June 03, 2016

Opa-locka resisted Florida takeover -- then took credit for it

via @jayhweaver and Michael Sallah

Since last fall, Mayor Myra Taylor stiff-armed anyone who tried to persuade her to admit that Opa-locka’s nearly bankrupt government was in a “state of financial emergency.”

Taylor led the way to fire City Manager Steve Shiver in November after he alerted the governor’s office of Opa-locka’s looming collapse, and then she pushed back efforts by fellow Commissioners Joseph Kelley and Terence Pinder to ask Florida for assistance from the state’s financial experts.

But on Wednesday night, in a role reversal, Taylor took credit for Gov. Rick Scott’s executive order that declared the state would take over the city’s debt-ridden financial operations — with a Scott-appointed board approving all future spending.

“I just got word that the governor issued an order declaring a state of financial emergency in Opa-locka based on our resolution,” Taylor told some 50 people who attended a commission meeting. The commission had voted 4-0 to request that the governor declare the emergency and appoint the oversight board.

But according to sources familiar with events leading up to that vote, the governor’s chief inspector general had given Opa-locka’s city manager an ultimatum: The state will help Opa-locka only if the commission formally asks for it.

More here.

June 02, 2016

Democrat plans to challenge Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@PatriciaMazzei

In the year of Donald Trump, no Republican may be safe — not even the dean of Miami-Dade County’s congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Friday will draw a Democratic challenger, the first serious candidate to launch a campaign against her in eight years.

Scott Fuhrman, a political newcomer and third-generation fruit-juice bottler, has national Democrats’ backing to try to unseat Ros-Lehtinen, a beloved, socially liberal Republican who has been in Congress since 1989.

“I don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s time to try something new,” Fuhrman said Thursday in an interview with the Miami Herald.

Fuhrman, 34, of South Miami, speaks openly about numerous past brushes with the law. He has been registered without political-party affiliation in the past and plans to kick off his “unorthodox” candidacy with a web video Friday. He acknowledged his campaign will be “an uphill battle.”

Ros-Lehtinen, 63, isn’t considered a vulnerable political target, even after Congressional District 27, which stretches from North Bay Village to Cutler Bay, was redrawn to lean slightly Democratic. The nonpartisanCook Political Report, which analyzes congressional races, lists the seat as “solid” Republican, and the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report rates it “safe” Republican — even though the district voters favored President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by 7 percentage points in 2012.

Yet Democrats hope Trump might change the equation, if enough voters who oppose him also punish the rest of the Republicans on the ticket. South Florida already boasts one of the most competitive congressional races in the country: Freshman Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo is trying to fend off two Democrats in a Westchester-to-Key West district that leans even more Democratic than Ros-Lehtinen’s. Neither Curbelo nor Ros-Lehtinen, both in Hispanic-majority districts, plans to vote for Trump.

More here.

Restaurant owner charged with trying to bribe Miami-Dade commissioner

via @DavidOvalle305

When the owner of Hialeah’s Rancho Okeechobee needed permission to keep the restaurant open late for a special event, he walked into the office of County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz.

“You have a friend in Rancho Okeechobee,” he wrote in a letter, according to Miami-Dade police.

And inside the envelope: $700 cash.

The envelope stuffed with cash led not to political favors but to the arrest of Elezear Gadea, the restaurant owner, who has been charged with offering a bribe, authorities said. He later gave an undercover detective — posing as a commissioner’s aide — $2,000 in cash to help him, according to police.

Gadea, 47, was arrested early Wednesday and was still jailed in the afternoon. Court records did not list a defense lawyer.

“This open and brazen disrespect for our government, for our system, for our elected officials, is really so disheartening,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. “To openly walk into a government office with an envelope with cash is really bold.”

More here.

Florida declares financial emergency in Miami suburb of Opa-locka

via Michael Sallah and @jayhweaver

With Opa-locka on the edge of bankruptcy, Gov. Rick Scott declared a financial emergency for the city on Wednesday, calling for a special oversight board to take over the city’s finances and stem the bleeding that has led to crippling debts and cutbacks that have impacted every level of government.

