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May 15, 2016

White House to award highest honor to South Florida cops

via @ChuckRabin

A Miami-Dade County police officer who stopped a man from setting a gas station on fire and a North Miami officer who shot a man after a wild car chase and shooting spree, will receive the nation’s highest public safety honor at a ceremony at the White House on Monday.

It was October 2013 when Miami-Dade police officer Mario Gutierrez spotted Domique Jean, 51, acting erratically at a Shell Gas station on LeJeune Road near Miami International Airport. As Gutierrez approached, Jean tried to set a gas pump on fire. The two struggled. Gutierrez was stabbed, and Jean was shot dead.

In April 2015, North Miami officer Niel Johnson confronted an armed Frantzy Armand outside an apartment complex in Sans Souci. During the shootout, Aramnd was shot. He survived. But before he was subdued, Armand stole a cop car, got into a shootout with an officer and led police on a wild chase north and then east, while shooting and injuring two unsuspecting car drivers along the way.

On Monday in the East Room of the White House, the two officers will receive the prestigious Medal of Valor from President Barack Obama. It’s the highest national honor awarded to a public safety officer.

--CHARLES RABIN

Opponents call on Carlos Beruff to apologize for calling Obama 'an animal'

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff is refusing to apologize for calling President Barack Obama "an animal" who has been trying to turn America into "just another country."

Since a video of Beruff making the remarks surfaced on Sunday, both Democratic and Republican candidates in the Senate race have blasted the Manatee County homebuilder for stepping over the line for calling Obama an animal.

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, was first to take issue with the language.

"Mr. Beruff’s statement is not only offensive, but extremely disrespectful to President Obama’s incredible service to our nation,” Murphy said in a statement first published by The Huffington Post. “I’m proud to stand by President Obama and his commitment to fighting for Florida families, and I call on Mr. Beruff to immediately apologize for his disrespectful comments. In the U.S. Senate, our diverse state deserves better than Mr. Beruff’s clear record of bigotry.”

Beruff's spokesman Chris Hartline chided Murphy for the statement.

"When liberals like young Congressman Patrick Murphy cannot defend their views they resort to name calling and the politics of racial division," Hartline said.

Hartline said the people who owe an apology are Murphy and other politicians who have been "aiding President Obama in making America weaker."

During the speech in St. Johns County, Beruff alleged that Obama has been destroying the military and that he has a plan to make American "just another country."

"Unfortunately, for seven and a half years this animal we call president, because he’s an animal, OK — seven and a half years, has surgically and with thought and very smart, intelligent manner, destroyed this country and dismantled the military under not one, not two, but three secretary of defenses,” Beruff said in a video recording of his speech. “And they’ve all written books about it.”

But Murphy is not the only one upset with the choice of words. U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a Pinellas County Republican, also took issue with Beruff, issuing his own statement later in the day.

"Like many Americans, I believe with the strongest conviction that the President's policies the last 7 years have weakened our leadership on the world stage and have weakened us economically here at home, but referring to the President of the United States as an 'animal' is an alarming insult of questionable intent and has no place in American politics," Jolly said. "Carlos should immediately apologize."

Jolly and Beruff are in a crowded primary field that also includes U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, Orlando area businessman Todd Wilcox and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

The winner of the Aug. 30 primary is likely to face either Murphy or U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.

See the video here: https://youtu.be/wl3RkzTxiPA

Carlos Curbelo cut David Rivera a check in 2012 but says he didn't end up voting for him

@PatriciaMazzei

Carlos Curbelo admitted to a Miami radio station recently that he didn't vote in the 2012 congressional election between then-incumbent Republican Rep. David Rivera and Democratic challenger Joe Garcia.

“When it became apparent that both those campaigns had been involved in unethical and illegal activities — because people went to jail from both campaigns — I did not vote in that election,” he told WIOD, as we reported in our story about Curbelo's political future.

Rivera is now running for the Florida House of Representatives. Garcia, who won the 2012 election and then lost to Curbelo in 2014, is running in the Democratic primary to try to oust Curbelo in November.

Curbelo may not have voted for Rivera, his fellow Republican, in 2012. But he did give him a financial contribution: $1,000 on June 29 of that year, campaign records show. The donation came before the Miami Herald revealed suspicious ties between Rivera and a ringer Democratic candidate.

