July 06, 2015

Rep. David Richardson officially pulls out of race for Gwen Margolis' Senate seat

Fighting within the Democratic Party over a Miami seat in the state Senate seems to have subsided.

Last week, Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, officially pulled out of the race to replace Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove.

He had entered that election in January but said he would back out if Margolis decided to run again. Now, he says, it’s becoming clear that Margolis wants to stay in her seat.

“I’ve long said that I was not going to run against Sen. Gwen Margolis should she elect to run for reelection,” Richardson told the Times/Herald on Monday. “I believed that she probably would not run for reelection, but it has become clear to me that it’s more likely she will.”

Last week, Richardson filed paperwork with the state indicating that he won’t run for Senate until 2020.

That said, it’s a long time until November 2016. And Richardson said he will run whenever Margolis decides to step down.

If the venerable Senator — the longest-serving member of Florida’s Legislature and a former Senate president — decides to step down, Richardson plans to take the seat.

Richardson was first elected to the House in 2012. He’s the first openly gay member of the Florida Legislature. He has already collected $209,622.38 for his 2016 campaign.

July 02, 2015

Miami-Dade GOP legislators make a push for presidential candidates to campaign in favor of immigration reform

While presidential candidates who oppose immigration reform may gain support from a slice of GOP voters in early voting states, that stance will cost the GOP in battleground states in the general election, according to a new poll.

A group of Miami-Dade Republican officials hosted a teleconference with reporters Thursday to discuss the results of a poll of likely voters about their stances on immigration and make the case that presidential candidates should campaign in favor of immigration reform.

The poll was conducted in the early primary and caucus states with 400 GOP voters a piece in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. A similar poll was conducted of 800 voters in 10 battleground states including Florida which represented 23 percent of the respondents. The polls took place in April and May.

The poll was done by Burning Glass Consulting and The Partnership for a New American Economy, a group that brings together mayors and business leaders to make an economic case for changing immigration laws.

Rudy Fernandez, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush in the White House, speaking on behalf of the Partnership, said that the poll shows while an anti-immigration candidate may “gain a little bit and win favor with extremists” in early states, “you lost a lot in the general election.”

Continue reading "Miami-Dade GOP legislators make a push for presidential candidates to campaign in favor of immigration reform" »

County patience wearing thin as Miami Marine Stadium restoration stalls

@NewsbySmiley

Five years after giving the city of Miami a $3 million grant to help restore Miami Marine Stadium, patience is wearing thin over at Miami-Dade County.

Approved in 2010, the grant came with a condition that Miami come up with a plan by by April 2015 to fund the rehabilitation of the historic structure on Virginia Key. But, despite plenty of effort, the city has yet to do that, and the waterfront stadium remains vacant and unused.

In April, Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez and County Mayor Carlos Gimenez helped grant a four-month extension. But, as the new deadline looms, the city is focused on preparing the stadium grounds to host the Miami International Boat Show and is tied up in a legal dispute with the Village of Key Biscayne.

Miami has yet to lay out a formal vision for revitalizing the venue. And a second extension doesn't appear to be a lock.

"Mayor Gimenez is not happy that there has been an apparent lack of progress in the City of Miami," said Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández. "Certain issues were supposed to be addressed in April and to our knowledge, they have not been. The mayor will be preparing a letter to City leaders in the coming days."

Suarez said he's hopeful that the city commission, which is expected to discuss the stadium restoration next week, will work its issues out with Key Biscayne now that the two sides have settled on a mediator. But he said an incident reported last week by The Herald in which city contractors illegally cut down mangroves by the stadium has embarrassed some elected officials.

"There are people around me who would very much want me to recommend we pull back on the $3 million," Suarez said. "I don’t mean my commissioners. I mean like chief executive of the county ... There’s a lot of impatience on this side of the interlocal government deal."

July 01, 2015

Miami politicians, Billy Corben team up for swimming fundraiser

@NewsbySmiley

It's not the most anticipated sporting event in Miami. But it will surely be among the most, um, unique.

Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff and County Commissioner Xavier Suarez are teaming up Friday morning to take on Suarez's son, Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, and local filmmaker Billy Corben in a relay race at the Elizabeth Virrick Park pool.

The elder Suarez coordinated the 11:45 a.m. event as a fundraising effort to avoid a summer fee for use of the West Grove pool at 3255 Plaza St. Kids were going to be charged $1, and adults $3 to swim, Suarez said, so each participant is contributing $1,000 to keep use of the pool free of charge.

"The idea that kids are going to get charged for the summer ... is absolutely ridiculous," the county commissioner said.

The race is just for show. Corben will be doing the breast stroke, competing against Xavier Suarez, who will break out the butterfly. The two city commissioners will swim freestyle.

Corben said there is a "strict no Speedo policy."

June 30, 2015

Raquel Regalado seizes on tax-district flub by Gimenez administration

@doug_hanks

The 2016 Miami-Dade mayoral race ran into some close quarters on Tuesday.

Raquel Regalado waited through hours of the County Commission meeting to speak out against a plan to increase fees on more than 100,000 properties within special taxing districts that fund security guards, lighting and landscaping for some communities. Mayor Carlos Gimenez's administration proposed the rates, saying there has been widespread under-billing thanks to a faulty accounting system. 

Regalado, a two-term school board member, is running to unseat Gimenez in 2016, and Tuesday was her first time addressing county commissioners as a candidate. 

"This is a clear case of mismanagement," Regalado told commissioners. Ten feet away on the elevated dais, Gimenez leaned back on his chair and stared intently as she spoke. "This commission has the opportunity to regain the public's trust and create a better process."

Regalado did not appear to make eye contact with Gimenez, who listened without expression during most of her remarks. (He chatted with an aide for a small part of it.) She spoke during a public-comment hearing that occurred before Gimenez and commissioners discussed the issue later in the meeting. 

Gimenez apologized for the need to raise fees, saying his administration moved quickly once the long-term problems were discovered. His Public Works department said a $2 million deficit needs to be closed in 2016 to make up for past under-billing. 

"I really do apologize to all impacted residents," Gimenez said. "This is a problem we uncovered recently."

June 29, 2015

County commissioner calls for Miami-Dade to snub Trump's Doral resort

@doug_hanks

County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava wrote Mayor Carlos Gimenez Monday and urged him to declare Donald Trump's Doral resort a hotel non grata for "official sanctioned events" after the presidential candidate's disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants and Univision, the Doral-based television network.

"I feel that Mr. Trump has shown great disrespect to our vibrant Hispanic community and to one of our community's most respected  corporate members," wrote Levine Cava, who represents southern Miami-Dade. On Monday, NBC said it was cutting ties with Trump, who hosts the popular Apprentice series on the network. 

Levine Cava's request wouldn't seem to have an immediate effect if granted, since Miami-Dade isn't known to hold any events at the Trump Doral golf resort (watch this space for updates if some turn up). She called  it a "preventive measure" on Monday.

But the letter certainly adds local fuel to a political firestorm following Trump's June 16 campaign announcement. He criticized U.S. border protections, and said Mexico was sending some of its worst citizens north, including "rapists." 

Continue reading "County commissioner calls for Miami-Dade to snub Trump's Doral resort" »

June 25, 2015

Feds charge three in Miami public-housing kickback investigation

via @DavidOvalle305

Two prominent Miami affordable-housing developers knowingly inflated the cost of construction projects in a complicated scheme that netted $7.2 million in kickbacks generated from grants and other government-generated funds, authorities said on Thursday.

Federal prosecutors charged Gonzalo DeRamon, co-founder of the Biscayne Housing Group, and Arturo Hevia and Rene Sierra, contractors alleged to have helped DeRamon line his pockets. Michael Cox, another Biscayne Housing executive, is also expected to be charged and has been cooperating with authorities.

