March 04, 2015

Another candidate files in Miami's District 2


Coconut Grove real estate agent Javier Gonzalez became the latest candidate to open a campaign account for Miami's District 2 commission seat, which is up for grabs in November. Gonzalez, 53, reportedly announced his intentions to run last week when he stepped down as president of the Coconut Grove Village Council.

There are now eight in the race to replace Commissioner Marc Sarnoff: Gonzalez, Rosa Palomino, Ken Russell, Teresa Sarnoff, Mike Simpson, Seth Sklarey, Grace Solares and Lorry Woods.

Gonzalez filed to run on March 2. We should have gotten it on the record a little earlier, but we've been a little busy.

Miami-Dade commission chair lays out 'prosperity' agenda


Jean Monestime, the new chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, went to the county's largest business group Wednesday to lay out his plan for trying to close Miami-Dade's prosperity gap. 

In a luncheon address before the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the second-term commissioner urged his audience to support his efforts to boost home ownership, encourage broader use of public transit and lure businesses to less prosperous parts of the county. 

"If you're looking at your bottom line, there are truly some areas that are more attractive to you as business people to open your business," he said during the event at Miami's Jungle Island. "In order to attract you to some of these areas that are not as attractive, I think we need to provide you with more incentives." 

In November, the commissioner representing North Miami, Opa-locka and parts of Miami's Liberty City won a behind-the-scenes race against Commissioner Audrey Edmonson to serve as chair of the 13-member panel. Edmonson ultimately bowed out, and Monestime was elected unanimously. Representing one of the commission's poorest districts, Monestime promptly announced a new prosperity task force aimed at tackling income inequality in Miami-Dade. 

In his Chamber speech, the registered Democrat in a non-partisan post offered more details on his plans but no information on how he might pay for them. One idea hinted at a new local subsidy for home purchases -- with special help for government workers. 

"I think as a community we have not done enough to make sure that young professionals have an opportunity to purchase their first homes," he said.

Monestime said he wanted to address Miami-Dade's so-called brain drain by targeting local residents who leave Miami-Dade to attend college and then are left with the choice of whether to come home to start a career. Miami-Dade already offers home-buying assistance, and Monestime's plan is to expand that program. 

"Together with the housing department of Miami-Dade County I'm working on a plan where incentives will be provided to first-time home buyers, especially those graduating college," Monestime said. "An incentive will be provided to those individuals who were born and raised in Miami-Dade County, went out of state to college, and do not want to come here because there is not enough opportunity."

"But If they decide to work in the public sector," he continued, "incentives must be presented to them if they're interested in purchasing their first homes."

He ended his remarks by asking for support. "If you agree with me," Monestime said, "I want you to go all around Miami-Dade and say: 'Chairman Monestime is right." 

Miami lawmaker moving on after bar fracas


State Rep. Frank Artiles scored a much-needed political victory Wednesday when his contentious legislation undoing transgender protections in Miami-Dade County cleared its first vote in a Florida House of Representatives committee.

He faced vigorous opposition from LGBT advocates, who waved protest flags in the state Capitol for two days and held a news conference Wednesday morning bashing Artiles' proposal the day after a college student said the Republican lawmaker of punching him in the face in a Tallahassee bar.

Through a spokeswoman, Artiles, 41, said Wednesday that he is looking ahead from the incident, which he continued to deny. Student Peter Alberti, in Tallahassee for Spring Break, said Tuesday the legislator had hit him at the Clydes and Costello's bar. Alberti, who would not reveal his age, had not pressed charges and said he was not seriously hurt.

"As I have said before, I did not punch anyone," Artiles said in a statement from spokeswoman Sarah Bascom, who was brought in for damage control after Tuesday's news broke. "I was moving through a crowded place and in my attempt to move past an intoxicated individual, he and his friends started yelling that I punched him. I did not. I then left the establishment because the young, extremely drunk individuals were making threats and even asked me to come outside, a fact that can be backed up by their social media accounts.

"This is a non-issue and has been blown out of proportion," the statement said. "I am continuing to focus on legislation and doing the job my constituents sent me up here to do." 

As for whether Artiles, who represents deep Southwest Miami-Dade County, really plans to ask a lawyer to look into the matter, as he had suggested Tuesday, Bascom added: "The representative is focused on legislative issues, and this is not a top priority at the moment." 

Miami-Dade high on drones, despite unfortunate Hialeah crash


Miami-Dade County's drone initiative this week collided with some local drone news out of Hialeah. 

