December 30, 2015

In Miami-Dade County, could it be Jean Monestime for mayor?


Updated: 2:46 p.m.

Florida Democrats are helping plan a campaign announcement next week for Jean Monestime, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, to kick-off his run for county mayor in 2016, according to multiple sources. 

It's not known whether Monestime, a Democrat, has actually decided to challenge incumbent Mayor Carlos Gimenez. But the possibility is serious enough that preparations are being made for an announcement event that would mark a successful effort by state Democrats to recruit a party standard-bearer to run against Miami-Dade's senior county-level Republican. 

The announcement planning was confirmed by three Democratic sources, including one who spoke to Monestime this week. No date has been picked, but the idea is to hold it Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. The source who spoke to Monestime said he plans to run. The two-term commissioner did not respond to an interview request Wednesday. 

Planning for a kick-off next week would still give Monestime the holiday weekend to make a final decision on whether to enter the most high-profile race in local politics. 

The original post, with more background, is below:

Jean Monestime, Miami-Dade's commission chairman, is being heavily courted by state Democrats to challenge Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2016, according to several sources close to the talks. 

The first Haitian-American to hold the chairman's post, Monestime would bring the backing of the Democratic Party to an officially non-partisan race that's currently between two Hispanic Republicans: Gimenez and Raquel Regalado, a two-term school board member and the daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado

Monestime did not respond to an interview request Wednesday morning, but the sources close to the talks said the two-term county commissioner has been approached by Democratic leaders about the 2016 mayoral race in a broader effort to recruit local candidates for the party's Municipal Victory effort statewide.

Monestime is described as seriously considering the possibility. His potential candidacy comes after a tense year that saw him at odds with the Gimenez administration, particularly on the mayor's plan to legalize the Uber ride-hailing service. 

A mayoral bid would be a huge gamble for Monestime, since the state's "resign-to-run" would require him to surrender his commission seat at the end of 2016. But state Democrats are laying out a "path to victory" for Monestime, according to the sources, given the expected flood of Democratic votes in Miami-Dade from a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and his perceived ability to consolidate and energize the county's black vote. 

Continue reading "In Miami-Dade County, could it be Jean Monestime for mayor? " »

December 28, 2015

Hialeah loyalists flock to Jeb Bush, who laughs off question about dropping out of 2016 race

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The cook stepped out the swinging kitchen doors of Chico’s Cuban restaurant in Hialeah on Monday, wiping his greasy hands before saying hello to the same man he had greeted nearly 18 years ago.

Luis Castaño again stood by Jeb Bush, smiling for another picture. His business partner, Jesus Ovidez, held a framed photo of himself and the politician, back when Bush was running for Florida governor in 1998.

Es como uno de la familia,” said Castaño, 66. He's like one of the family.

This is the kind of loyalty Bush, 62, now a presidential candidate, is counting on in Florida to remain a 2016 contender for the White House — assuming he stays in the race long enough to compete here.

Bush trails several rivals in Florida polls. When a local Spanish-language television reporter asked Bush after his Chico’s breakfast rally if he might drop out, given his stagnant popularity, Bush laughed and said, “No.”

“That’s a joke for the new year,” he added.

Continue reading "Hialeah loyalists flock to Jeb Bush, who laughs off question about dropping out of 2016 race" »

December 26, 2015

Miami congressman suffers Christmas hoverboard accident


Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo's got his arm in a sling for Christmas. The culprit: His nephew's hoverboard (and not, as previously reported, his daughter's).

Miami GOP vice-chair: I'm backing Ted Cruz


Manny Roman, the vice-chairman of the Miami-Dade Republican Party, wrote in a letter to the Miami Herald editor published Saturday that he's chosen to back neither of his party's two local presidential candidates.

Instead, Roman is endorsing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

"I had every reason to support Senator [Marco] Rubio instead — he is a well-liked local Republican and my colleague on the faculty at Florida International University (he teaches politics, while I teach business)," Roman wrote. "However, even in an environment where there is overwhelming indirect pressure to get behind one of the local candidates, Ted Cruz’s story and platform break through all the noise."

Cruz shared Roman's letter on his Twitter account.

Roman said in an email to a Herald reporter that he has joined Cruz's campaign as a Miami-Dade County chairman.

