May 12, 2015

Fundraising for Miami Commission races tops $1 million

via @NewsbySmiley

Candidates running to win election in November to the Miami City Commission have spent months -- in one case years -- raising money to fund their campaigns. Last month, they collectively passed the $1 million mark, according to campaign treasurer's reports due Tuesday.

The reports, filed by 15 candidates running for three seats, show incumbent Commission Chairman Wifredo "Willy" Gort topped $100,000 last month. District 4 Commissioner Francis Suarez, who only recently filed to run for reelection, has $80,000 in his official campaign fund.

But most the money is coming into the city's District 2 commission field, which has raised more than a half-million dollars. Teresa Sarnoff, wife of District 2 incumbent Marc Sarnoff, raised $56,000 in April, bringing her war chest to $390,000. Her best-funded rival, Grace Solares, brought in $17,000, bringing her total to $118,000.

None of the other seven candidates running for Commissioner Sarnoff's seat has more than $40,000 in their campaign funds. And in soft money, Sarnoff is sitting on a quarter million dollars in his electioneering committee, Truth is the Daughter of Time. Suarez also has more than $300,000 saved up from his aborted run for mayor in 2013.

We're rifling through the reports to see who gave to candidates last month and will update this post if there's any interesting developments.

Carlos Gimenez crosses $1 million mark in Miami-Dade mayoral race


After four months,  Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has raised more than $1 million for his reelection fight against announced challenger Raquel Regalado and whoever else may be eyeing his County Hall seat.

The incumbent, in office since 2011, raised $124,600 in April for the political committee supporting his reelection, Miami-Dade Residents First, according to a report filed this week. That brings the committee's tally to $1,004,552 since it launched mid-January.

The total gives him a significant advantage over Regalado, a two-term school board member daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. She has raised $175,000 this year.

But their April hauls aren't too far off. Regalado, who announced her mayoral run in March after strong hints throughout 2015, took in $110,000 in April, according to the latest reports.  

Regalado is using a state committee, Serving Miamians, that has funded past campaigns for her and her father. We're only using donations received in 2015 for the Serving Miamians tally. She also has an official campaign committee, but Gimenez does not.

The campaign committee gives Regalado the flexibility to raise money directly from voters, while political committees target more deep-pocketed donors. Committees cannot directly advocate for the election of a candidate. 

Xavier Suarez, the county commissioner who is publicly flirting with a mayoral run, has raised $276,700 for his political committee, Imagine Miami, since he last stood for reelection in 2012. That includes about $156,000 from last month. 

We'll update this post later as we crunch more numbers. 

May 11, 2015

Rep. Daphne Campbell hits fundraising snag

"By the book" is one way no one has ever described Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami.

In prior years, her record keeping has drawn the attention of the IRS and the Florida Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

So perhaps it was only a matter of time before Campbell's campaign finance reports started waving some hard-to-miss red flags.

Sure enough, the April 2015 campaign finance report she filed late Friday was rife with problems -- 2,500 of them to be precise.

That's how much money Florida's Division of Election website on Monday showed she had raised last month. That's $500 from Florida Justice PAC on April 2; $500 from Florida's Right to Know committee on April 4; $1,000 from subsidiaries of U.S. Sugar on April 16; and $500 from the law firm Becker & Poliakoff on April 25.

As of Monday afternoon, campaign finance records filed with the Division of Elections showed that Campbell was the only incumbent lawmaker to have raised money during this time period -- which just happened to be the same time as the 2015 legislative session.

This is bad. Raising money during session is a violation of the House's adopted rules for 2014-2016

Rule 15.3 states that a member "may neither solicit nor accept anything that reasonably may be construed to improperly influence the member's official act, decision, or vote...a member may neither solicit nor accept any campaign contribution during the 60-day regular legislative session or any extended or special session on the member's own behalf."

So what happened?

On Monday afternoon, the Times/Herald called Campbell for an explanation of what appeared to be a violation of House rules.