On Tuesday, County Commissioner Juan C. Zapata won support for a resolution that declares the area around the former Tamiami airport a "Drone and Robotic Hub." The idea is to build upon nearby technological initiatives, including the drone program that Miami-Dade College is starting out of its aviation school at the county-owned airport. (Drones can't actually take off at the newly renamed Miami Executive Airport, so MDC will launch them elsewhere.)

Zapata's proposal came on the heels of a widely-covered incident where a drone apparently crashed into a bedroom in Hialeah days earlier. Commissioner Rebeca Sosa pointed out the accident as a cautionary tale.

“They break your windows, they turn your alarm on, your children get afraid,” Sosa said of drones buzzing residential areas. “I’m just bringing that up.”

March 03, 2015

College student says Miami lawmaker punched him


Pip_FraudA college student spending Spring Break in Tallahassee didn't expect to get punched in the face by a Miami lawmaker.

But that's what happened sometime between late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, hours before the start of the annual legislative session, according to the student.

Peter Alberti, a Connecticut native who studies in Charleston, said state Rep. Frank Artiles decked him at Clyde's and Costello's, a downtown Tallahassee bar steps from the Florida Capitol.

"He was trying to get by, up at the bar, to get drinks," Alberti told the Miami Herald in a telephone interview Tuesday. "He punched me in the face."

Artiles, 41, denied the accusation.

"Didn't happen," he said in a text message to the Herald after learning from a reporter that the newspaper had spoken to Alberti. "It is a set up."

It's the second time Artiles, who represents deep Southwest Miami-Dade County, has been whispered about in the Capitol over a purported punch. One of Artiles' friends, former state Rep. Doug Holder, even joked in his farewell House of Representatives speech last year that he would leave Artiles former state Rep. Rob Schenck's punching bag.

"Aides aren't so good for that," Holder said, referring to a rumored, earlier scuffle between Artiles and another lawmaker's aide.

Tuesday's incident was made public at 1:37 a.m., when L.J. Govoni, a former aide to U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a Tampa Republican, tweeted at Artiles:

Continue reading "College student says Miami lawmaker punched him" »

March 02, 2015

In South Florida, the business of government looks more and more like the business of politics


The new operatives roaming the halls of local South Florida governments come from political campaigns and public-relations firms, not from high-powered law firms that usually supply big-name lobbyists. In some cases, the consultants aren't lobbyists at all. They don't write legislation. They care less about how elected officials will vote and more about what the public will think.

The shift might appear subtle. But appealing to public opinion –- more like an advertising firm launching a product or a political campaign promoting a candidate –- has become big business in the competitive world of Miami public relations.

Consider the most significant proposals that have come recently before local governments: David Beckham's Major League Soccer stadium. The Miami Dolphins' renovations to Sun Life Stadium. The Miami Beach Convention Center. Miami-Dade County's new sewer pipes. Uber's and Lyft's push to legalize rides-for-hire.

All have involved deep-pocketed companies hiring firms such as Schwartz Media Strategies, Balsera Communications and Kreps DeMaria not to speak to politicians but to shape public opinion to reporters and on social media.

There's still a role for attorneys and more traditional lobbyists, of course, and some have long mounted mini-campaigns of their own, appearing on television and radio shows to plug their clients. Elected officials still like to be catered to directly.

But with the rise of the Internet, public-affairscampaigns give politicians cover to have their constituents persuaded directly, too. And government appears to be in a perennial campaigning state.

Continue reading "In South Florida, the business of government looks more and more like the business of politics" »

Miami-Dade lawmakers seek to protect Jackson, public schools

Flores2Miami-Dade’s team of state lawmakers will return to Tallahassee next week with something they’ve been lacking in recent years: clout.

That could help the state’s largest legislative delegation accomplish its goals in 2015.

The delegation’s top priorities include shielding Jackson Health System from crippling budget cuts, helping the Miami-Dade school district avoid a $40 million tax collection shortfall, and securing funding for Florida International University and Miami Dade College.

Democrats and Republicans will also team up to increase funding for child welfare providers, and to eliminate a five-year waiting period that applies to lawfully residing immigrant children seeking subsidized health insurance (HB 829/SB 294).

"We’re focusing on issues like funding our institutions and ensuring our residents have affordable property insurance," said Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who serves as delegation chair. "Those are not partisan issues. Those are South Florida issues."

The 60-day legislative session starts Tuesday.

Read more here.