The executive order comes just weeks after Miami-Dade County officials sent letters to the governor warning that the city could be shut down because of gaping budget shortfalls in the millions.

“It’s finally coming to end,” said Steve Shiver, a former city manager who called for the state to step in last year after turning up grave financial problems. “This is long, long overdue. It’s critical that they find the true financial picture of Opa-locka.”

The state will appoint members of the oversight board to monitor the spending of every city department — the second time the city of 16,000 residents has been placed under an emergency since 2002.

More here.

June 01, 2016

GOP taps Miami's Helen Aguirre Ferré as Hispanic communications director

@PatriciaMazzei

For Republicans, the road to the White House runs through Florida — and its sizable Spanish-speaking population. To reach them, the GOP on Wednesday named veteran Miami TV and radio host Helen Aguirre Ferré as its Hispanic communications director.

Aguirre Ferré will be based out of the Republican National Committee's headquarters in Washington, D.C., though she told the Miami Herald she plans to make frequent trips to Florida, the nation's largest swing state, and to Miami-Dade, the state's largest and most Hispanic county.

“It's in support of all the Republican candidates,” she said of her new position. “I just think that this is one of those years. We always say that every election is so important, but this election — everyone agrees — is particularly unique.”

Her message to “surrogates” — Hispanics who reach out to Latino voters on behalf of candidates and the party — will be in part that the lingering effects of the recession have hurt the Hispanic community.

More here.

Ana Rivas Logan officially enters Florida Senate race

Rivas logan@ByKristenMClark

Former state lawmaker and Miami-Dade School Board member Ana Rivas Logan is officially running for state Senate.

The Republican-turned-Democrat filed her paperwork Wednesday to seek the District 40 seat — which current state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, and state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, are also vying for.

Rivas Logan had been weighing a bid for several weeks. The Herald/Times confirmed her decision to run last week.

“The stakes are too high to stay on the sidelines in this race, which is why I’ve decided to embark on a continued journey of public service,” Rivas Logan said in a statement Wednesday. “My community has encouraged me to be their voice in Tallahassee and I am ready to campaign hard to earn the support of voters in August and November.”

Jumping in the District 40 race gives Miami-Dade Democrats an alternative contender to take on Artiles in November, but it also divides the party since Bullard is seeking re-election.

More here.

May 30, 2016

Poll: Carlos Gimenez leads Miami-Dade mayor's race but needs to boost Democratic support

@PatriciaMazzei

Carlos Gimenez holds an 18-percentage-point lead in his re-election bid as Miami-Dade County mayor, according to a new public-opinion poll, but needs to bolster support among traditional Democratic voters to win the non-partisan race outright.

The Republican mayor is ahead of his two rivals who have raised any campaign cash worth noting, found the survey conducted by Associated Industries of Florida, a Tallahassee-based business organization with a premier polling operation.

Gimenez drew 40 percent support in the poll, followed by 22 percent for Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado and 4 percent for political newcomer Alfred Santamaría. The mayor would need 50 percent-plus-1 in the Aug. 30 election to avoid a November run-off.

Gimenez would have to draw support among Democrats, particularly among African Americans, where his support is weakest. While 54 percent of all voters approve of Gimenez's handling of the job, that number falls to 40 percent among African Americans.

"While only slightly underwater there, his more fragile level of support amongst African Americans is a theme that continued throughout this data set," Ryan Tyson, AIF's director of political operations, wrote in a memo to members. He said several members had asked for a survey of the Miami-Dade race.

Continue reading "Poll: Carlos Gimenez leads Miami-Dade mayor's race but needs to boost Democratic support" »

May 27, 2016

Ana Rivas Logan will run for state Senate, challenging Dwight Bullard

Rivas logan@ByKristenMClark

Ana Rivas Logan is in.

After weeks of mulling a bid for the Florida Senate, the former state lawmaker and Miami-Dade School Board member plans to file her candidacy next week for the District 40 seat, Democratic sources close to Rivas Logan confirmed to the Herald/Times.

An announcement is planned around June 1.

