March 15, 2016

Miami Beach mayor to travel to Cuba next week

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@PatriciaMazzei

In a historic visit, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine plans to travel to Cuba in his official capacity next week, becoming the first head of a Miami-Dade County city to go to the island since the 1959 revolution.

Levine will fly to Cuba to help lead a graduate seminar for Tufts University, which he said asked him to join about a dozen students of international affairs. The dates, set some time ago, happened to coincide with President Barack Obama’s trip to the island, the first time a U.S. president will step on Cuban soil in nearly 90 years.

“I think I’m the first mayor from Miami-Dade County to go,” Levine told the Miami Herald on Tuesday, in a boast that might have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. “I believe in the Cuban people in Cuba as well as the Cuban people in Miami. And I believe that we need to engage people in Cuba, and we need to do it through all types of interaction, and we need to give them hope. We need to give them aspiration.

“Obviously, government-to-government it’s been very challenging over the past 60 years, but I think if you empower the people, the people will be able to bring about the changes that they would like to see, whether it’s human rights and, of course, all types of freedoms.”

Part of what Levine wants to find out is how Havana might shape up as a tourism destination in competition with Miami Beach.

“Being a proactive mayor doesn’t mean putting your head in the sand and thinking, somehow, that this previous tourist destination of Cuba is not going to somehow come alive again,” he said. “It’s incumbent on someone like myself, as a mayor, to go down there to engage, and to understand what we may be in store for in the future as it pertains to our core industry.”

More here.

South Florida voters' guide for Tuesday

via @NewsbySmiley

The presidential campaign is taking up most of the oxygen as Florida heads to the primary on Tuesday. But for many voters in South Florida, there will be other issues and candidates on the ballot unrelated to the presidential primary election or party affiliation. This is a voters’ guide on those races and ballot questions in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties.

Presidential primaries

Registered Republican and Democratic voters will see a litany of names on the ballot, but many candidates have already dropped out of the race. Republican candidates Ted CruzJohn KasichMarco Rubio and Donald Trump remain in the race. For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are still campaigning.

Miami-Dade County

Miami

Developers Alex Mantecon and Guillermo Vadell want to build the Riverside Wharf, a privately financed $30 million complex of four restaurants and a fish market on the Miami River. Their project is planned on private and city land, and would fetch the city a minimum of $195,000 annually over the span of a 30-year lease with two 10-year options. They need a simple majority of voters to support the project.

More here.

March 14, 2016

Donald Trump finds some support among South Florida Hispanics

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@lesleyclark @PatriciaMazzei

Cuban Americans in South Florida have the rare opportunity to vote for two of their own for the presidency of the United States. Yet some are making a different choice: They’re backing Donald Trump.

The controversial front-runner has insisted he’ll draw Hispanic voters despite launching his campaign last June with inflammatory remarks about Mexicans and rapists. And as he competes in Florida, the biggest state yet to test his boast, there is anecdotal evidence of support among Miami-Dade’s staunchly Republican Cuban-American voters even as most back Marco Rubio — the son of Cuban immigrants — whom many Cuban-American voters helped elect to the U.S. Senate in 2010.

For Trump backers, ethnicity plays no factor.

“I don’t think Cuban; I think American,” said former Hialeah Mayor Julio Martinez, who for two weeks has held a Trump campaign sign outside an early-voting site just blocks from where Rubio last week implored Hispanics to vote for him in Tuesday’s presidential primary.

Perched in a lawn chair outside the John F. Kennedy Library, holding a sign saying “The Silent Majority Stands with Trump,” Martinez said he was backing Trump because there was “nobody better suited” to fixing the economy.

“The worst problem the United States has today is the economy,” he said.

More here.

Photo credit: Gaston De Cardenas, Miami Herald

March 13, 2016

A busy last day of early voting in South Florida

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via @lesleyclark

Many came prepared for a wait, and at some early voting sites, they found one.

As Florida wrapped up 10 days of early voting, voters on Sunday surged to the polls, eager to cast their ballots in a state that could once again prove critical in the presidential election.

Miami-Dade County typically sees a flood of voters during the final early-voting hours, and Sunday was no different. Wait times, estimated hourly by poll workers, jumped Sunday afternoon to about an hour in several locations, including the Coral Reef, Kendall and West Dade libraries. Other sites, such as the Coral Gables, North Dade and West Kendall libraries, also proved popular.

