November 11, 2015

Miami-Dade mayor laps rivals in debut campaign fundraising report


Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez raised more than $1.2 million for his reelection campaign last month, a muscular debut for a candidacy that only became official on Oct. 1.

Now in his fifth year as the county’s chief executive, Gimenez drew on a wide range of donors with business before the county to post an October fundraising haul that was more than both his rivals have raised all year. School-board member Raquel Regalado joined the race in March and has collected about $512,000 in 2015. County Commissioner Xavier Suarez raised $435,700 while publicly weighing a challenge to Gimenez throughout much of the year.

Suarez posted disappointing results from a long-awaited October fundraiser that he said would be a test of his ability to take on Gimenez, who is running for his second full term as mayor of Florida’s largest county. Suarez had hoped to raise $400,000 from a $200-a-plate banquet on Oct. 10, but the latest report shows he took in far less than that through the end of October.

“It certainly was enough to make me feel good about a political event,” Suarez, a former Miami mayor, said of the banquet. But the overall financial results fell short of the “high end of what I was looking at,” he said. “It's a tough road to hoe for a mayoral campaign, that's for sure.”

Monthly campaign reports offer a regular scorecard on how well candidates are courting donors, and October brought a decisive win for Gimenez. Though he has raised money all year for his political committee, October was his first official month as a candidate.

Gimenez raised just over $1,202,000 in October, compared to $94,250 for Suarez and $44,275 for Regalado. Since Suarez had to pay for the banquet, he posted about $78,000 in expenses for the month. In the end, Gimenez cleared about $1.17 million for the month, compared to $24,000 for Regalado and $16,500 for Suarez.

More here

November 10, 2015

Eyeing a mayoral run, Xavier Suarez falls short on big fund-raiser


Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez's self-described "seminal" October banquet did not appear to deliver the eye-popping results he wanted to prove his fund-raising ability to challenge Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2016.

The latest campaign report shows Suarez cleared less than $30,000 in October, with $94,250 coming in and $66,284 coming out -- money mostly spent on the Oct. 10 dinner dance where tickets cost $200 a piece. Suarez had been touting the event throughout much of 2015 as the former Miami mayor publicly flirted with a run for county mayor. Organizers said 2,000 people came out for what an emcee called the largest fund-raiser of its kind in Miami history. 

Numbers from the campaign reports suggest the results did not match the expectations. The banquet raised money for Suarez's commission-seat campaign, and that account showed $200,850 in contributions since it was formed in July. Assuming all money raised came in the form of banquet tickets, only 1,004 tickets would have been sold. 

In an August interview, Suarez said the Oct. 10 event would be a "seminal moment" in his decision-making on a possible run for county mayor. "A lot of it is based on whether I can attract this large number of people," he said at the time. 

Continue reading "Eyeing a mayoral run, Xavier Suarez falls short on big fund-raiser " »

Legal opinion: Votes for Teresa Sarnoff won't count in Miami commission election


It came one day later than expected, but the office of Miami's city attorney issued an opinion Tuesday declaring that votes cast for Teresa Sarnoff in the Nov. 17 election for the District 2 commission seat will not be counted.

The city is "bound by Florida Supreme Court precedent and Florida election procedures requiring that any votes for Teresa Sarnoff not be counted," wrote assistant city attorney Forrest Andrews. "Although the cost of having a runoff election is seemingly unnecessary, absent new case law from the Florida Supreme Court, this law can only be changed by act of the Florida legislature or the City Commission."

Tuesday's opinion comes one day after Andrews authored a memo stating that, though Sarnoff had publicly suspended her campaign several days earlier, the city could not remove her name from the ballot in the upcoming runoff election. Shortly after, Sarnoff sent the city clerk a letter declaring her withdrawal from the race, leaving frontrunner Ken Russell as the lone remaining candidate.

Andrews' opinion issued Tuesday stated that her letter was valid as a formal withdrawal. And while Sarnoff's name could not be removed from the upcoming ballot, Andrews said legal precedent and election procedures clearly showed that any votes cast for her should not be counted or deemed valid.

The city, he noted, must place disclaimers at polling places on election day informing voters that ballots cast for Sarnoff won't be valid.

The opinion should diffuse lingering uncertainty about the fate of the election, and cement Russell's claim to Miami's District 2 seat, which represents Coconut Grove, downtown and other waterfront neighborhoods vitally important to Miami's real estate market.

Click here to see the opinion: Download No votes opinion

November 09, 2015

Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez gets house arrest, probation


For-profit college operator Ernesto Perez — a big-time donor to South Florida politicians — officially pleaded guilty Monday to illegally bundling more than $159,000 in campaign contributions.