Rivas Logan's entrance into the state Senate race means she will challenge current state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Culter Bay, in the Aug. 30 party primary.

Rivas Logan said earlier this month that she had reservations about running against Bullard, but said "I do not want Frank Artiles to win either."

Artiles, a Republican state representative from Miami, is also running for the District 40 seat. He's campaigning hard and has racked up significant fundraising this spring to unseat Bullard.

Bullard told the Herald/Times today that he hopes Rivas Logan doesn't run. He said he plans to meet with her before the end of the month and "hopefully, we can come to an understanding."

"Anyone else is entitled to throw her hat in the race, but I just think to be fully transparent: To leave a well-funded Republican with nothing to do while two Democrats go toe-to-toe all summer puts undue pressure on a Democratic establishment that’s already strained," Bullard said, referencing other contentious state Senate races in Miami-Dade County that the party hopes to win.

"It weakens the field when you have to have a primary among Democrats, especially when one is a sitting elected official," Bullard added.

In April, Bullard raised just $2,600, compared to the $39,200 Artiles raised. Heading in to May, Artiles had $238,000 in cash on hand, while Bullard had less than $22,000.

While Rivas Logan and others have expressed concerns about Bullard's lack of fundraising, he said it's not going to be an issue. June is normally when state legislative campaigns ramp up, Bullard said, because in a normal year, the legislative session would have just ended in mid-May.

Bullard also pointed to endorsements he's already gotten from major unions, political advocacy groups and elected officials.

District 40 includes parts of central Miami-Dade County. It's heavily Hispanic and favors a Democrat. Almost 55 percent of the district voted for Barack Obama in 2012.

Rivas Logan served on the Miami-Dade School Board from 2004 to 2010. She was then elected to the Florida House in 2010 but lost her re-election race in 2012, after redistricting drew her into the same district as Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz.

photo credit: Twitter

May 25, 2016

Former prosecutor to run for Florida Senate against Gwen Margolis

via @DavidOvalle305

Former prosecutor Jason Pizzo is joining the crowded Florida State Senate race to represent Northeast Miami-Dade.

The six-person race among all Democrats includes Sen. Gwen Margolis, Florida Rep. Daphne Campbell and former Rep. Phillip Brutus. The newly configured district include coastal cities such as Aventura and North Miami Beach, as well as predominately black neighborhoods such as Liberty City and Overtown.

Pizzo, 40, spent more than four years as a prosecutor, leaving in November to go into private practice.

During his last 10 months at the state, Pizzo said, he helped lead a pilot project that embedded prosecutors and community-support staff with police in Northeast Miami-Dade neighborhoods hardest hit by gun violence.

The efforts resulted in more arrests in shooting cases, convictions at trial and even the targeting of slum lords and shoddy housing conditions, he said.

To begin his campaign, Pizzo lent himself $200,000. "I can speak my mind," Pizzo said. "I don't need to go ask for money. I'm not beholden to any lobbyists or special interest or old guard crusty bureaucratic B.S. If there is something to do, I'm going to make sure it gets done."

Pizzo, a graduate of New York University, Columbia University and the University of Miami's law school, is married with 10-year-old twin boys.

--DAVID OVALLE

CBO report says ending automatic Cuban refugee payments would save money

@PatriciaMazzei

It seems obvious, but now a nonpartisan report confirms it: Ending automatic welfare payments to Cuban immigrants would save the federal government money.

That’s according to the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzed proposed legislation by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Sen. Marco Rubio, two Cuban-American Republicans.

The CBO estimated the feds would save $2.45 billion over 10 years if recently arrived Cubans were no longer treated automatically as refugees deserving of food stamps and other aid. About $1.05 billion would be saved from 2017-21, and another $1.4 billion from 2022-27.

The savings give Curbelo and Rubio a new selling point for their bill, which they filed to curtail abuse by some Cuban immigrants who send the money back to the island. GOP leaders in Congress — particularly House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — have said they’re not interested in taking up immigration legislation. With the CBO report in hand, Rubio and Curbelo might have better luck pitching their proposal as a way to save money.

More here.