So popular that Matthew McDonald decided to wait until Tuesday. The line at the Coral Gables Library was moving, but poll workers said it could be up to an hour, McDonald said on his way out.

“It’s the post-church, post-lunch rush,” he said. McDonald, 52, said he’d try back later in the day or on Tuesday to cast his ballot in support of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. McDonald also likes local son Sen. Marco Rubio, but said “he’s made a lot of mistakes. That debate? Repeating himself 67 times like he was a robot? I don’t know if he’s going to make it.”

More here.

Photo credit: Gaston De Cardenas, Miami Herald

Donald Trump cancels Doral rally planned for Monday

@PatriciaMazzei

Donald Trump has called off a Miami-area rally his campaigned had planned for Monday night, the eve before Florida's primary.

Instead of campaigning at his Trump National Doral resort, Trump will gather with supporters in Youngstown, Ohio.

"If we are successful on Election Day, we will do a celebration at Doral after the election," the Republican front-runner's campaign said in a statement Sunday afternoon.

The late schedule change could be a sign that Trump is more worried about losing Ohio to Gov. John Kasich than Florida to Sen. Marco Rubio. Rubio will end Monday in his hometown of West Miami.

Miami protesters were organizing on Facebook to disrupt Trump's Doral appearance.

He will still rally Sunday night in Boca Raton, and Monday afternoon in Tampa.

Haitian-American GOP congresswoman from Utah stumps in Miami for Marco Rubio

GOP 2016 Rubio(5)

via @Jacquiecharles

Of the Republican presidential candidates in this year’s divisive — and sometimes zany— marathon to November, there is one candidate who Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, most identifies with: Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Love is the first black female Republican and first Haitian American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She was on first official visit to South Florida as a congresswoman over the weekend pitch hitting for Rubio.

"I want you guys yelling 'Ayisyen pou Rubio,'" Love told the group of Haitian professionals gathered by the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce Saturday, which hosted a breakfast in her honor at Moca Cafe in North Miami.

That might be a tall order some in the crowd conceded. Haitian community and immigration activists in South Florida have had a tough time seeing eye-to-eye with Rubio’s immigration stance, describing it as “flip flop.”

Love asked them to think more broadly and beyond.

"The difference between Marco and anybody else is that his policies are unifying people," she later told the Miami Herald in an interview, referring to the clashes that morning at rally for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump in Chicago that had to be aborted. "They are not causing the kind of havoc that you see that's going on where people are turning against each other.

"We need leaders who are not going to feed on the angst, the anger for their own political gain," she added. "This is about stepping outside of yourself for crying out loud and doing something for somebody else."

Continue reading "Haitian-American GOP congresswoman from Utah stumps in Miami for Marco Rubio" »

March 10, 2016

David Rivera's ex-con ex-girlfriend says she called cops on him

via @ChuckRabin

Add another strange episode to one of South Florida’s longest running political soap operas:

Ana Alliegro, an ex-con who admitted to breaking campaign-finance laws, told police that former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, the suspected mastermind behind the scheme that landed her in jail two years ago, fell asleep at her home two weeks ago. And when he was asked to leave, she said the ex-congressman and state representative from Miami grabbed her arm and took her cell phone camera.

She called the cops. When they arrived, Rivera wasn’t there.

“He didn’t beat me up or anything,” she said during a telephone interview Thursday from her Miami home. “It was simple assault.”

But Rivera, still under the cloud of a federal investigation into his involvement in the 2012 scandal, flatly denies the encounter ever took place. He said he was in Tallahassee when Alliegro claims he stalked her — and that she threatened suicide if he didn’t drive down to Miami to see her.

“After my conversations with state and federal law enforcement officials, I have no doubt she will be prosecuted for perjury and filing a false police report and sent back to prison for committing a felony while on probation,” Rivera said in an email.

More here.

March 09, 2016

UPDATED Miami congressman snubbed from White House meeting on Cuba

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo wanted in on the White House's upcoming Miami meeting with Cuban-American community leaders. 

No such luck.

Curbelo says he asked to attend Friday's get-together with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. But he was told the meeting will be "private."

"This White House works very hard at excluding Cuban-American representatives -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- from any meetings or discussions having to do with U.S.-Cuba policy," Curbelo said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "I've worked with the Administration on higher education reform, climate change, immigration, and other issues. However, on Cuba they shut out anyone who doesn't fully agree with them -- even those who represent our country's Cuban-American community. It doesn't make sense, and quite frankly, it seems petty."

