February 24, 2015

Seventh candidate files in Miami's District 2 race

Yet another candidate has filed to run for Miami's District 2 commission seat.

Ken Russell, the South Grove resident who fought the city over its cleanup plans for contaminated Merrie Christmas Park, filed campaign papers Monday. Russell is the seventh candidate to run for the seat, which is held by term-limited Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.

Read the news release after the jump.

Continue reading "Seventh candidate files in Miami's District 2 race" »

February 23, 2015

Zo charity fundraiser to feature Bill Clinton


Mourning inviteWhen he visits Coral Gables next for the Clinton Foundation's conference at the University of Miami, former President Bill Clinton will also drop by a fundraiser hosted by retired Miami Heat basketball star Alonzo Mourning.

The March 5 event, also in Coral Gables, will "support the life changing work of both the Clinton Foundation and the Mourning Family Foundation," according to an invitation, though the funds will go to the nonprofit Mourning founded with his wife, Tracy. Contribution levels are listed at $25,000, $10,000 and $1,000. 

The charity supports programs for children and families, including after-school centers and mentorship. Alonzo Mourning has taken part before in the Clinton Foundation's Clinton Global Initiative University, where the former president is scheduled to speak three days after the fundraiser.

Names roll in for Jeb Bush PAC fundraiser in Gables


Big donors have been named "co-chairmen" of an upcoming Coral Gables fundraiser for Jeb Bush's political action committee.

The March 9 soiree, organized by healthcare magnate Mike Fernandez, on Monday listed more than a dozen people contributing and raising money for Bush's Right to Rise PAC. A $100,000 contribution gets a donor on what the PAC calls the "Florida Executive Committee."

Fernandez wrote in an email that he intends for the reception to raise $5 million, Politico reported. About $1 million would come from him.

In addition to Fernandez and his wife, Constance, they are: businessman and longtime Bush friend Jorge Arrizurieta; Goldman Sachs VP Robert Barlick; businessman Rodney Barreto and his wife, Sheila; Tallahassee attorney and lobbyist Paul Bradshaw; healthcare executive Joe Caruncho; Ambassadors Sue and Chuck Cobb; developer (and Bush golf buddy) Ed Easton; auto executive Manny Kadre; auto executive Mario Murgado; Ambassador John Rood and former House Speaker Will Weatherford and his wife, Courtney.

More donors are expected to join the group as they make financial commitments closer to the event.

Asked about his participation, Arrizurieta, who recently swapped offices with Bush at the Biltmore Hotel to give Bush the more private third-floor space, said the excitement surrounding his friend's all-but-announced candidacy has been "pretty special."

"He's got a fleet of people who would go through walls for him," Arrizurieta said.

This post has been updated.

Miami Young Republicans to host new party chair


InviteState Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, the new Republican Party of Florida chairman, will be feted Tuesday in a fundraiser by the Miami Young Republicans.

Ingoglia, of Spring Hill, should prove to be popular among the young party faithful. His Twitter handle, after all, is @GovGoneWild, after the web videos he produces that have gone viral. (Sample title: "Land of the Freebies, Home of the Enslaved.")

Rep. Bryan Avila of Hialeah will be a "special guest" at the event, headed up by a group that includes Miami-Dade GOP Chairman Nelson Diaz.

'All in' with Jeb Bush, but Mario Diaz-Balart says Marco Rubio would also make 'darn good president'


Jeb Bush is the presidential pick for Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. Yet  he also had nice things to say Monday of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, assuming both Bush and Rubio seek the GOP presidential nomination.

"I don't think anybody should minimize Rubio's appeal, his vast talent," Diaz-Balart said of his colleague. "Not only his ability to connect, but he's a hard worker. I think he'd be a darn good president. He clearly has a lot more experience than President Obama did when he got elected. Rubio was speaker of the [Florida] House, for God's sake."

But, Diaz-Balart added, "I just don't know of anyone who's better prepared to be president of the United States" than Bush. He reiterated, as he told The Hill last week, that he's "all in" with Bush, who has also received the support of Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Diaz-Balart's former congressman brother, Lincoln, has backed Bush as well, and been named one of the former Florida governor's foreign-policy advisers.

The only local GOP congressman who has yet to endorse is Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami, who has been courted by Bush advisers -- and, before then, by advisers to Mitt Romney, when Romney briefly flirted with running again.

Mario Diaz-Balart warns Miami-Dade may have to make unpopular choices to fund transportation


U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has a powerful new budget post in Congress, but don't expect federal dollars to start pouring in for local transportation projects.

There's not that much money to work with, the Republican told the Miami Herald's editorial board Monday. And Miami-Dade County must first draft detailed plans to extend public transit -- and find a way to pay for part of them on its own.

"There's not much we can do until the community gets its act together -- the local government, local governments, get their act together," said Diaz-Balart, the new chairman of the House transportation and housing appropriations subcommittee. "The key is to have a plan that is real. It's going to require a local match."

Interest in improving the county's disjointed transportation system has grown among politicians, with Miami-Dade's new commission chairman, Jean Monestime, citing it as a priority for his two-year term that begun last month. Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo, the new transit committee chairman, has already met with Diaz-Balart to discuss a way forward.

That will involve picking only a few projects that have enough potential ridership to back them, Diaz-Balart said -- which could mean making unpopular political choices. Metrorail lines have long been promised to different areas of the county, regardless of whether they would draw sufficient customers.

"We can't do everything. We can't fund everything," Diaz-Balart said, echoing Bovo's stated approach. "If the ridership isn't there, those days of just empty promises -- which, by the way, don't do anything other than just that -- have to be over."

