March 09, 2015

Mike Fernandez resurrects Flag of Gratitude talks with Miami

via @NewsbySmiley

Coral Gables Healthcare mogul Mike Fernandez has resumed his efforts to fly a massive American flag some 40 stories above downtown Miami –- a city he recently ripped for its “petty” and “dirty” politics.

Last week, to her surprise, Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez received an email from a lawyer representing Fernandez in his quest to build a 425-foot flag pole in Museum Park as a tribute to U.S. veterans. On March 5, Fernandez’s attorney, John Shubin, forwarded an email chain from October in which he submitted a written proposal for what Fernandez calls the Flag of Gratitude.

“Based on much interest and support from the community, Mike Fernandez wishes to continue to see what steps are necessary for the City to accept his donation of an iconic American flag,” Shubin wrote, noting that “there had not been any follow up to the email thread from late October.”

The last email in that chain was dated Oct. 29. The next day, Fernandez told the Miami Herald that he was likely giving up his quest to erect the flag in Miami after some city officials tried to shake him down.

“To me, it is greatly disappointing that some people can be as petty as they are. It is unbelievable,” he said at the time, without naming names.

To build the flag in Museum Park, Fernandez needs the city’s permission, as it would be on public, bayfront land.

Fernandez, who recently published a book about his rags to riches life story, says the country’s tallest flag pole and the enormous flags hoisted to its peak will be constructed with private money. He created a foundation to fund the operation and maintenance of the structure.

Mendez, after confirming that Fernandez was indeed still interested in working with the city – “We thought the project had been abandoned in the city of Miami,” she wrote to Shubin -- said she’d follow up.

March 08, 2015

Raquel Regalado: I am running for Miami-Dade mayor


School board member Raquel Regalado said Sunday she plans to run for Miami-Dade mayor, saying the county needs a “different direction” than the one offered by Carlos Gimenez, who has held the office since 2011.

“I think the decisions being made right now are having such a dramatic impact on our lives,” Regalado, 40, said in an interview Sunday, referring to Gimenez. “I don’t think we need to raise taxes. I do think we need to re-evaluate how we’re conducting business, and rethink our priorities.”

Anticipated for weeks, Regalado’s announcement brings Gimenez, 61, his first official opponent as he gears up to run for his second full term on a pledge of flat taxes, administrative competence and shared prosperity. It also draws a formal political dividing line between the mayors of Miami-Dade and Miami, where Regalado’s father,  Tomás Regalado, serves as mayor.

Regalado said she plans to file formal candidacy papers Monday, and will also release a series of campaign videos highlighting her message.

Regalado has already released two anti-Gimenez videos – one criticizing his Feb. 26 State of the County speech and the other slamming  a mega-mall project he wants to bring to Miami-Dade. She also joined billionaire activist Norman Braman in suing both Miami and Miami-Dade over SkyRise Miami, a project that city voters approved in August that won a county subsidy with Gimenez’s backing after the successful referendum. Regalado and Braman claim the county dollars violate the referendum’s description of a privately-funded project.

Regalado’s planned run for mayor sets up a battle between a two-term school board member with little administrative experience and  a long-time public administrator now in his fifth year as Miami-Dade’s top  executive.  

Continue reading "Raquel Regalado: I am running for Miami-Dade mayor" »

March 07, 2015

Miami-Dade asks Florida for money to buy rare forest eyed for Walmart

via @jenstaletovich

An endangered forest where a developer wants to build a Walmart has a new suitor: Miami-Dade County.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Commissioner Dennis Moss said Friday the county would like to purchase 88 acres near Zoo Miami, hoping to derail plans by a Palm Beach County developer to build a shopping center on the land featuring the box store, an LA Fitness, restaurants and apartments. The development plans, announced last year, set off blistering protests from residents and environmentalists.

“We feel it’s the right thing to do,” Gimenez said after announcing the purchase plans in a meeting with the Miami Herald editorial board.

However, the deal hinges on whether the county can obtain money under Amendment 1, a state constitutional amendment to help buy endangered land now being haggled over in the Florida Legislature, Gimenez said. And it also depends on whether developer Peter Cummings wants to be courted.

In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday, Gimenez and Moss asked for money — but not a specific amount — spelling out the significance of the property, which is part of the last, largest intact tract of rockland outside Everglades National Park and is home to a menagerie of endangered bats, butterflies and plants. Pine rockland, a globally imperiled forest, once covered 185,000 acres in the county, the letter said. It now grows in fragmented chunks on just 3,700 acres.

More here.

March 06, 2015

Raquel Regalado slams mega-mall plan in Miami-Dade



Looking more like an official candidate for mayor, school board member Raquel Regalado issued a video statement Friday slamming Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez for helping broker a deal to bring the nation's largest mall to Northwestern Miami-Dade. 

The video posted on Regalado's Facebook page followed what may be the first-ever video rebuttal to the mayor's State of the County address last week. Regalado has said she is considering a run for county mayor in 2016, but has not announced her candidacy. 

In the latest video, Regalado criticized the proposed American Dream Miami mall and theme park for offering low-wage retail and hospitality jobs. "We should focus on diversifying our economy," she said in the English version of the video. (The La Poderosa radio host also posted a Spanish version.)