But even before then, Rivera had found himself on shaky legal and ethical ground. Earlier Herald reporting led to a 2010 state investigation into Rivera's questionable use of campaign finances. Those investigations ended without charges in April 2012, a few months before Curbelo wrote his check. (A pair of separate investigations by the FBI and IRS appeared to be ongoing at the time but never went anywhere.)

So why back Rivera despite his prior troubles -- but then not vote for him?

"Once it became clear that the campaign had recruited and illegally financed a straw candidate, I no longer felt comfortable being supportive," Curbelo told the Herald in an email Saturday. "At first I figured it would be better to support him against Joe Garcia who had always shown a penchant for dishonesty, nastiness, and manipulation. Later we discovered that in fact Garcia pioneered the concept of attempting to rig elections by using straw candidates. It's all disgusting."

Carlos Curbelo was the face of the new GOP. Then came Donald Trump

@PatriciaMazzei

When he was first elected in 2014, Carlos Curbelo seemed like the perfect face of the new,post-Mitt Romney Republican Party: a young Hispanic who supports immigration reform,believes in climate change and is well-liked by GOP leaders in Congress.

Then came the 2016 presidential election. Out went Republicans’ plans — swept away by Donald Trump’s populist force — to grow their party by embracing diversity and a soft political touch. The presumptive nominee derided some Mexican immigrants as “rapists,”opined global warming is a “hoax” and dismissed House Speaker Paul Ryan’s vacillation over whether to endorse him.

In the midst of it all, Curbelo — the 36-year-old congressman who gained national notoriety last year when he suggested Trump might be a ringer planted by Democrat Hillary Clinton — has pushed a legislative agenda aimed at notching incremental victories as a freshman and trying to appeal to constituents in a district more Democratic than the one that put him in office two years ago.

Can a moderate like Curbelo survive in Trump’s GOP?

Yes, Curbelo insists — assuming Trump’s name leading the November ballot doesn’t end his congressional career after a single term.

More here.

Lobbyist Ron Book calling the shots in Miami-Dade's homeless fight

@doug_hanks

When Miami-Dade’s homeless board convened for the first time Friday to grapple with the loss of nearly $6 million in federal aid, chairman Ronald Book did most of the talking and all of the table pounding.

The prominent lobbyist delivered a tirade about conflicts he saw between Washington’s goal of ending homelessness and its recent decision to deny grant requests from Miami-Dade’s domestic-violence shelters, drug-treatment centers and other providers that Book described as the biggest financial blow to ever hit the local agency.

The funding squeeze looming for charity providers and the 700 beds backed by the federal dollars presents the latest test for Book and his enduring post atop Miami-Dade’s homeless programs. A leading campaign donor who is a paid lobbyist for Miami-Dade itself in Tallahassee, Book has consistently won county waivers to extend his tenure as chairman of the Homeless Trust, which oversees both the agency and the bar-and-restaurant tax that funds it.

Unlike chairs of county boards overseeing the transit tax, hospital tax and children-services tax, Book serves as the public face of the county’s homeless arm, with director Victoria Mallette, a former county spokeswoman, generally declining on-the-record interviews. “Ron is the only authorized spokesperson,” Lisa Mozloom, an executive with the public-relations agency working for the Homeless Trust, wrote in a text message Friday.


Read the story here

May 14, 2016

Patrick Murphy 'unaware' of father's role in $1.7B Miami project

via @learyreports

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy brushes off questions about his support for EB-5 visa legislation and ties to his father’s construction business.

"I'm a member of Congress and I'm not actively involved in the family business ... so feel free to reach out to them and learn more about what they do," the South Florida Democrat told reporters on a conference call his campaign arranged in early April to blast Grayson over alleged ethics issues. "But as far as I know, they have not done any projects to do with EB-5."

But Murphy, who talks to his father one or two times a day, somehow missed that Coastal Construction in February was named general contractor on one of the biggest projects ever in South Florida — Miami Worldcenter, a $1.7 billion shopping, entertainment and housing project planned for 27 acres in the city's downtown. Financing will come in part from EB-5 investors, typically Chinese.

How could he not know?

“As Patrick has no management role at Coastal, we were unaware of this,” spokesman Joshua Karp told the Tampa Bay Times in an email on Friday.

Coastal has also been involved with Skyrise Miami, another big EB-5 project, though Karp said it no longer is. Company officials could not be reached to confirm this.

Murphy, 33, has also gotten significant campaign contributions from EB-5 players, including the controversial Nicholas A. Mastroianni II.

