April 15, 2015

Miami asks Hollywood, Boca Raton to pay for downtown Tri-Rail station

via @NewsbySmiley

Miami city officials really, really want to help build a Tri-Rail station downtown -- and they want cities in Broward and Palm Beach counties to foot part of the bill.

On Wednesday, Miami's Chief Financial Officer Fernando Casamayor sent out letters to 11 municipalities to the north asking for money to help fund the $69 million project.

Tri-Rail wants to connect to All Aboard Florida's under-construction transit hub, and has secured soft commitments for a majority of the cost. But a gap of about $10 million remains, in part because Miami city commissioners have balked at paying for the entire remainder of the bill not covered already by funds from Miami-Dade County, Tri-Rail and the Florida Department of Transportation. Mayor Tomas Regalado has also threatened to veto the use of any general fund dollars.

"Since public transportation is a regional responsibility and improving Tri-rail connectivity to the urban core would alleviate congested streets and highways across the entire region for residents and visitors, we are asking for your financial support," Casamayor wrote to officials in Hollywood, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and other cities.

The city has until June 9 to present a funding package to the city commission.

Miami commissioner talking tunnel from MIA to US1

via @NewsbySmiley

Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez thinks local politicians have buried their heads in the sand for years when it comes to addressing South Florida's traffic woes. He'd rather bury the traffic.

Suarez, who sits as vice-chairman of the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization, is hosting a pow-wow in his office next month about building a tunnel to connect Miami International Airport with the Douglas Metrorail Station on US-1. The underground connection would head due south from the Miami Intermodal Center, and span about 3.5 miles.

"It's connecting that entire corridor to the airport essentially. It’s just an idea. It’s very preliminary in nature," said Suarez. "If we don’t have the idea or start the conversation somewhere you’re never going to get anywhere."

Suarez admits the idea is unusual and undoubtedly pricey -- the PortMiami Tunnel was  less than a mile long and cost $1 billion -- but says it's not "quixotic." He said tunnels may now be a better option than elevated rail systems.

"My guess is when we first started talking about the tunnel people said you can’t do it," he said. "I'm not saying this should be a priority ... but we need to start talking about these things."

Miami-Dade hiring a new county attorney


Robert Cuevas, county attorney for Miami-Dade, is retiring later this year, according to the office of County Commission chairman Jean Monestime

A representative of the chairman's office said Cuevas plans to retire in September. Commissioners appoint the county attorney, subject to a veto by the mayor.  An item on next Tuesday's agenda calls for naming Cuevas's top deputy, Abigail Price-Williams, as his successor.

Price-Williams joined the attorney's office in 1990. She would be both the first woman and the first African-American to hold the county-attorney post, serving as the top lawyer for Florida's largest local government. 

Cuevas joined the county's legal staff during the Nixon administration and then rose the ranks to hold both the top spot in the office and the top paycheck in county government. His $350,000 yearly salary was tops in Dade Data's 2014 pay ranking.

Cuevas started in the county attorney's office in 1970 was named county attorney in 2007. He managed the legal office through the tricky waters of 2011 mayoral recall, stadium negotiations with the Marlins, Dolphins and Heat, and, most recently, the land deal behind American Dream Miami's plans to bring the largest mall in America to Northwest Miami-Dade.

Though an appointed position, the county attorney post is one of the most powerful in Miami-Dade government, since it runs an office that provides legal advice to both the executive and legislative branches of government.

County lawyers frequently have the last word on when commissioners can take a particular vote, revisit past decisions or how to interpret legislation or contracts.  Cuevas is the only non-elected official to have an official portrait hanging outside the County Commission chambers. 

Cuevas and Price-Williams were not immediately available for comment.  

April 14, 2015

Miami's Cuban-American members of Congress slam Obama over Cuba terror designation change


The trio of Miami Cuban-American Republicans in Congress -- Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- were quick to denounce the White House's decision Tuesday to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Congress has 45 days to block the action, if it can find enough support -- a veto-proof majority -- to do so, which seems unlikely.

Here are statements from the three representatives:

Continue reading "Miami's Cuban-American members of Congress slam Obama over Cuba terror designation change" »

Raquel Regalado: Don't make Baylink 'a priority'


Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado told a Miami Beach breakfast group Tuesday that she doesn't want the proposed Baylink light-rail system to be first in line for county transit dollars.

"I don't think Baylink should be a priority," the two-term school board member told about 70 people gathered for the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club, a venerable Beach gathering dedicated to civic speakers. "I think Baylink is a good opportunity at the state level to take some bed-tax money and use it for transportation."