Campbell said there was a mistake. The checks were written before session started.

"They are lying," Campbell said.

Continue reading "Rep. Daphne Campbell hits fundraising snag" »

May 10, 2015

With video, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen congratulates transgender son for award

via @steverothaus


U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Friday sent video congratulations to her transgender son, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, recipient of SAVE’s 2015 Champions of Equality award.

“Rigo, I’m so very proud of you, not just for this wonderful award, but also for living an authentic life that makes you happy,” Ros-Lehtinen said in the video. “With your courage and your advocacy, you continue to build public support and greater understanding about the LGBT community.”

Heng-Lehtinen, who grew up in Miami as Amanda, transitioned more than five years ago. The congresswoman couldn’t attend SAVE’s annual Champions of Equality reception — she’s in Europe on official business. Her husband, former U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen, accompanied Rodrigo to the reception

Dexter Lehtinen gave a tearful, emotional speech as he presented Rodrigo with the award.

More here.

Computers tied up for testing leaves some Miami-Dade students dawdling

via @cveiga

Business technology teacher Antonio White is supposed to teach middle and high school students how to type on a computer keyboard and use the full suite of Microsoft Office programs.

But on many days, he doesn’t have access to computers. They’ve been usurped for Florida’s standardized testing.

“There’s not a lot of teaching going on this semester. It’s like school is over,” said White, who teaches at José Martí MAST 6-12 Academy.

Ever since the Florida Department of Education mandated that many tests be taken on a computer, school districts have warned that the decree would come with a cost: lots of lost instructional time.

The prediction has come true, according to many teachers, students and parents.

At Coral Gables Senior High, students say they get sent to the auditorium or even multiple lunches while teachers are busy giving tests. At Palmetto Middle School, students spend hours in the same classroom, at times without a lesson. At José Martí, half the students can be missing from any given class because they’re out taking an exam.

More here.

May 09, 2015

Manzano-Plaza takes paid role in Gimenez reelection effort



Jesse Manzano-Plaza, who ran Mayor Carlos Gimenez's 2012 reelection campaign, has signed on as spokesman and senior consultant for the candidate's political committee.

Miami-Dade Residents First, the political committee indirectly dedicated to Gimenez's 2016 reelection effort, will pay the longtime political consultant $7,000 a month, Manzano-Plaza said. Miami-Dade Residents First already has a professional fund-raiser under contract, Brian Goldmeier, whose Miami firm is earning about $12,000 a month, according to prior financial reports. 

"Working with Miami-Dade Residents First to support Mayor Gimenez is a great privilege for me," Manzano-Plaza said in a statement. "I am looking forward to helping share the Mayor's vision with the residents of our community..."

Manzano-Plaza, 37,  is a registered lobbyist for Genting, the Malaysian casino giant that wants to build a large resort in downtown Miami. The company also runs a ferry out of the county's PortMiami.

He also works for a firm, LSN Communications, wit corporate ties to the partners behind Llorente Heckler, a top lobbying firm in Miami. Llorente Heckler partners represent some large players when it comes to development and contracts in the county, including American Airlines, Duty Free Americas and Turnberry. LSN Communications and Llorente Heckler share office space in Miami Beach.

(In 2011, when Gimenez was running for the mayoral seat left open by the recall of then-mayor Carlos Alvarez, Manzano-Plaza managed the unsuccessful campaign for Marcelo Llorente, now managing partner at Llorente Heckler.) 

Continue reading "Manzano-Plaza takes paid role in Gimenez reelection effort" »

May 08, 2015

First attack ad lands in Miami Beach commission race

via @joeflech

Miami Beach politics are heating up early this campaign season. With three seats up for grabs and 10 candidates having declared their candidacy for the November election, the race for Ed Tobin's spot on the dais has seen its first attack ad.

The ad takes aim at Ricky Arriola, chief executive officer of Inktel Holdings and immediate past chair of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts Trust Board. Inktel, an outsourcer of business and direct marketing services, has a contract with Miami Beach to handle customer service calls for its building, transportation and other departments.