Perez, who owned Dade Medical College, will surrender in January to begin serving house arrest and probation.

Perez’s official sentence is three days in jail, but because the college operator is receiving credit for time already served, there will be no additional days behind bars.

The plea deal was first discussed last week when Perez was arrested on the campaign finance charges. It was postponed until Monday so attorneys on both sides could work out the details.

Perez also receives three years of probation, plus two months of house arrest. The college owner agreed to pay $150,000 to law enforcement for the cost of the investigation — $95,000 of which he has already paid, lawyers announced.

Perez will also make $50,000 in required charitable donations. The college owner will not be required to pay any restitution to his former students — Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ed Griffith said this is because the criminal charges settled on Monday dealt with Perez’s personal conduct, and not the actions of Dade Medical College.

More here.

Sarnoff withdraws from Miami District 2 runoff election (Will city accept?)


UPDATE: In his legal opinion, assistant city attorney Forrest Andrews indicates that the city may not be able to accept Teresa Sarnoff's withdrawal.

Andrews writes: "Because there is no mechanism in the City Charter of City Code provision, as to a candidate's withdrawal, we do not believe that the City Clerk has the power to accept a withdrawal at this stage of the electoral process."


Sorry conspiracy theorists, Teresa Sarnoff has withdrawn from Miami's Nov. 17 runoff election.

In a letter sent to Miami City Clerk Todd Hannon Monday afternoon, Sarnoff dropped out of the election, leaving Ken Russell as the only candidate in the race. Sarnoff, who came in a distant second to Russell in the Nov. 3 general election, told Hannon she hoped to spare the city the estimated $113,000 cost of the runoff election.

"Those funds would be better used to hire a City of Miami police officer," wrote Sarnoff, who made increasing Miami's police force a central issue in her campaign.

The election, however, will still be held. A legal opinion penned Monday by assistant city attorney Forrest Andrews indicated as expected that Miami's charter requires that a candidate be elected by at least 50 percent of the vote. And while the charter allows an unopposed candidate to be elected without a general election, Andrews said it does not consider such a scenario if a candidate who makes a runoff election withdraws.

"From a practical standpoint, it may seem expensive and unnecessary to hold a runoff election where a candidate withdraws leaving no opposition," Andrews wrote. "The Charter should not be read in such a manner."

Sarnoff indicated her intent to withdraw last week in a letter to the Miami Herald Editorial Board. Some critics continued to be suspicious that she may still be able to win the runoff election, but her withdrawal should end that speculation.

Though it wasn't part of Andrews' legal opinion, City Attorney Victoria Mendez has told several of Miami's elected officials that she doesn't believe votes for Sarnoff cast Tuesday will count.

November 07, 2015

Miami city attorney: runoff election will go on Nov. 17 with or without Sarnoff


UPDATE: Teresa Sarnoff says she plans to withdraw from the race Monday after the city attorney issues her opinion.

"I am going to be withdrawing and it's just waiting on the city attorney's opinion to make sure that our 'I's are dotted and our 'T's crossed," she said. "I like to do it by the law, not by the mayor."


Miami will have a Nov. 17 runoff election to declare a new District 2 Commissioner regardless of whether Teresa Sarnoff withdraws from the race, according to Miami's city attorney. But, should she withdraw, none of the votes cast for Sarnoff would count.

That opinion, expected to be officially issued Monday by City Attorney Victoria Mendez, should bring some clarity to a confusing situation created Thursday when Sarnoff, the runner-up in the general election, announced she would suspend her campaign and support frontrunner Ken Russell. But it means Miami will spend $100,000 to hold an election in which only one candidate is campaigning, and votes for the other may be completely irrelevant.

"A symbolic election would probably be wasteful," said Russell, who continues to canvas neighborhoods and push for votes. "The voters need a clear decision so we can move forward without ambiguity and get started with the business of the city."

Sarnoff, who did not respond to a request for comment Saturday, has said she would decide whether to withdraw after receiving clarity on what the law says and how the city would react.

Mayor Tomas Regalado and Commissioner Francis Suarez asked for a legal opinion. Mendez told the two officials Saturday that there's nothing in the law that speaks to the cancelling of an election due to a candidate's withdrawal, and that Miami's charter demands that a candidate receive more than 50 percent of the vote to be elected. Russell received about 42 percent Tuesday.

November 06, 2015

Florida Senate candidate pens letter to state rep who dismissed sea-level rise 'speculation'


Andrew Korge, the Miami Democrat running for the Florida Senate, seized Friday on comments made earlier in the week by a Republican state lawmaker who questioned the existence of climate change.