As he emerges in the U.S. Senate race, Murphy's background and swift rise in politics is coming under closer scrutiny. In this story, we explore the fundraising muscle his father has provided.

Alan Grayson accuses MSNBC host of 'spreading lies' on ethics probe

@ByKristenMClark

In a combative interview this morning, Democratic Senate candidate and current U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson accused MSNBC host Joy Reid of "smearing" him and "spreading lies" about him in relation to a congressional ethics investigation over a once-offshore hedge fund associated with the Orlando congressman.

Reid initially wanted to ask Grayson about his confrontation with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week, but almost immediately after she started speaking, Grayson interjected.

He started talking over Joy Reid and demanded she "correct the record" in describing the status of the ethics probe.

Grayson contends the investigation is over because an investigative subcommittee wasn't formed. He notes that no sanctions have "ever" been brought without such a committee being created.

"So that's it, Joy," he said. "You and Harry Reid both need to stick to the truth."

However -- as Joy Reid attempted to clarify -- the investigation does remain open. The Office of Congressional Ethics recommended the U.S. House Ethics Committee continue investigating. The probe is in limbo unless or until the committee takes further action.

More: Politifact - "U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson downplays potential for punishment in ethics investigation"

The Office of Congressional Ethics in April released its findings and flagged several potential violations of federal law and congressional rules, related to Grayson's management of the hedge fund.

After the rocky start to the MSNBC interview, Reid attempted to move the interview along with further questions about the investigation's findings, such as a marketing document that bears Grayson's name, photo and credentials.

But that only made the exchange more explosive.

"So what? If you Google my name, you'll see a lot of pictures of me," Grayson said. "That doesn't mean I created those pictures." 

"You are completely misinformed and you're spreading lies," Grayson continued, adding: "Why do you feel compelled to spread these lies?"

Reid fired back: "I feel compelled to read from a 74-page ethics report, which is, sir, about you."

Grayson's main Democratic opponent in Florida's contentious U.S. Senate race quickly pounced on the fiery interview.

The campaign for fellow U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, shared the video in an email to reporters and accused Grayson of "trying to bully" Reid.

Watch the full 8-minute interview here, via the Murphy campaign's YouTube channel:

Miguel Diaz de la Portilla had special guests at his state Senate campaign launch, too

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@ByKristenMClark

The contentious Florida Senate race for District 37 in Miami-Dade County has attracted big guns for both the Democratic and Republican candidates.

Last week, Democratic state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez had help from both U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, at his kick-off fundraiser.

But just three days later, it turns out, his Republican opponent -- current state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla -- quietly had many special guests of his own at a similar event.

Diaz de la Portilla's campaign announced Friday that it had held a kick-off party for the senator's re-election bid on May 6.

The campaign said it was held at Casa Juancho, a Spanish restaurant in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, and featured a "standing room-only crowd comprised of more than 200 friends and family."

Among the guests in attendance, the campaign said: Miami Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart; state Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; outgoing state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami; Miami-Dade County Commissioners Barbara Jordan, Rebeca Sosa, Xavier Suarez, Javier Souto, Steve Bovo and Sally Heyman; and City of Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo.

Image3"Miguel has shown a unique ability to effectively represent our entire community. We need him in Tallahassee, fighting and delivering results for all of us," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement provided by Diaz de la Portilla's campaign.

District 37 represents much of the city of Miami and stretches south along the coast to include Coral Gables, Key Biscayne and Cutler Bay. It leans Democratic and is heavily Hispanic.

Diaz de la Portilla and Rodriguez, both of Miami, officially launched their campaigns a couple months ago, but their fundraisers marked the start of what's expected to be a heated election season this summer and fall. The race is already starting to bring in a lot of cash, with Diaz de la Portilla holding the edge over Rodriguez, as of April 30.

Diaz de la Portilla, one of the Florida Senate's more moderate Republicans, hopes to hold on to his seat. But through Rodriguez, Democrats are eyeing District 37 as one of a few seats they could pick up in November to narrow the Republican majority in the chamber.

"If you're from this diverse community, you get it: We work together for the common good," Diaz de la Portilla said in a statement Friday. "I am thankful for all the support I have received and look forward to continuing to work in Tallahassee for the entire community."