February 19, 2015

Climate change activists denied anti-Marco Rubio billboard in Miami


An environmental activist group recently tried to put up a billboard in Miami criticizing potential Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio's position on climate change.

"NO CLIMATE DENIERS IN THE WHITE HOUSE," the proposed ad from Forecast the Facts Action read, steering viewers to RubioIsNotReady.org. 

But the ad never went up -– because the billboard company, Clear Channel Outdoor, considered it a political "attack," Forecast the Facts said.

"Clear Channel is applying a partisan filter to the ads that it allows Miami residents to see, and tilting the scale in favor of its own partisan agenda," Brant Olson, Forecast's campaign director, said in an email. "Clear Channel is playing dirty politics."

Untrue, countered Clear Channel, which says it offered Forecast the Facts a different location the environmentalists turned down.

Though Forecast the Facts had already signed a contract for the original billboard location, on Northwest 58th Street, Clear Channel had yet to ratify it when the group sent in the ad design. That's when Clear Channel rejected the location -- something the company says it sometimes does, even after a site has been made available to advertisers.

"All our contracts clearly state we reserve the right to final ad approval," spokesman Jason King said in an email. "And sometimes the original ad presented in discussions may only be a draft." 

The billboard was Forecast the Fact's first attempt to shame a potential presidential contender over climate change. Senator Rubio said last year human activity is not "causing these dramatic changes to our climate," a claim PolitiFact rated False. The Florida Republican later explained he doesn't deny climate change but remains skeptical about whether it is man-made, despite agreement among an overwhelming majority of scientists that humans have contributed directly by burning fossil fuels.

The substitute location Clear Channel proposed on Northwest 36th Street was a (cheaper) electronic LED billboard. Forecast the Facts said no because its Rubio ad would have had less exposure, on rotation with other ads -- and because it could have been pulled at a moment's notice, Olson said. He noted that Clear Channel and its chairman have contributed $4,000 to Rubio since 2011.

To suggest the billboard didn't go up because of those donations is off base, King said: "It would absolutely not play a role in a decision regarding a billboard." 

Meantime, Forecast the Facts is using the incident as a opportunity to rally its supporters, emailing them an image of what the billboard would have looked like and asking them to share it on social media. One email -- titled "Rejected!" -- was timed to coincide with Rubio's trip to Iowa last week to promote his new policy book, American Dreams. A Miami stop is scheduled for Friday night.

Here's what the billboard would have looked like:

Rubio billboard

Man who ran for Miami mayor in 2013 pleads guilty to campaign violations, gets one year probation


In 2013, prosecutors say Miami mayoral candidate Jeffrey Benjamin stiffed vendors, fabricated a campaign bank account, and was under investigation before election day.

Still, he won 2,500 votes, came in second place to Tomás Regalado -- and earned one year of probation and 50 hours of community service.

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust announced Benjamin's sentence Thursday, explaining that the penalties were the result of a one-year investigation in conjunction with public corruption investigators. Benjamin, according to a press release, was foiled after someone noticed his Bank of America campaign account was a fake (Benjamin ran his campaign through PayPal).

Benjamin stiffed a palm card vendor and billboard company, and according to the ethics commission acknowledged that he never read explanations on how to run a campaign because it was "a pain in the butt."

Benjamin agreed to pay the ethics commission and Miami-Dade state attorney's office $1,000 each, and to pay restitution to the vendors. Adjudication of three first degree misdemeanor charges will be withheld if Benjamin complies with the terms of a plea agreement with state prosecutors.


February 17, 2015

North Miami councilwoman who settled ethics case won't seek reelection

via @LDixon_3

A North Miami council member has announced that she won't seek re-election in the city's upcoming May election.

Marie Steril, who has represented District 4 since 2005, will not run to extend her term on the council. In a press release Tuesday she said she wants to return to the private sector, calling it a difficult decision.

"I have tirelessly worked to address concerns that impair residents' well-being," she said. "I have embraced District 4's many challenges and transformed them into opportunities for the betterment of the community."

Unmentioned: that Steril, the first black woman and first Haitian-American woman elected to the city council, has also faced her share of ethical issues during her time in office.

Continue reading "North Miami councilwoman who settled ethics case won't seek reelection" »

Miami Beach mayor hires new chief of staff


Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has tapped an experienced Florida lobbyist and public policy advisor to be his next chief of staff.

Fátima Perez, who starts Feb. 23, has worked in Florida governmental affairs for more than 15 years. She worked as a senior advisor to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and as a senior legislative aide in the both chambers of the Florida Legislature. She's also worked in corporate communications for BellSouth/AT&T, Inc., as a lobbyist with law firm Akerman Senterfitt and, more recently, with Southern Strategy Group.

Levine made the announcement in an email Tuesday morning.

"I am confident Fátima's work ethic and professional experience will be an asset to our office and our city," he wrote.

The move comes after his current chief of staff, Alex Miranda, decided to go to Tallahassee to work for the Republican Party of Florida.

Miranda, who managed Levine's mayoral campaign in 2013, also wants to return to pursuing a law degree at Florida State University.

On Tuesday, he told the Miami Herald he'd been thinking about making the move for a while. 

"It was always something that was in the back of my mind,” he said."I put law school on hold about a year and a half ago. Then the right opportunity came up to work in Tallahassee."

Miranda said he'll be working on Republican Florida House campaigns until December 2016. His last day in Miami Beach is Feb. 27, and he said he feels "truly blessed" to have worked for Levine.

Levine thanked Miranda in his statement.

"I want to thank Alex for all his dedication and commitment to the City of Miami Beach and wish him the very best in all his future endeavors," he wrote.