June 04, 2015

The long list of big political names who've spoken at Miami Dade College


Miami Dade College will get a moment in the national spotlight June 15 when Jeb Bush kicks off his 2016 Republican presidential campaign. The university's used to it.

The list of presidents and presidential candidates who have delivered commencement speeches at one of the college's seven campuses over the years includes Vice President Joe Biden (2014), President Barack Obama (2011), former President Bill Clinton (2010), and President George W. Bush (2007). Jeb Bush himself spoke there as Florida governor in 1999 and 1997.

Bob Graham, who would become a presidential candidate in 2003, spoke in 1993. And Gary Hart, who ran in 1988, spoke in 1985.

The Bush brothers are Republican; the rest are Democrats.

Other Republicans have attended events hosted at the college, including during the Miami Book Fair International, a spokesman said: former Vice President Dick Cheney, presidential candidate Marco Rubio (whose own announcement was held at a college facility, the Freedom Tower), and former presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Former Vice President Al Gore (a Democrat) and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader (independent/Green Party) have also been featured.

A "leadership roundtable" series has drawn a number of political figures, including Clinton, Gore, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, and former First Lady Barbara Bush.

South Florida comms firm debuts newsletter of Spanish-language political chatter


The age of political newsletters has a new South Florida entrant, aimed at readers who don't speak español.

¿Qué pasa LSNC? intends to compile a digest of the previous day's news -- as delivered on prolific Spanish-language radio and television stations, whose current-affairs programming is far greater than most English-language stations.

The daily morning email, which has been going out in test form for a few weeks, is not compiled by a news organization, however. The briefing is the brainchild of Democrat Ben Pollara and Republican Jesse Manzano-Plaza at Miami Beach-based LSN Communications, a division of local government-affairs lobbying firm LSN Partners. Manzano-Plaza, a veteran of several campaigns, speaks Spanish. Pollara does not.

"South Florida's media market is unique: There are more TV and radio shows dedicated to covering current events, news and politics in Spanish than in English any day of the week," Manzano-Plaza said in a statement. Tracking what elected officials say on those shows -- many of which don't later post their interviews online, could be "an invaluable service," he added.

"I constantly felt like I was missing out on half or more of what was being said and was trying to play catch-cup with my colleagues who were always buzzing about the latest political interviews," Pollara said in the statement, by way of example.

It's unclear how ¿Qué pasa? will handle thorny matters raised on the shows that might deal with the firm's clients, though the creators said they will "report what they see or listen."

LSN Communications has assigned staffers to monitor the shows on weekdays and summarize (and translate) the key topics and interviews. It's still a challenge is alerting readers to which politicians have scheduled upcoming interviews -- in part because the shows themselves don't book always book guests very far in advance. 

June 03, 2015

Barbs over fizzled reality show lead to probe of Miami FOP president


The latest foray by the Miami Police Department into reality television has officially produced more internal affairs investigations (1) than episodes (none).

Last month, Lt. Javier Ortiz, president of Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police, criticized the department for its involvement in a proposed Miami PD reality series called Miami Blue. The show wasn't picked up by a network, but a trailer that featured an officer in a bikini with a badge gained attention last month when Ortiz said it was a recruiting video.

Ortiz said recently retired chief Manuel Orosa told him in 2013 that film crews shooting scenes in the trailers were filming a recruiting video. But Orosa, who filed a complaint against Ortiz, said that’s a lie.

“I filed an untruthfullness complaint against Javi [Ortiz] because he said I told him it was a recruitment video and I never spoke to Javi about a recruitment video,” said Orosa. “For him to use my name lying about any particular conversation he had had with me or did not have with me, I’m not going to stand for that.”

The Herald learned about the probe when a reporter received a call about Ortiz's statements in the media from Internal Affairs -- an uncommon, if not rare, occurrence. Orosa acknowledged that it's unlikely any investigation would prove his complaint, given the he-said-he-said aspect of the situation, but said his complaint wasn't political.

Reach by phone, Ortiz initially declined to comment, citing the open investigation. Later, he sent an email criticizing Orosa for failing to meet recruitment expectations and overseeing a spike in murders.

"People do desperate things when they are trying to clean up their reputation when looking for a job," he wrote.

Boat Show's gloves come off in fight with Key Biscayne


There's still a (small) chance that Key Biscayne officials will be able to resolve a high-profile lawsuit with the city of Miami over plans to build an $18 million park and event space on Virginia Key and host the Miami International Boat Show.

But the relationship between the tony island village and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Boat Show's parent company, appears irreparable after the latter took off the gloves this week and began to fight back.