Korge, son of Democratic fundraiser Chris Korge, penned a letter to Rep. Ben Albritton of Wauchula, who said in an interview with Politico Florida: "I don't understand sea level rise, global warming -- this whole discussion."

"We want to be very careful of course in providing speculation or personal opinion on something that may be out 5, 10, 15 or 30 years from now, and not building concrete ideas or concrete decisions around this table on something that might be speculation," added Albritton, chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Korge, who is vying for the seat now held by Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis of Coral Gables, begged to differ, underscoring political differences in Florida not just over ideology but also over geography. Wauchula is landlocked, about 70 miles southeast of Tampa.

"I encourage the entire legislature to go online and look at pictures of sea level rise in south Florida," Korge wrote. "After seeing the pictures, I encourage you and your colleagues to come visit south Florida during the next king tide so you can see the massive amount of flooding and sea level rise that is jeopardizing Florida's future and our children's future.

"I will gladly serve as your tour guide, free of charge. Once you see the flooding with your own eyes, you will finally know that sea level rise is far more than 'speculation.'"

David Beckham may build Miami soccer stadium around homes if he can't buy them


David Beckham and his investors may not have to buy six private properties after all in order to build a Miami soccer stadium next to Marlins Park. If some of the property owners won't sell, the team now says they may just build around them.

"They could build around some of those properties," Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said Friday following a meeting with Tim Leiweke, an equity partner of Miami Beckham United. "That would be Plan B."

Continue reading "David Beckham may build Miami soccer stadium around homes if he can't buy them" »

Teresa Sarnoff concedes Miami election but will she withdraw (and will that matter)?


Teresa Sarnoff dropped a bombshell Thursday afternoon, announcing that she is conceding the race to claim Miami's District 2 commission seat in order to avoid a "messy" runoff election against sudden frontrunner Ken Russell on Nov. 17.

But she may have simply created a different kind of mess for the city's voters.

Announcing her decision in a letter to the Miami Herald editorial board, Sarnoff said she would throw her support behind Russell and suspend her campaign, but would not withdraw due to concerns that third-place finisher Grace Solares would sue. After Solares said she would not file a challenge, Sarnoff told the Miami Herald she may withdraw Monday, but could not say for sure due to a lack of clarity in how Miami's laws would handle such an action.

And so, it's possible that Miami voters may still be asked to head to the polls Nov. 17 to vote for their city commissioner, even though they've already been told the race is decided.

Tuesday's election results should be certified by a city canvassing board and the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections within the next few hours, at which point this situation may begin to sort itself out. But, for now, Miami is planning for the runoff election as if Sarnoff were still in the race.

Because, well, she is.

Continue reading "Teresa Sarnoff concedes Miami election but will she withdraw (and will that matter)?" »

November 05, 2015

Loanshark South Florida mayor tries to pay $4K ethics fine in pennies. Checks only, commission says

CUBO MONEDAS2via @BrendaMedinar

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez finally decided to pay the $4,000 fine the Miami-Dade County ethics commission imposed earlier this year on his business dealings with Ponzi schemer and one-time jeweler Luis Felipe Pérez

On Thursday, Hernandez sent the commission a truck stacked with 28 buckets filled with pennies to cover the fine. But his payment wasn't accepted. Apparently the commission accepts only checks.

Univision 23 reported commission officials asked Hernandez's emissaries to leave with the buckets -- and threatened to call police if they didn't. Commission members declined comment, according to Univision. 

"They don't want to take our money...Cash," Hernandez told Univision. "I paid it with American money, of the United States, and I have the right to do that."

The mayor has called the ethics case against him a political "circus." 

In July, the commission found Hernandez guilty of "knowingly" lying to the community -- in English and Spanish -- about receiving high-interest payments of 36 percent from Pérez on $180,000 in private loans. He was penalized with a $3,000 civil penalty plus $1,000 to cover investigative costs, as well as a letter of reprimand.

Pérez conned several people out of some $40 million -- including Hialeah political figures such as Hernandez. As part of the Ponzi scheme, according to authorities, investors received interest payments of 36 percent, which is considered loansharking. The case erupted in 2010.

During his 2011 mayoral campaign, Hernandez assured reporters in a news conference that he never received interest payments from Pérez. But last year, when he testified as a federal prosecution witness in the case against his predecessor, Julio Robaina, Hernandez said he received more than $100,000 in interest payments, contradiction his prior statements.

The 28 penny-filled buckets ended up back at Hialeah City Hall on Thursday.

--BRENDA MEDINA, el Nuevo Herald

Photo courtesy Univision 23 via el Nuevo Herald