"We are working on implementing the same grassroots-focused strategy in Miami-Dade that has worked so well in other key states," Roman said. "I am just one of several leaders in South Florida that is super energized and working to see Ted win the nomination."

Read Roman's letter here.

UPDATE: Here's a response to Roman's endorsement from Miami-Dade GOP Chairman Nelson Diaz, a friend of Rubio's who has not made a formal 2016 endorsement:

It is inappropriate for party leaders to put their thumbs on the scales of what should grassroots elections. The Republican Party doesn’t endorse candidates in contested primaries for a reason: we let the grassroots decide who our nominee should be. Moreover, it is a violation of Party Rules (and the Loyalty Oath we all signed) to use our titles and position to endorse one Republican over another. Privately, of course, we can all support the candidate of our choice, but using our titles and positions is not only a violation of our rules but also a violation of the trust that party members placed in us. The nominee should win by election of the grassroots, in a bottom-up manner, not a top-down push by party leadership. This is why I have stayed publicly neutral in this primary season. It is my hope that other party leaders don’t try to put their thumbs on the scales as well.

December 22, 2015

Keith Donner's firm tied to Raquel Regalado's campaign mailer


The political operative behind a poll that found public support for the school board partnering with David Beckham on a soccer stadium also has a connection to school board member Raquel Regalado's big campaign mailer in her run for Miami-Dade mayor.

Keith Donner's firm, 50 Blue, conducted the November poll, which got attention for its encouraging take on the school board's brief pursuit of owning Beckham's stadium. At the time, Donner agreed to share results from the soccer portion of the poll when asked about it by Naked Politics but declined to identify who had commissioned it. 

Now Donner's firm is also handling Regalado's $66,000 year-end mailer, which came in the form of a holiday card featuring her with her two children and a message that noted: "This new year change is coming." The expenditure was listed in campaign filings as going to Gravitas Campaigns, a limited liability company registered in Dover, Del. But the bulk-mail permit on the mailer belongs to 50 Blue. 

Regalado said the mailer work went to Pastor Gonzalez, who is Donner's partner. Donner said he wasn't involved in the mailer, and said Gonzalez is his partner in 50 Blue. Gonazalez did not respond to an interview request. 

December 21, 2015

Gov. Scott appoints wife of former Miami commissioner Sarnoff to transit board


Florida Gov. Rick Scott has appointed Teresa Sarnoff, the wife of former Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, to the Florida Transportation Commission, a citizen's oversight board of the state's Department of Transportation, and expressway and regional transportation authorities.

The Sarnoffs are both Democrats but supported Scott in his reelection. Scott previously appointed Marc Sarnoff to the governing board of Miami-Dade's Metropolitan Planning Organization, but his term ended when he stepped down as Miami's District 2 commissioner due to term limits. His wife had hoped to win an election last month to name his replacement, but withdrew from the race when it became clear she couldn't beat new commissioner Ken Russell in a runoff election.

Scott's office announced Sarnoff's appointment late Friday. Her term runs until Sept. 30, 2019.

December 20, 2015

Businessmen write ‘open letter’ urging fellow Cuban Americans to embrace U.S. policy changes


Earlier this month, nearly a year to the day President Barack Obama shocked Cuban Americans with the news that the U.S. would reestablish relations with the Castro regime, a group of Cuban-American business people, almost all from Miami, quietly traveled to the island to see for themselves what, if anything, had changed.

Most of the 10 men — even a couple of otherwise staunch conservatives — returned convinced that stronger ties to the U.S. would help Cubans. They published a full-page advertisement in Sunday’s Miami Herald urging others to join their cause. Its title: “An Open Letter to Our Fellow Cuban-Americans.”

“We saw progress beyond what we could have imagined,” they wrote. “We saw entrepreneurs with a thirst for knowledge and families benefiting from the newfound freedom of enterprise. It is these ‘everyday’ people who are leading the way to an improved life but not without challenges.”

Without calling for an outright end to the U.S. trade embargo, which can only be lifted by Congress, they denounced it as ineffective: “As fellow Cuban-Americans, let us recognize the progress that has been made on both sides of the 90-mile Florida Straits, albeit halting, in the right direction. Just consider what has been accomplished in the last 12 months versus what has been accomplished in the last century.”

“We have arrived at the point in our lives where we have no interest in personal advancement, but only in what would be good for ‘nuestra gente,’” our people, they maintained.