For months, the Boat Show has taken hits from Key Biscayne, where elected officials say the massive event planned on the grounds of the Miami Marine Stadium and in the stadium basin will jam the Rickenbacker Causeway with traffic and overwhelm ecologically sensitive areas on Virginia Key. The village also sued the NMMA, alleging that the trade association was hiding public records.

For the most part, Boat Show representatives have dismissed accusations but focused on promoting the upcoming event at Marine Stadium rather than sparring publicly with Key Biscayne officials.

Until this week, when the NMMA sent out a press release accusing the village of launching "an aggressive campaign of mistruths" that could derail one of the region's largest conventions.

"As a good neighbor for more than seven decades, the boat show is focused on continuing that legacy at its new home at Miami Marine Stadium Park & Basin," the release stated. "At the same time, the Village of Key Biscayne has been spreading numerous mistruths in their attempt to stop the boat show from taking place, jeopardizing its future in Miami."

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June 02, 2015

Miami-Dade approves $367,000 compensation package for new top lawyer


Miami-Dade government may have a new top earner: incoming County Attorney Abigail Price-Williams.

County commissioners on Tuesday approved a compensation package to accompany the pending promotion for Price-Williams, with base pay of about $6,000 a week and monthly expense stipend of $3,000. A brief memo by Commission Chairman Jean Monestime outlines a compensation package that totals $367,000, which includes a $14,000 yearly bonus of deferred compensation or supplemental retirement money. 

Commissioners already named Price-Williams as successor to retiring County Attorney Robert Cuevas. The new pay package should make her the county's top-paid employee. She's currently listed as holding the No. 2 spot behind Cuevas.

A veteran of Miami-Dade's 121-person legal department, Price-Williams joined the office in 1990. Cuevas named her his deputy when he got the top job in 2007.

County commissioners named Price-Williams as Cuevas' successor in April, putting her in line to be the first woman and African-American  to hold the prestigious post of county attorney.

She will run the department that provides legal services to both the executive department under Mayor Carlos Gimenez, and to commissioners. Cuevas is the only non-elected official to have his portrait hanging outside the commission chambers at County Hall. 

A precise breakdown of compensation for Price-Williams and Cuevas wasn't available Tuesday, but Monestime said the proposed pay package was designed to match the package commissioners gave Cuevas in 2008. County payroll records show Cuevas, 69, earned $364,000 last year, and Price-Williams, 56, earned $333,000. Cuevas is retiring in September. 

Monestime's office put Price-Williams' compensation vote on Tuesday's agenda, but held back the actual proposed amount until minutes before commissioners voted on it. It passed the 13-member commission with only Juan C. Zapata voting no. 

The Monestime memo notes Price-Williams will keep her current benefits, which includes an $800 monthly car allowance. 

"We have the best law firm in the county," Commissioner Dennis Moss said in endorsing the compensation package. "They have a tremendous responsibility."

Bayside wants to help Miami fight Raquel Regalado suit over SkyRise



Bayside Markeplace is asking a judge to let it join the legal defense in a suit trying to block county funding of SkyRise Miami, the 1,000-foot observation tower set to go up on land that Bayside rents from the city.

The waterside shopping complex wants to be added as a defendant in the suit that county-mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado, and a top campaign donor, auto magnate Norman Braman, filed against both Miami-Dade and Miami, where her father serves as mayor. 

Regalado's opponent in the 2016 race, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, championed a $9 million county subsidy for SkyRise, a for-profit venture by developer Jeff Berkowitz. The funding request became public after Miami voters approved a referendum that described a "privately funded" observation tower on the Bayside property. 

Regalado's father, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, campaigned for the SkyRise referendum, but now has broken with Berkowitz, saying the county dollars violated the terms of the referendum. The lawsuit makes the same argument, and seeks to either revoke the county dollars or hold a second referendum. 

SkyRise itself was not named in the suit, and so far Berkowitz has stayed out of the legal fight. He's a top campaign contributor to Gimenez and members of the County Commission, which approved the property-tax allocation in December.

City and county lawyers sought to have the suit dismissed on grounds that Regalado and Braman don't have legal standing to challenge a ballot item approved by voters. They also note SkyRise's pursuit of public dollars was known to city officials before the referendum, and that any legal challenges should have happened in the run-up to the referendum process. 

Bayside serves as SkyRise's landlord, and argued it should participate in the suit to protect its interests. The SkyRise referendum also approved an extension of Bayside's lease with Miami. 

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June 01, 2015

Florida gay-rights group compares Marco Rubio to Anita Bryant in fundraising pitch


Marco Rubio's comments to a Christian network last week over same-sex marriage made it onto an email fund-raising pitch from SAVE, the Florida gay-rights advocacy group.

The email, which SAVE sent supporters late last week, compared Rubio to Anita Bryant, the one-time singer and beauty pageant queen who became the most-high profile opponent to Miami-Dade County's human-rights law in the late 1970s.