The pricey light-rail system envisioned as a speedy connection  between the beach and the mainland is a stated priority for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who often cites Baylink as a central part of his transportation agenda.

Regalado's father, Tomás Regalado, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine also support the Baylink plan, though the funding formula hasn't been proposed. A recent price estimate put the cost at $775 million, but a new study is underway to update the 2004 report that first projected costs for the long-delayed rail line.

On Tuesday, Levine took a jab at Gimenez over a scrapped meeting scheduled that afternoon for all three mayors to discuss Baylink. "It was canceled as transportation is not really that important in Dade County," Levine said in a text message. In an interview, he added: "It's really better to focus on building a mega-mall. Everybody wants their children to grow up and work at a mall."

The remarks were aimed at Gimenez's support of American Dream Miami, a 200-acre retail theme park to be partly built on state land Miami-Dade is securing to sell to developer Triple Five. The land deal was set for approval by the Florida Cabinet Tuesday, and Gimenez traveled to Tallahassee to advocate for the transaction.

"The mayor could not attend the meeting today due to his travel to Tallahassee," Gimenez spokesman  Michael Hernández said of the Baylink panel, part of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization. "The meeting will be rescheduled."

Continue reading "Raquel Regalado: Don't make Baylink 'a priority'" »

April 13, 2015

Miami-Dade mayor raises nearly $900,000 in first quarter


Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez tapped large donors to bring in more than $200,000 last month for his reelection effort.

The donations to a Gimenez political committee brings his first-quarter tally to just shy of $880,000, a record pace for an election whose primary is still 17 months away. And while there was early talk within the Gimenez camp of raising $1 million in the first quarter, the March report clearly demonstrates the financial advantage the incumbent brings to the 2016 mayoral race.

Gimenez's committee, Miami-Dade Residents First, raised more in one day ($66,500 on March 30) than challenger Raquel Regalado, a school board member, posted for all of March ($48,310). Of the 53 checks Miami-Dade Residents First received in March, 21 were for at least $5,000.

With the help of professional fund-raiser Brian Goldmeier, whose firm is so far earning $3,000 a week, Miami-Dade Residents First has collected $879,952 since the mayor began personally soliciting donors in mid-January, according to committee reports. In March, the committee brought in $208,000.

Gimenez, in office since 2011, is running for his second full four-year term. He faces his first test in August 2016, a primary that would be the final vote if it remains a two-candidate race. Should any candidate not top 50 percent in the primary, the top two vote-getters head for a November run-off on Election Day. (In a two-person primary, the winner will have at least 50 percent of the vote.)

The Gimenez camp is touting its candidate's fund-raising success as evidence of the uphill task ahead of Regalado as she tries to unseat a popular incumbent. Regalado, the daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado,  is highlighting the money gap as proof of her grass-roots support, since she collected a string of $5 checks from residents after jumping into the race while Gimenez is soliciting companies doing business with the county.  

For March, donations to Miami-Dade Residents First topped out at $15,000 – the informal cap Gimenez’s finance team said they set for donors when fund-raising began in January. Three donors gave $15,000 in March, either with a single check or with smaller checks through related corporate entities, according to a Naked Politics review of the committee’s report.

Of the top three, two have lobbyists registered with Miami-Dade: developer Chateau Group and Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, the company behind a large fuel operation in the county.

The third $15,000 donor in March was a company linked to Miami's Capo family, which owns the Bimini resort where Genting operates a casino. The company, RJH Investments, does not employ county lobbyists, according to Miami-Dade records. Genting, a Malaysian conglomerate, has multiple lobbyists registered in Miami-Dade, where it hopes to build a waterfront Miami casino.

DOJ: Miami stonewalling settlement in police shooting cases

via @NewsbySmiley

Nearly two years after a federal investigation into 33 police-involved shootings concluded that Miami cops had engaged in a pattern of excessive force, talks to resolve the findings appear to have fizzled.

In fact, though Miami officials dispute this, the Department of Justice says settlement negotiations have broken down completely.

In a strongly worded letter to Miami’s city attorney, the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division Special Litigation Section said two weeks ago that the city had stopped responding to phone calls and emails. Acting Chief Judy C. Preston wrote that she wanted to resume negotiations this month and conclude them by May -- with or without the city’s cooperation.

“Our most recent negotiation session was on January 22, 2015. Since then, our repeated phone calls and emails to your office have gone unanswered,” Preston wrote in a March 31 letter obtained by The Herald. “From this unwillingness to communicate on your part, we can conclude only that the City no longer wishes to negotiate an agreement to amicably resolve our investigative findings.”

Preston said Justice is “prepared to take all necessary steps to bring about a resolution,” and requested that City Attorney Victoria Méndez or her staff reply by April 6 to discuss how to resume negotiations.

