its “petty” and “dirty” politics.

Last week, to her surprise, Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez received an email from a lawyer representing Fernandez in his quest to build a 425-foot flag pole in Museum Park as a tribute to U.S. veterans. On March 5, Fernandez’s attorney, John Shubin, forwarded an email chain from October in which he submitted a written proposal for what Fernandez calls the Flag of Gratitude.

“Based on much interest and support from the community, Mike Fernandez wishes to continue to see what steps are necessary for the City to accept his donation of an iconic American flag,” Shubin wrote, noting that “there had not been any follow up to the email thread from late October.”

The last email in that chain was dated Oct. 29. The next day, Fernandez told the Miami Herald that he was likely giving up his quest to erect the flag in Miami after some city officials tried to shake him down.

“To me, it is greatly disappointing that some people can be as petty as they are. It is unbelievable,” he said at the time, without naming names.

To build the flag in Museum Park, Fernandez needs the city’s permission, as it would be on public, bayfront land.

Fernandez, who recently published a book about his rags to riches life story, says the country’s tallest flag pole and the enormous flags hoisted to its peak will be constructed with private money. He created a foundation to fund the operation and maintenance of the structure.

Mendez, after confirming that Fernandez was indeed still interested in working with the city – “We thought the project had been abandoned in the city of Miami,” she wrote to Shubin -- said she’d follow up.

March 08, 2015

Raquel Regalado: I am running for Miami-Dade mayor


School board member Raquel Regalado said Sunday she plans to run for Miami-Dade mayor, saying the county needs a “different direction” than the one offered by Carlos Gimenez, who has held the office since 2011.

“I think the decisions being made right now are having such a dramatic impact on our lives,” Regalado, 40, said in an interview Sunday, referring to Gimenez. “I don’t think we need to raise taxes. I do think we need to re-evaluate how we’re conducting business, and rethink our priorities.”

Anticipated for weeks, Regalado’s announcement brings Gimenez, 61, his first official opponent as he gears up to run for his second full term on a pledge of flat taxes, administrative competence and shared prosperity. It also draws a formal political dividing line between the mayors of Miami-Dade and Miami, where Regalado’s father,  Tomás Regalado, serves as mayor.

Regalado said she plans to file formal candidacy papers Monday, and will also release a series of campaign videos highlighting her message.

Regalado has already released two anti-Gimenez videos – one criticizing his Feb. 26 State of the County speech and the other slamming  a mega-mall project he wants to bring to Miami-Dade. She also joined billionaire activist Norman Braman in suing both Miami and Miami-Dade over SkyRise Miami, a project that city voters approved in August that won a county subsidy with Gimenez’s backing after the successful referendum. Regalado and Braman claim the county dollars violate the referendum’s description of a privately-funded project.

Regalado’s planned run for mayor sets up a battle between a two-term school board member with little administrative experience and  a long-time public administrator now in his fifth year as Miami-Dade’s top  executive.  

Continue reading "Raquel Regalado: I am running for Miami-Dade mayor" »

March 07, 2015

Miami-Dade asks Florida for money to buy rare forest eyed for Walmart

via @jenstaletovich

An endangered forest where a developer wants to build a Walmart has a new suitor: Miami-Dade County.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Commissioner Dennis Moss said Friday the county would like to purchase 88 acres near Zoo Miami, hoping to derail plans by a Palm Beach County developer to build a shopping center on the land featuring the box store, an LA Fitness, restaurants and apartments. The development plans, announced last year, set off blistering protests from residents and environmentalists.

“We feel it’s the right thing to do,” Gimenez said after announcing the purchase plans in a meeting with the Miami Herald editorial board.

However, the deal hinges on whether the county can obtain money under Amendment 1, a state constitutional amendment to help buy endangered land now being haggled over in the Florida Legislature, Gimenez said. And it also depends on whether developer Peter Cummings wants to be courted.

In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday, Gimenez and Moss asked for money — but not a specific amount — spelling out the significance of the property, which is part of the last, largest intact tract of rockland outside Everglades National Park and is home to a menagerie of endangered bats, butterflies and plants. Pine rockland, a globally imperiled forest, once covered 185,000 acres in the county, the letter said. It now grows in fragmented chunks on just 3,700 acres.

More here.