"If Senator Rubio wants to be president in 2016, he should know that Floridians won't support anti-LGBT attacks at the ballot box -- just ask fellow equality opponent and Floridian celebrity Anita Bryant, whose effort to legalize anti-gay discrimination in Miami-Dade County was overturned by voters in 2002 with SAVE's help," the email read.

It cited Rubio's remark that Christianity faces a "real and present danger" from rhetoric that suggests same-sex marriage opponents are prejudiced -- and therefore their religion might be, too. The comment was widely mischaracterized after a liberal group inaccurately claimed Rubio had called same-sex marriage itself a danger.

SAVE didn't get into the level of detail; it only noted Rubio's opposition to same-sex marriage. He has said there is no constitutional right for same-sex couples to wed, though he has also said the issue should be left up to the states.


Emily's List takes aim at Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo


Emily's List, the liberal group that helps fund progressive women in politics, has targeted Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo over his stances on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and the minimum wage.

The organization, which boasts 3 million members, has included the freshman Curbelo on its list of 15 House members to unseat in 2016, calling his short voting record as "anti-woman and anti-family." Curbelo faces a challenge so far from Democrat Annette Taddeo to represent a swing Westchester-to-Key West district. He's the only Florida member of Congress in Emily's List's sights.

"In less than five months into the 114th Congress, we have seen Congressman Curbelo put his personal interest ahead of his constituents by cosponsoring abortion bans, restricting women's access to health care, and not supporting minimum wage proposals that would benefit the most vulnerable women and families in Florida's 26th Congressional District," Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement.

The statement cited a single Curbelo vote -- restricting abortion after 20 weeks' gestation -- and two campaign comments last year (opposing increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and referring to Social Security and Medicare as a "Ponzi scheme") as reasons for trying to unseat him.

After voting in January for legislation tightening federal funding for abortions under Obamacare, Curbelo said in a statement that the policy was important to him.

"As a father and pro-life advocate, I strongly believe that life is a gift that must be cherished and protected," he said. "By prohibiting the use of federal funds to pay for abortion services, except in cases of rape, incest, or preserving the life of the mother, Congress has reaffirmed its commitment to advancing pro-life legislation and defending life."

His office made sure to note, however, that other sources of funding for abortions were unaffected.

May 29, 2015

Rallies planned for Everglades land purchase in advance of special Florida session

via @jenstaletovich

Conservationists who want Florida to preserve more land are holding rallies across the state Saturday in advance of the special legislative session that starts Monday.

The push follows a bitter fight during the regular session that included protests and a rally headlined by Jimmy Buffett to persuade lawmakers to buy U.S. Sugar land before a deal expired. Backers of Amendment 1, the constitutional amendment overwhelmingly supported in November, say the state needs to buy land for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee and order the South Florida Water Management District to lay out a plan for designing and building a reservoir they say is part of the original restoration plans for the wilting wetlands.

A South Miami rally, including Mayor Philip Stoddard, Miami-Dade County Commissioners Rebecca Sosa and Daniella Levine Cava and Audubon Florida, will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at South Miami's City Hall, 6130 Sunset Drive.


May 28, 2015

Mayor Gimenez promotes from within for department chiefs


Tara Smith, a deputy in Miami-Dade's procurement department, will take on the top job there, Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Thursday.

Smith's appointment as Internal Services director puts her in charge of an 880-person department that manages county facilities, runs its auto fleet and -- of great importance to County Hall's lobbyist corps -- oversees purchasing for a $6 billion budget. It was also the department at the center of the recent parking-services scandal, when Internal Services officials stumbled onto an alleged embezzlement scam.

Smith is a relative newcomer to Internal Services, having joined the department in 2013 after nine years in county government. An assistant director at ISD, she succeeds Lester Sola, who was tapped earlier this year as director of the Water and Sewer department.

Also on Thursday, Gimenez named  long-time aide Inson Kim to the county's Community Information and Outreach Department (often known as CIAO).

The 202-person department includes the 311 Answer Center, oversees the county's website and runs a 12-person television channel. Kim worked for Gimenez when he was a county commissioner, and continued as a top  aide when he was elected mayor in 2011. She recently left the mayor's office to run external affairs for the Regulatory and Economic Resources Department. 

CIAO faced its own scandal last summer when Henry Sori, then the department head, was suspended over an internal "team-building" video that featured employees air humping  and performing other antics. Sori, who left his post earlier this year, was suspended for five days after Channel 10 revealed the video's existence. 

Smith's yearly compensation will rise from $150,000 to $180,000 a year, and Kim's will go from $128,000 to $155,000, said Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández.

The announcement said the appointments were effective immediately. County commissioners don't need to approve mayoral appointments, but can veto them with a 2/3 vote.