March 01, 2015

Diaz and Garcia bill would strip fees from rock miners

via @jenstaletovich

South Florida rock miners would be spared millions of dollars they now pay to protect wetlands and the state’s largest drinking water supply on the fringes of Miami-Dade County under a bill making its way through the Legislature.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. and Sen. Rene Garcia, both Hialeah Republicans, would cut fees by 83 percent, ending what was supposed to be an insurance policy for the county against the risk of contamination posed by rock mining. But now, after nearly a decade with no contamination detected in the water, the bill’s sponsors and rock miners, who contributed tens of thousands of dollars to politicians in the last two years, say it’s time to reduce the fee and simply monitor water quality.

The issue began when a chain of lakes was created along the county’s suburban flank in the 1950s as miners dug up rock for construction. South Florida’s water table is so close to the surface that the pits quickly filled with water. The state, trying to mitigate the damage to wetlands, began collecting fees in 1999 that have steadily increased over the years as concerns spread to water quality.

Under the legislation, fees now set at 60 cents for every ton of rock mined would drop to 10 cents. Story here. 

February 27, 2015

The political importance of the Parcel B park: White voters



Before he was a Meet the Press panelist and presidential strategist, Republican political consultant Mike Murphy helped the Miami Heat win a referendum in 1996 over tax subsidies and public land for the AmericanAirlines Arena. And the guru said a key part of winning that fight was touting a waterfront park to white voters.

"White voters were most excited about a new family-friendly park on Miami's waterfront, including soccer fields and new arena, which would bring in concerts and other entertainment events," Murphy wrote in a 2004 essay for the Sports Business Journal. "Recasting the arena as a waterfront park and arena was to be key to our campaign." 

The blunt retrospective offers a new backstory for the ongoing debate over Parcel B, the five acres of county waterfront promised as a park in Heat campaign materials from nearly 20 years ago. The park never came. After the election, Miami-Dade gave the Heat permission to build retail there. That never happened. In 2003, the Heat gave up the spot but still rents it for valet parking and truck storage at what the county now says are discounted rates.

Through it all, park activists have demanded Miami-Dade deliver the promised park. Last year, County Commissioners endorsed building a Cuban Exile museum there, which the Heat opposes. Park activists, of course, are fighting the effort, too. 

Muprhy's essay highlights the key role the Parcel B vision played in creating the arena. "In late August, the arena project appeared to be domed," Murphy wrote. "We found that to win we had to make the referendum about more than basketball."

His essay also had advice for other sports teams seeking public dollars for stadiums: spend real money and you'll win.

"In most circumstances, the opposition forces to building a new arena will not have the resources to wage a traditional campaign with television ads and the other tactics we used in the Miami Heat campaign. This is a big advantage that owners should fully exploit. For a relatively small investment (we spent $3.5 million to win the Miami campaign), you can run a political-style campaign that will drive the public debate on your referendum." 

The Invitation Imbroglio in Miami-Dade: A follow-up


Yesterday, we reported on a County Hall dust-up between a prominent lobbyist Jorge Luis Lopez and Michael Hernández, communications chief for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. 

The gist: Lopez sent out invitations to Gimenez's State of the County address. Hernández objected, saying it looked like the emails were sent on the mayor's behalf. Words were exchanged, whispers leaked, text messages screen captured, and apologies demanded. 

Now the lawyers may be getting involved. On Wednesday, Lopez sent Hernández an email suggesting he might sue over the allegations of improper conduct. Some excerpts (and, yes, your blogger is mentioned):

Mike, please be advised that Doug Hanks of the Miami Herald texted me the following link yesterday and requested my comments:

As you are personally aware, the allegations contained therein are clearly false based on the nature, tone and subject of our communications late Friday, past.  I clarified this matter to Doug and further provided him with evidence to substantiate the truth in the form of screen-shots of our text messages, Mayor’s SOC invitation to me and our standard Evite...

Additionally, as you may have read (link above) Mr. Horta has published false allegations sourced by someone in your employ and control and who claims to have relied exclusively on your account of the nature, tone and content of our communications.  I respectfully request that you – as the only other witness to our conversation, as evidenced by the text messages -- immediately address with Mr. Horta these false statements in a fashion and form that will mitigate any further damage.

I am confident that you have not directly nor indirectly contributed or consented to these acts of defamation.  Your prompt attention to this very serious matter is not only appreciated to avoid any further actions.  This isn’t personal, it’s the legal. 

Neither side would comment on the email.

In a separate statement, Gimenez Chief of Staff Alex Ferro said this:

Mike was doing his job, he was trying to ensure that everyone who attended had a seat. The Mayor is very happy with Mike's performance.