Photos courtesy of Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's re-election campaign

Bob Graham lends big name to tiny Miami Lakes campaign

IMG_9056

@PatriciaMazzei

The black-and-white photograph on the mailed flier harkens back to another area. The candidate for Florida governor with dark hair smiles and waves as he holds a massive thank-you sign. Longtime Miamians would recognize young Bob Graham's face anywhere.

But what's it doing on a political mailer in 2016?

Lending his big name to a tiny political campaign.

Graham is everywhere these days in Miami Lakes, the town his family helped found on land owned by his family's Graham Companies. There's mailers and door-hangers and automated telephone calls -- all paid for by the Graham Companies -- featuring the Democratic former governor and U.S. senator. He urges a "Yes" vote on a slew of changes to the town's charter.

In the campaign pieces, Graham explains his involvement -- unusual for someone of his stature -- by saying he wants one of the charter amendments in particular: the one that would require a majority vote -- and not just a plurality -- to elect the town's mayor. 

"This issue is personal to me," Graham writes in a letter printed on one of the fliers. "I finished second in the 1978 campaign for governor. Because Florida had a Majority Vote election, which required a majority of Florida voters [sic] support to be elected, there was a run off. I was then elected and had the honor to serve you for 8 years."

The town's sitting mayor, Michael Pizzi, who could be most hurt by the charter changes, called Graham's involvement unbecoming.

"I'm a great admirer of a lot of the things that Sen. Graham has done," Pizzi said. "But I just think something like this, it's a little too heavy-handed. Putting his pictures on door-knockers and robocalls, I just think it's a little bit beneath the dignity of the offices he held."

With a majority-vote rule, Pizzi could lose re-election later this year. Pizzi faces several opponents in the Nov. 8 election, making it unlikely he can clear a 50 percent-plus-1 majority. Force Pizzi into a runoff, and a united opposition -- perhaps led by the deep-pocketed Graham Companies -- could make him lose. Other charter changes would limit some of the mayor's authority.

Graham, who was unavailable Friday because he was in Los Angeles to appear as a guest on the HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, told the Herald on Saturday that his support for the charter amendments has nothing to do with Pizzi.

"I have not had a conversation with the mayor on those issues, and I don't see this as a personal issue," he said. "It's in the best interest of the community."

Graham said Miami Lakes -- which he remembers from the time it was a dairy farm -- has never had a similar charter election, and his concern is for the town's long-term governance.

Pizzi is a divisive figure who beat back federal corruption charges in 2014. He has butted heads with the powerful Graham family before. He recently proposed a moratorium on any new development and voted against a project on a Graham Companies property, and he opposes a planned "mega mall" on another Graham Companies tract.

"I don't think the Graham Companies should use their power to try to overwhelm the voice of the average residents," Pizzi said, "and I think that's what they're trying to do here, and it's kind of scary."

A local political committee, Concerned Voters of Miami Lakes, has been advertising against the charter changes, and a Tallahassee-based, pro-business PAC, Save Our Constitution Now, has been pushing for them.

But it's Graham who appears to have made the biggest splash. The Graham Companies' political muscle includes The Miami Laker, a company-owned newspaper published twice a month that has prominently displayed its vote-yes stance.

"THE TRUTH behind the Special Election misinformation campaign," reads the top headline of the May 6 edition, which blasts the Concerned Voters' campaign. (Sample inside headline: "Graham Companies provides sponsorship and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity home.")

Miami Lakes resident Esperanza Reynolds , a Pizzi supporter, opposes the charter revisions because she doesn't want more power in the hands of unelected city administrators. But she called the intense campaign from both sides "strange" and Graham's interest "puzzling," even though she added, "I think the world of him."

"His family, that we look up to, telling us what we should be doing?" she said. "I'm not sure what's in it for them."

This post has been updated with Graham's comments.

May 13, 2016

Rep. Alan Grayson takes to House floor on 'The Great American Bathroom Controversy'

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, used his time on the House floor Friday to give an extensive speech in favor of transgender rights -- complete with placards he used as props.

Do we need a new law on this subject, much less a stupid law, a bad law, a ridiculous law? Now you know, I understand that it's possible, even with the absence of this law, there might be some conceivable problems about this kind of situation. I’m not sure exactly what they are. I’m pretty sure if everybody acted as an adult we could get beyond them without having to litigate over it. And I’m wondering how do you even enforce a law like this? What are we going to do, have to give saliva samples every time we go to the bathroom to see what gender we were born with?