Two Republicans who led the travel group paid for the ad: Carlos Gutierrez, the U.S. commerce secretary under former President George W. Bush, and Mike Fernandez, the Coral Gables healthcare magnate and top financial backer of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign.

More here.

December 17, 2015

Miami Lakes agrees to pay $460K to legal team of reinstated mayor

via @Paradise_Afshar

After months of talks, Miami Lakes and attorneys for Mayor Michael Pizzi have reached a settlement for his reinstatement lawsuit.

The council voted 4-3 to pay Pizzi’s legal team $460,000 during a special call meeting Wednesday night. Pizzi cast the deciding vote.

“This isn’t a decision we take lightly,” said Councilman Tony Lama. “I am inclined to vote for this, but it wasn’t without significant thought and prayer.”

Pizzi began vying for his reinstatement in August 2014, when he was acquitted on federal bribery charges. He ultimately sued the town in January and returned to office in April.

“It’s a bitter pill to everybody, but I think everybody did their best to do what’s in the overall best interest of the taxpayer,” Pizzi said.

The money to cover the reinstatement case will come from the town’s surplus budget from 2014-2015, in addition to the $250,000 they’d set aside in this year’s budget.

Despite the agreement, the battle over legal fees isn’t over yet. The town still needs to negotiate the roughly $2.25 million Pizzi’s legal team is asking for the federal case.

Both sides remain at an impasse over the issue.

--PARADISE AFSHAR, Special to the Miami Herald

South Florida school districts receive threat, deem it 'less than credible'

via @ChuckRabin

A day after two of the nation's largest school systems received email threats against students and property, Miami-Dade and Broward schools received a similar threat.

In South Florida, the news had many worried parents expressing fear and keeping their kids home from school.

The emails to New York and Los Angeles were deemed “less than credible,” though the Los Angeles superintendent chose to shut down a school system with more than 600,000 students for the day.

In Miami-Dade, school police deemed Wednesday night’s threat “less than credible” in an email alert to parents and students.

Miami-Dade, Broward and Houston — which received the same threat — are open Thursday.

The local school districts contacted federal, state and local authorities and are deploying additional security to campuses on Thursday.

More here.

December 16, 2015

FIU wins Homestead support for moving Youth Fair south. Youth Fair says: no way


Florida International University won a warm embrace Wednesday from the Homestead City Council over its plan to combine the MIami-Dade Youth Fair with a new FIU-backed complex centered around agri-business on county-owned land just outside city limits.

The Youth Fair's new home would free FIU to expand onto the fair's current home next to its main campus, and bring a significant new commercial center and annual event to an area eager for economic development. Yet one big obstacle remains: the Youth Fair has called a move to to South Dade a "non-starter," saying the site is so remote it would cut attendance in half and bankrupt the event. 

Wednesday's presentation before the Homestead City Council was FIU's latest stop in an effort to ratchet up pressure on the Youth Fair and county officials to find a way for the fair to leave its 86-acre home at Tamiami Park, which sits next to FIU. In 2014, county voters backed FIU expanding into the fairgrounds, provided the state school both secured an equivalent new home for the fair and paid its moving expenses (which, because of the fair's lease with Miami-Dade, would otherwise be paid for by the county). 

With Miami-Dade already owning land outside the Homestead Air Reserve Base, FIU wouldn't need to acquire real estate if the Youth Fair was moved to South Dade. The school is proposing to meld its own mix of culinary and agricultural programs into a research and commercial center that would offer incubators and shared kitchens for farm-related businesses. And it would tie that campus to the Youth Fair's mission of promoting agriculture and farm life through its exhibitions.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg called it a "win-win-win" scenario Wednesday. "The project is financially feasible," he told council members. "Now is the right time to push for this project."

Rosenberg did not discuss the Youth Fair's adamant opposition to moving to the South Dade site, which sits about 20 miles south of the FIU campus. Council members said they welcomed the proposed project, and passed a resolution supporting it. "I am excited," Vice Mayor Patricia Fairclough said. "This is not just about bringing the fair to South Dade. It's about bringing  the FIU brand." 

In a statement, the Youth Fair said it has been clear the South Dade location would not work financially, and questioned why the state-funded school was pushing it while other locations are being studied. "We don't understand why FIU continues to expend taxpayer dollars for this site," the statement said.