Pete Boogaard, assistant press secretary for the National Security Council, said Rhodes and other senior administration officials have met "directly with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle."

"We will continue to make outreach to Congress a focus of our engagement, but during the limited time Mr. Rhodes has in Miami, he will meet with human rights and civil society advocates, faith leaders, young emerging leaders, and representatives from the private sector."

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, the Democrat who lost to Curbelo in 2014 and hopes to challenge him again later this year, issued a campaign statement deriding Curbelo's complaint as "priceless."

"The person who has opposed every single one of this administration's initiatives on Cuba -- from family travel to remittances to normalization of migratory policy -- now wants a photo op. The Obama administration has been in contact with Cubans both on the island and in Miami, as well as with leaders of the civic, business, art and political communities. If there is someone who is out of touch with the people in Cuba and, in particular, South Florida, it is Mr. Curbelo."

Curbelo was snubbed by the White House last year: It denied him an Air Force One seat to a President Barack Obama town hall on immigration at Florida International University, in Curbelo's congressional district. The White House later made nice with Curbelo, and he got to fly with the president a few months later on a trip to the Florida Everglades.

Miami Dade College announced Wednesday that, as part of his visit, Rhodes will attend a town meeting with young Cuban Americans at downtown Miami's Wolfson Campus. The event is co-sponsored by Roots of Hope, a nonprofit network of Cuban-American college students and professionals. Rhodes will hold a news conference afterward.

UPDATE: Rhodes telephoned Curbelo on Wednesday night, according to the congressman. They spoke for about half an hour and had a "very productive conversation."

This post has been updated.

March 08, 2016

Bernie Sanders says he has to brush up on Colombian peace process

@PatriciaMazzei

Bernie Sanders declined to opine Tuesday on perhaps the most important issue for South Florida Colombian-American voters: the fraught peace talks between the Colombian government and armed guerrillas.

Asked about the negotiations on a Colombian-American radio station in Miami, Sanders said he had to brush up. The peace process has been under way in Havana for more than three years.  

"Um, I have to tell you that I am not up to date on that issue," Sanders told Radio Caracol, WSUA-AM (1260). "What I will tell you is that I think the United States has not paid anywhere near the kind of attention that it should be paying to Latin America, who are our closest allies."

His Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, is the former U.S. secretary of state.

Tuesday marked Sanders' first foray into the complicated world of South Florida Hispanic politics, which are dominated -- but not exclusive to -- Cuban Americans. There's the Colombian-American radio station and the Venezuelan-American radio station, and the Puerto Rican talk-show hosts in Central Florida, and a robust community of Central Americans.

Sanders likely won't find many ardent Cuban-American supporters among exiles who fled Fidel Castro's regime. So ahead of his Miami rally Tuesday night, he appeared to target non-Cuban Hispanics, who tend to lean Democratic.

The Vermont senator said he's traveled "to many Latin American countries" over the years and would like a closer relationship with the region. He hit hard on Republican front-runner Donald Trump: "The idea of Donald Trump of throwing 11 million undocumented people out of this country will only increase tensions with Mexico and with Latin American countries. The idea of building a wall will only increase tensions. Those are really stupid ideas, which I strongly oppose." He later called Trump's ideas "outrageous," "xenophobic" and "unacceptable."

Hispanics, Sanders predicted, would vote for him because he wants to raise the minimum wage, make tuition free at public universities, and give undocumented immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship.

Hialeah mayor to endorse Marco Rubio

@PatriciaMazzei

When Marco Rubio heads Wednesday to Hialeah, Florida's most Cuban-American city, he'll pick up the support of a key local politician who had so far stayed on the sidelines: Mayor Carlos Hernandez.

Hernandez will back Rubio at a Milander Stadium rally held the day before the Republican presidential debate at the University of Miami.

Unlike other recent Rubio endorsements, Hernandez hadn't previously backed Jeb Bush -- or any other candidate -- ahead of Florida's March 15 primary.

Hernandez drew some unwanted headlines two years ago when he testified in a federal case against his predecessor, Julio Robaina. Hernandez admitted to charging exorbitant interest rates on private loans, but he was never accused of wrongdoing. (Robaina was acquitted.)

Hernandez has remained popular in his voter-rich city. Rubio needs Hialeah and other Cuban-American enclaves to vote in large numbers to counter Donald Trump's popularity elsewhere in the state. Having Hernandez at his side may help.