The arrests are the opening law-enforcement salvos in a wide-ranging probe into South Florida’s preeminent affordable housing development company, Carlisle Development Group, which partnered with Biscayne Housing to build six inner-city apartment complexes between 2006 and 2010.

First disclosed by the Miami Herald in May of 2013, Carlisle has been under federal investigation amid allegations that the affordable-housing developer — now the biggest in Florida — may have defrauded a U.S. tax-credit program that subsidizes low-income rental projects nationwide.

More here.

Miami-Dade ordinance spells out how wrong it is to have sex with animals

@doug_hanks

Miami-Dade is set to add an anti-bestiality code to its animal-cruelty ordinance. That involves some explicit language detailing all of the acts that would be officially banned.

The law doesn't actually make anything new illegal in Miami-Dade -- all of the bestiality provisions are already covered by Florida law. But adding local provisions gives authorities more flexibility when it comes to charging people and rescuing animals. 

Florida lawmakers had some trouble officially banning human sex with animals several years ago, with some extended (and awkward) wrangling over the state anti-bestiality rules before passing a law in 2011. 

Miami-Dade's ordinance mirrors the state law. That requires some detailed language to avoid the loopholes that can arise when trying to legislate against a human getting sexual pleasure from an animal. See below for the explicit prohibitions that are proposed. 

Animal cruelty ordinance

June 23, 2015

Miami Beach to host U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in 2017

@joeflech

The meeting in summer 2017 will bring about 250 mayors from across the country to Miami Beach.

Miami Beach will host the 85th annual U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2017.

The summer meeting brings together about 250 mayors from across the country to discuss a wide range of issues and hear from guest speakers that have included the President and congressional leaders.

The nonpartisan organization is made up of mayors representing cities with populations of 30,000 or greater. This year’s meeting was held June 19-22 in San Francisco.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said he and the city staff worked with the Great Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz to support the Beach’s bid, which was successful during last weekend’s annual meeting. The Beach is well-equipped to host such an event, Levine said.

“Clearly our core competency is hosting large events,” he said. “That’s what we do for a living in Miami Beach.”

Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the conference, praised the Beach for its history and place in South Florida.

“We are pleased that the nation’s mayors will be convening in Miami Beach for our 2017 summer meeting,” he said in a news release. “It is a vibrant city with a rich architectural heritage. Moreover, it’s commitment to building a diversified economy by leveraging international trade opportunities holds many lessons from which we can learn.”

The last time the meeting came to Miami-Dade was when the city of Miami hosted in 2008. This is the first time Miami Beach will play host.

Florida elections commission fines ex-North Miami councilman who bounced checks

via @LDixon_3

Former North Miami councilman and mayoral candidate Jean Marcellus has been fined by the state’s elections commission for authorizing campaign expenses with insufficient funds during his mayoral run in 2013.

The Florida Elections Commission voted at its May meeting to fine Marcellus $6,800.

The fine adds to Marcellus’ recent history of mismanaging money, as he was disqualified from running for North Miami mayor in May’s election for writing a bad check to pay his $2,400 qualifying fee.

Marcellus declined to comment Monday, other than to say he wanted to get more details from his attorney.

The complaint was filed March 2014 by Ruth Ogen, who rented a space to Marcellus for his campaign headquarters. Ogen said that he owed her four $1,500 payments for the space and that three of his checks bounced when he tried to pay. Eventually Marcellus paid Ogen $4,500 of the $6,000 that he reported on his campaign finance documents.

Marcellus told the commission’s investigators that he thought there was enough cash in the account to cover the rent payments. He blamed the shortfall on bounced checks from campaign contributors.

In total, the investigation found 34 instances where Marcellus approved spending without sufficient funds.

He finished in fifth place in the 2013 race and third in the 2014 special election to replace former Mayor Lucie Tondreau.

Before his mayoral aspirations, he was a city councilman from 2009 to 2013 representing North Miami’s District 3.

--LANCE DIXON