Inktel has had a contract with the city since 2009 for call center services for the Beach's building department, with a separate three-year contract being approved in Spring 2013. The two agreements were rolled into one for a total of about a $200,000-a-year deal.

The ad points out that Inktel was not the first-ranked firm in a public solicitation when the contract was first awarded in 2009. This is true, and the record of that late-night discussion on the dais (Beach meetings used to go late into the night) shows a motion from Commissioner Jonah Wolfson to choose Inktel because they are headquartered locally. The first-ranked firm was based out of state and had a location in Miami.

Arriola told the Miami Herald this week that he does not have a conflict right now since he hasn't been elected, and if he were, he would take care of any threat of a conflict of interest. He did not specify how and said he would address it directly with voters during the campaign.

Continue reading "First attack ad lands in Miami Beach commission race" »

Miami-Dade judge who told store owner 'Go f--- yourself' agrees to stiffer sanction


Miami-Dade County Judge Jacqueline Schwartz has accepted a 30-day unpaid suspension and $10,000 fine as part of her punishment for cussing out a Coconut Grove convenience store owner last year.

Schwartz had earlier acquiesced to a public reprimand and apology letter, but the Florida Supreme Court opined last week she deserved a harsher sanction. The judge had told the Kwik Stop owner "Go f--- yourself" in a campaign sign dispute. She was also found to have interfered with a case file by writing notes on the margin that were only available to one of the parties to the lawsuit.

Schwartz's attorney had indicated after the state high court's ruling that she would follow the justices' recommendation.

May 06, 2015

In Miami-Dade, a call to treat the mentally ill instead of jailing them


Leaders of Miaim-Dade justice system held a media event Wednesday touting the need to treat mentally-ill offenders rather than jailing them.

County jails are housing mentally-ill people "for lack of a better place to put them. And it's at a staggering cost to us as a community and the poor souls who are succumbing to this," County Commissioner Sally Heyman said at the start of a program that included an 11-persona panel discussion on mental illness and incarceration.

The event was part of a national push for more mental-health services in correctional systems. Called the Stepping Up Initiative, it will culminate in a national summit in the spring of 2016 on the topic. 

Miami-Dade's correctional system is under federal supervision for past staffing shortages and operational missteps. The county is in the process of opening a new facility aimed at people with mental illness who get caught up in the law-enforcement system. It will include treatment facilities, vocational programs and short-term housing. 

About 2,500 of Miami-Dade's 4,500 inmates have some sort of mental condition, said Marydell Guevara, director of the county's correctional department. "The ones that don't belong in jail need to go somewhere to get help," she said. 

May 05, 2015

A father-and-son talk, but first: a legally required notice to the public


Xavier Suarez plans to have a serious talk with his son, Francis, on Thursday. Which he thinks might be illegal if the public wasn't invited to attend. 

The elder Suarez serves as a Miami-Dade County commissioner. The younger Suarez serves as a Miami city commissioner. They both sit on a cross-jurisdictional transportation board. State sunshine laws bars private meetings by elected officials when discussing official business, so the Suarezes posted a notice for their 2 p.m. meeting at Miami City Hall to discuss a few transportation ideas.

A Sunshine Meeting between the Honorable Francis Suarez, Vice Chairman of the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Governing Board, Commissioner, City of Miami, and the Honorable Xavier L. Suarez, MPO Board Member, Miami-Dade County Commissioner, District 7, is scheduled to discuss creating an underground connection from Miami Intermodal Center to Douglas Station and waterborne transportation along the riverwalk. 

The elder Suarez said this is the first "sunshine notice" for a meeting with his son. Are the two really that strict about not discussing public matters when they talk on the phone or gather for family events?  

"We avoid talking about anything that is likely to come up before the MPO," Xavier Suarez said. "We do our best not to."

Said the younger Suarez: "We talk all the time about the things we can talk about."