In his announcement this week, Gimenez touted American Dream as a boon to the economy and noted high-wage jobs are out of reach for many county residents.

Regalado criticized that remark Friday. "It's shameful that our mayor has such a low opinion of our residents and neighbors," she said. 

Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández declined to comment on the video. 

Regalado's position on the $4 billion project, which promises 25,000 permanent jobs, isn't just of political interest. Developer Triple Five wants vacant state land currently leased by the school system. The nine-member school board must endorse the deal, which involves Triple Five paying $7 million to compensate the system for giving up its lease. 

"Thankfully, Miami-Dade County School Board will weigh in on this project, the viability of this plan, and the impact it will have on surrounding communities," said Regalado, now serving her second term on the board. 

Miami-Dade mayor: a downtown Tri Rail station is 'once in a lifetime opportunity'



Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez made his case Friday for contributing $8 million in county funds to help build a Tri Rail station in All Aboard Florida's downtown Miami rail complex. 

"All Aboard Florida will give us a once in a lifetime opportunity to link up Tri Rail with downtown," Gimenez said in a Friday meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board. "If we don't take advantage of that opportunity now, it's going to cost us five to six times more in the future."

As reported this week in The Miami Herald, Gimenez has already passed word that he favors Miami-Dade contributing the requested $8 million that Tri Rail says is needed to build a station in All Aboard's privately-owned railroad depot in Miami.

All Aboard, part of the Florida East Coast development company, is launching a railroad running from Miami to Orlando, and Tri Rail is a government entity with commuter trains that connect Palm Beach with Miami. Tri Rail's Miami depot is about 10 miles from downtown, and All Aboard and Tri Rail are pursuing a plan to put Tri Rail in the All Aboard complex, too. 

Gimenez said by using All Aboard's rail corridors, Tri Rail can link Miami's commercial district to coastal destinations at a tiny fraction of the cost for expanding the government-run rail. 

"You'll be able to get on a train in West Palm Beach and come to downtown Miami, and vice versa, with minimum public commitment to it," he said.  "If we had to replicate that route ourselves, it would cost us billions."

The $8 million ask from the county is part of a $69 million price tag that Tri Rail said is needed to make it happen. Miami's special Overtown taxing district would fund the bulk of the request, with the city of Miami also looked at for a potential contribution.  

Mayor Tomás Regalado is opposing the push for public funds. “I can’t support to compromise the general fund of the city of Miami just because Tri-Rail would be a good thing for downtown Miami,” Regalado told the Herald this week.

The potential stand-off provides some political fodder, since Regalado's daughter, Raquel Regalado, is preparing to run against Gimenez in the 2016 county mayoral race. 

"The city of Miami needs to come aboard, too," Gimenez said Friday. "This will do wonders for the city itself."

Ex-Homestead mayor appealing corruption conviction gets probation in campaign finance case

via @DavidOvalle305

Former Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman, already facing prison time on a corruption conviction, agreed to probation on additional allegations that he misspent campaign donations.

Bateman on Thursday pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor counts of unlawfully disposing of campaign funds.

He agreed to serve 18 months of probation and was granted a “withhold of adjudication,” meaning no conviction will appear on his record.

Prosecutors had alleged that Bateman illegally spent over $2,000 in campaign money after his reelection in 2011.

The misdemeanor case was always a minor sideshow to Bateman’s other legal woes.

The plea deal comes three months after another judge sentenced Bateman to 22 months in prison in an unrelated corruption case. Jurors convicted Bateman of illegally wielding his influence as mayor while secretly on the payroll of a healthcare company needing government clearance to build a clinic in Homestead.

More here.

The largest mall in America wants a bigger place in Miami



Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez dropped a bombshell Thursday: he had been negotiating a deal with the owner of Minnesota's Mall of America to build an even larger entertainment complex in the northwestern part of the county.

The plan was enough of a secret that it's too early to say what political and regulatory challenges developer Triple Five faces. It must win state approval, county approval and also secure support from Miami-Dade's school board, which holds a lease on some Florida property the company wants for its $4 billion project.

More here

March 05, 2015

Florida House Republicans eager to rebuke Obama on new Cuba policy


A rebuke to President Obama for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba received the full-throated support Thursday of a committee in the conservative Florida House of Representatives.

The legislation, which expresses "profound disagreement" with the president's decision and opposes the opening of a Cuban consulate or diplomatic office anywhere in Florida, is largely symbolic. If approved by the full House and Senate, it would formally petition Congress to act but not require it to do so.

Tampa is pushing for a consulate, after the Miami city mayor said he doesn't want one. Miami-Dade County Republican Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. and Jeanette Nuñez are sponsoring the House bill, HM 727, with a companion, SM 866, filed by Sen. Anitere Flores.

A separate, softer measure filed by Miami Democratic Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, HM 745, would also oppose a consulate but only go as far as urge Obama to limit U.S. engagement with the Cuban government to strengthening civil society in Cuba. That legislation has yet to get a hearing.

On Thursday, the first time the GOP bill was heard, Republicans who legislate state policy on the House Local & Federal Affairs committee eagerly weighed in on federal foreign policy. The bill passed 9-4 along party lines.

Continue reading "Florida House Republicans eager to rebuke Obama on new Cuba policy" »

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."