May 12, 2016

Opa-locka city manager paid himself nearly $40K amid city's financial meltdown

via @MikeSallah7 @jayhweaver

While under investigation in an FBI public corruption case, Opa-locka’s city manager directed tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to himself for benefits he was not entitled to as the city teetered on the edge of financial collapse.

Just days after David Chiverton was identified by FBI informants as a suspect in the criminal investigation, the 51-year-old city manager approved two payments totaling nearly $40,000 to himself in what are violations of the city’s policies for employees, the Miami Herald found.

One of the payments for $14,160 was for unused vacation time and the other — $24,982 — was for sick time that far exceeded what he was allowed to receive under the city’s rules.

While Chiverton was receiving the payments, the city was struggling to cut costs amid a financial meltdown so dire that the governor’s office might still have to declare a state of emergency. On Wednesday night, commissioners slashed the work week for most employees to 32 hours to cut costs.

Chiverton, who was appointed acting city manager in November, acknowledged he received two payments recently “to take care of unforeseen expenses,” but said his actions did not violate the city’s rules.

More here.

Competitive South Florida state Senate seats bring in more big bucks

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@ByKristenMClark

Three contested state Senate seats in Miami-Dade County are continuing to attract a lot of cash, new campaign finance reports released this week show.

The fierce battle between current Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Democrat Andrew Korge in District 39 -- already the most expensive Senate race in the state by March -- continued to produce significant fundraising for both candidates in April.

But it was Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla who had the strongest fundraising among the county's most competitive races last month.

Continue reading "Competitive South Florida state Senate seats bring in more big bucks" »

May 11, 2016

Miami's Republican mayor won't vote for Trump or Clinton

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@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado remembers walking to school as a young man in Miami and getting heckled.

"They said, 'Spic, go back home,'" he recalled in an interview with the Miami Herald. "Because I had very dark hair."

That discrimination still feels raw for the 68-year-old, now silver-haired, mayor, who was born in Cuba. And the memory is one of the reasons why he said he won't vote for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in November.

"No, of course not," said Regalado, a Republican in a non-partisan post.

Regalado, who backed Trump rival Marco Rubio, said he won't be casting his ballot for likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, either.

"I'm not going to vote for one or the other," he said, echoing fellow Miami Republicans like former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The highest-ranking local Republican, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, didn't respond to requests for comment.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald file

May 10, 2016

Miami mayor stumbles into transgender-bathroom debate

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@PatriciaMazzei

No one sitting around the table on MiraTV’s Prohibido Callarse news-talk show Monday night asked Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado what he thought of North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law. But he wanted to have his say anyway.

“I do have a problem” with transgender people using the public restrooms of their choice, Regalado cut in, after another guest, former state Rep. J.C. Planas, had told host Roberto Rodríguez Tejera he didn’t. “I do have a problem,” Regalado continued, “because I have grandsons and granddaughters.”

And thus began 12 hours of uncomfortable explaining and re-explaining for Regalado, who found himself tangled in the complicated web of politics that surround the country’s latest civil-rights fight.

North Carolina wants people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate. The U.S. Justice Department called the law discriminatory. On Monday, the state sued the feds — and the feds sued back.

Miami-Dade County already protects transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment and use of public facilities. The city of Miami has similar protections for gender identity.

Still, over the course of two Spanish-language interviews — on TV Monday night and on radio Tuesday morning — Regalado struggled to articulate his position.

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

Ana Rivas Logan could run for state Senate in Miami-Dade district

@ByKristenMClark

Former state lawmaker and Miami-Dade School Board member Ana Rivas Logan said she's considering coming out of political retirement because she doesn't want to risk Florida Democrats losing a Senate seat in Miami-Dade County to, what she called, a "Trump Republican."

Rivas Logan -- a former Republican who switched to the Democratic Party in 2014 -- is mulling a run for Senate District 40, where current Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, is facing state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami. Independent Mario Jimenez is also running for the seat.

Rivas Logan says she doesn't expect to make a final decision on her potential candidacy for a couple weeks, but right now "I'm leaning 'yes,'" she said Tuesday.

"I'm very comfortable with what I'm doing now" such as spending time with her family and staying involved in education issues and community activities, Rivas Logan said. "To get back in the game would be a total change of my lifestyle. But I’m so strongly opposed to Trump Republicans, that it just turns my stomach."

Continue reading "Ana Rivas Logan could run for state Senate in Miami-Dade district" »

May 09, 2016

Poll: Medical pot scores high among Miami-Dade voters

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County voters want to legalize medical marijuana, according to a new local poll — but perhaps not by high enough numbers to score passage of a proposed Florida constitutional amendment come November.

Voters favor allowing physicians to recommend pot for medicinal purposes by 61-36 percent, with only 3 percent undecided, the poll by Bendixen & Amandi International found. That’s a fat enough super-majority to clear the state’s 60-percent amendment threshold — but just barely.

The narrow margin might worry proponents of the ballot measure, said Coral Gables pollster Fernand Amandi, who conducted the survey for the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald, WLRN and Univision 23.