March 06, 2015

Raquel Regalado slams mega-mall plan in Miami-Dade



Looking more like an official candidate for mayor, school board member Raquel Regalado issued a video statement Friday slamming Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez for helping broker a deal to bring the nation's largest mall to Northwestern Miami-Dade. 

The video posted on Regalado's Facebook page followed what may be the first-ever video rebuttal to the mayor's State of the County address last week. Regalado has said she is considering a run for county mayor in 2016, but has not announced her candidacy. 

In the latest video, Regalado criticized the proposed American Dream Miami mall and theme park for offering low-wage retail and hospitality jobs. "We should focus on diversifying our economy," she said in the English version of the video. (The La Poderosa radio host also posted a Spanish version.)

In his announcement this week, Gimenez touted American Dream as a boon to the economy and noted high-wage jobs are out of reach for many county residents.

Regalado criticized that remark Friday. "It's shameful that our mayor has such a low opinion of our residents and neighbors," she said. 

Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández declined to comment on the video. 

Regalado's position on the $4 billion project, which promises 25,000 permanent jobs, isn't just of political interest. Developer Triple Five wants vacant state land currently leased by the school system. The nine-member school board must endorse the deal, which involves Triple Five paying $7 million to compensate the system for giving up its lease. 

"Thankfully, Miami-Dade County School Board will weigh in on this project, the viability of this plan, and the impact it will have on surrounding communities," said Regalado, now serving her second term on the board. 

Miami-Dade mayor: a downtown Tri Rail station is 'once in a lifetime opportunity'



Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez made his case Friday for contributing $8 million in county funds to help build a Tri Rail station in All Aboard Florida's downtown Miami rail complex. 

"All Aboard Florida will give us a once in a lifetime opportunity to link up Tri Rail with downtown," Gimenez said in a Friday meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board. "If we don't take advantage of that opportunity now, it's going to cost us five to six times more in the future."

As reported this week in The Miami Herald, Gimenez has already passed word that he favors Miami-Dade contributing the requested $8 million that Tri Rail says is needed to build a station in All Aboard's privately-owned railroad depot in Miami.

All Aboard, part of the Florida East Coast development company, is launching a railroad running from Miami to Orlando, and Tri Rail is a government entity with commuter trains that connect Palm Beach with Miami. Tri Rail's Miami depot is about 10 miles from downtown, and All Aboard and Tri Rail are pursuing a plan to put Tri Rail in the All Aboard complex, too. 

Gimenez said by using All Aboard's rail corridors, Tri Rail can link Miami's commercial district to coastal destinations at a tiny fraction of the cost for expanding the government-run rail. 

"You'll be able to get on a train in West Palm Beach and come to downtown Miami, and vice versa, with minimum public commitment to it," he said.  "If we had to replicate that route ourselves, it would cost us billions."

The $8 million ask from the county is part of a $69 million price tag that Tri Rail said is needed to make it happen. Miami's special Overtown taxing district would fund the bulk of the request, with the city of Miami also looked at for a potential contribution.  

Mayor Tomás Regalado is opposing the push for public funds. “I can’t support to compromise the general fund of the city of Miami just because Tri-Rail would be a good thing for downtown Miami,” Regalado told the Herald this week.

The potential stand-off provides some political fodder, since Regalado's daughter, Raquel Regalado, is preparing to run against Gimenez in the 2016 county mayoral race. 

"The city of Miami needs to come aboard, too," Gimenez said Friday. "This will do wonders for the city itself."

Ex-Homestead mayor appealing corruption conviction gets probation in campaign finance case

via @DavidOvalle305

Former Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman, already facing prison time on a corruption conviction, agreed to probation on additional allegations that he misspent campaign donations.

Bateman on Thursday pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor counts of unlawfully disposing of campaign funds.

He agreed to serve 18 months of probation and was granted a “withhold of adjudication,” meaning no conviction will appear on his record.

Prosecutors had alleged that Bateman illegally spent over $2,000 in campaign money after his reelection in 2011.

The misdemeanor case was always a minor sideshow to Bateman’s other legal woes.

The plea deal comes three months after another judge sentenced Bateman to 22 months in prison in an unrelated corruption case. Jurors convicted Bateman of illegally wielding his influence as mayor while secretly on the payroll of a healthcare company needing government clearance to build a clinic in Homestead.

More here.