She’s still waiting for a response, according to City Manager Daniel Alfonso.

“We received the letter. We’re concerned about some of the tone and we’re certainly going to respond as appropriate,” he said.

Méndez did not respond to an email and phone call to her office Monday. But she and Alfonso are scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss how to respond, according to Alfonso, who disputed that the city has ignored Justice’s correspondence.

“I know that we have been in some communication with them,” said Alfonso. “This is an area where it might end up in the courts, so I’d rather not get into too much detail.”

Harvard health dean picked as new University of Miami president

via @cveiga

The University of Miami on Monday named Dr. Julio Frenk — Harvard school of public health dean of faculty and Mexico’s former minister of health — as its new president.

He will become the first Hispanic to lead UM.

Stuart Miller, chair of the university board of trustees and chief executive of Lennar Corp., touted Frenk as a leader with a “broad range” of qualifications who can “move the entire university forward.”

His selection, to be formally announced at a noon press conference, also sends a message, Miller said: “Our diversty is important. Our place in the international landscape of education is important.”

Frenk, who would take over on Sept. 1 as the university’s sixth president, brings sterling academic credentials to a school with aspirations of becoming “the next great American research university," as outgoing President Donna Shalala recently wrote in a letter announcing her retirement.

More here.

April 12, 2015

On Marco Rubio and the Freedom Tower


Downtown Miami's Freedom Tower, where Marco Rubio will inaugurate his presidential campaign Monday, is steeped in symbolism for Cuban exiles even if they didn't arrive there from the island to get processed by the U.S. government. The tower on Biscayne Boulevard was also where exiles would pick up food for their families.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado remembers being 12 or 13 years old and lining up at the building.

"They'd give out cheese and butter and powdered milk," he said. "I used to go with my mother. There'd be canned meat and everyone would share recipes so we wouldn't have to eat the same breaded Spam every day."

Of course, Rubio's family doesn't share the typical exile story. His parents left Cuba in 1956, before Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, and briefly returned to the island before settling in the U.S. in 1962.

Rubio still refers to his family as "exiles." Miami Cuban Americans generally agree that any of their countrymen who couldn't return home was exiled. But Rubio had embellished his family history on his official Senate website and was forced to revise it after news reports about his parents' immigration records. That's hardly the incident Rubio's campaign wants people to remember during Monday's launch.

Rubio has long been a protector of the Freedom Tower. In 2003, Miami-Dade County lawmakers in the Florida House of Representatives tried to secure $7 million in state funding to help Miami Dade College (then community college) purchase the building. Rubio was House majority leader, and the funding didn't go through the usual budget process.

Then-Gov. Jeb Bush, who will now have to jostle with Rubio over the presidential nomination, opposed the earmark, known in the Florida Capitol as a "turkey."

"It is certainly not a turkey," Rubio countered at the time. "Just because a project maybe didn't go through the proper channels doesn't mean that it is unworthy of state funding."

Bush prevailed. The college didn't get ownership of the historic building until 2005.

The incident speaks to Rubio's interest in the building, but also to his history earmarking dollars for local projects, something that has fallen out of favor in Republican political rhetoric and been banned in Congress.

Still, it's what the Freedom Tower represents -- a beacon for people seeking a better life -- that Rubio will be channeling Monday. And with an older generation of Cuban Americans such as Mayor Regalado giving poignant recollections about the building's meaning, it's likely that's the message outsiders will remember.

In Coral Gables mayoral race, a tale of two cities

via @MoniqueOMadan

To Jim Cason, Coral Gables is moving in the right direction and his reelection as mayor will propel the city forward.

To his opponent Ralph Cabrera, the well-heeled city is ignoring residents’ concerns about crime and a wave of development that includes two condo towers that tip at the city’s height limit.

A tale of two cities? In this election season, yes, indeed.

Cason, 70, is running for a third two-year term in Tuesday’s election. He had said he wasn’t going to serve more than four years, but now says he’s critical to attracting investment to the downtown core.

“We have 97 initiatives underway to improve the quality of life in the city. This commission has transformed Coral Gables, and being an internationalist, that’s my specialty,” said Cason, a retired diplomat and former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. I like to say Ralph’s vision is that of a sniper’s vision: very narrow and focuses on one or two things. He doesn’t tell you what his vision is for the future.”

Cabrera, 56, says Cason’s administration has ignored the residents’ chief complaint: crime. The former commissioner — he served on the dais for 12 years before terming out in 2013 — is playing off the city’s recent spate of high-profile burglaries. His campaign posters call “For a Safer Coral Gables.”

More here.