“On these constitutional questions over the years, what I have found is that support needs to be in the mid-60s to feel confident that this thing is going to pass,” said Amandi, a Democrat unaffiliated with the advocacy group pushing for legalization, United for Care.

Two years ago, another Bendixen & Amandi poll suggested the popular medical-cannabis effort might be vulnerable to an opposition campaign aimed at Cuban-American conservatives in liberal-leaning Miami-Dade. Led by Drug Free America, that’s what opponents did. The amendment garnered 58 percent support statewide (and in Miami-Dade) in 2014, not enough to pass.

More here.

Poll: Hillary Clinton trounces Donald Trump in Miami-Dade

@PatriciaMazzei

Hillary Clinton is so much more popular than Donald Trump among Miami-Dade County voters that even a significant number of Republicans support her in the likely presidential match-up, a new local poll has found.

Clinton leads Trump by a whopping 52-25 percent, with 23 percent of respondents undecided, according to the poll by Bendixen & Amandi International for the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald, WLRN and Univision 23.

One-fifth of Republicans said they back Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has yet to garner a GOP majority, with 48 percent of Republicans saying they’d back him and nearly a third undecided.

“This should be an early sign of potential concern and worry for the Trump campaign,” said pollster Fernand Amandi, a Democrat who is not working for any presidential campaign. “If she gets 20 percent of Republican voters statewide, it’s going to be a very early night on Nov. 8.”

Several prominent local Republicans have said they can’t back Trump, although they also won’t vote for Clinton.

More here.

Miami-Dade, 2016 bellwether for flipping Florida House seats

@PatriciaMazzei

Democratic consultant Steve Schale of Tallahassee posted an analysis to his blog Monday ranking the 10 Florida House of Representatives races most likely to flip parties in this year's elections.

He includes two based in Miami-Dade County -- the Hialeah seat Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. is trying to keep, and the open, Central Dade seat now held by Republican Rep. Erik Fresen -- but warns that more GOP districts could flip if there's a Hillary Clinton landslide over Donald Trump:

 I have felt for several years that one day, on the Wednesday after the election, we will wake up and the Democrats will have won several seats in Dade County that no one saw coming.  This might be the year.  These incumbents all live in seats Obama either one or lost in narrow margins:  Trujillo, Oliva, Bileca, Artiles (Open), and Nunez.  In the other two, Avila and Pepe Diaz, the voter registration and Presidential top of the ticket trend lines are working against the Republicans, though they are in far safer seats for Republicans than the other five.  Right now, none of the above have Democratic candidates that merit inclusion on this list, though I have heard the Democrat getting into the Artiles open could be formidable.  But that doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention.  In 2012, Jeff Soloman put a much closer than expected five point scare into Bileca -- and if the D's had thrown a candidate into almost any of the other seats, Obama might have pulled another Mark Danish or Carl Zimmermann across the line.  If Trump loses Dade by 30 points or more -- which is extremely possible at this point -- I would bet lunch that at the wave carries one of the above to the Dem column.

Ex-Miami-Dade commissioner once convicted for bribery found dead in Georgia; wife charged

via @CTeproff

James “Jimmie” C. Burke, a former Miami-Dade County commissioner who was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for accepting bribes in the late 1990s, was found dead Saturday in his Georgia home, his brother James J. Burke said.

Waycross police arrested Jimmie Burke’s wife, Sonia Burke, 58, and charged her with murder.

According to police, Sonia Burke called 911 just after 4 p.m. Saturday to report that she was having a hard time breathing. When paramedics arrived, she pointed them to a bedroom, police said. After forcing their way in, paramedics found Jimmie Burke, 68, dead.

Sonia Burke was arrested and taken to the hospital to be treated for a possible overdose, police said. While police are still investigating, Waycross Police Chief Tony Tanner said in a news release that it appeared Jimmie Burke died from “gunshot wounds during a domestic dispute.”

James J. Burke said Sunday “they were having problems.”

More here.

20 cents may cost Miami lawyer a run for judge

via @DavidOvalle305

Twenty cents may have cost a Miami-Dade lawyer a chance to run for judge.

The campaign for attorney Daniel Espinosa, who was filing to run against incumbent Rosa Rodriguez, last week issued a check to the state for the candidate “qualifying fee.” The amount was for $5,843.

But the fee to Florida’s division of election was supposed to be for $5,843.20. The oversight got his name stripped from the candidates’ list after Friday’s noon qualifying deadline.

So for now, technically, Rodriguez has no opposition.

Espinosa, in a letter to the division of elections sent Friday, pleaded that his check be accepted — or he be allowed to pay the 20 cents extra. Espinosa said he and his wife — they have four children — contemplated the candidacy for over a year.

“This is my dream, and I respectfully ask that you allow me to go through with it,” Espinosa wrote. “Sorry for the inconvenience I have caused.”

Espinosa, a lawyer since 2010, heads a small “boutique” firm in Kendall that specializes in civil-rights law and property insurance cases, according to its website.

The gaffe was first reported by the blogger known as “The Captain,” who writes for Miami’s Justice Blog. Rodriguez, a circuit judge in the civil division, has been on the bench since 1998.

--DAVID OVALLE