February 14, 2019

Miami Beach elections heat up as Mayor Dan Gelber announces he’ll run for re-election



Miami Beach’s elections are still nine months away, but the ballot is already filling up with familiar faces.

On Thursday, Mayor Dan Gelber announced that he’s running for a second term. Gelber, a former state legislator and federal prosecutor, was first elected in 2017 and is eligible to serve two more two-year terms as mayor.

“It’s been my greatest privilege to serve the only hometown I’ve ever known,” Gelber said in a statement. “I’ve tried to serve honorably and openly, and would like to continue to help make our City the best version of itself.”

Former Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, who resigned last year to run for Congress, told the Miami Herald that she plans to run for a commission seat in November, but hasn’t yet decided whether to run for her old seat or challenge Commissioner Ricky Arriola for his.

“Right now, I am observing the field and considering my options,” Rosen Gonzalez said in a text message. “A lot of residents have asked me to run against Ricky Arriola.”

Read more here.

February 13, 2019

Miami Beach Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán will not seek re-election



Miami Beach Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán will not seek re-election when her four-year term ends in November.

Alemán announced the decision at a City Commission meeting on Wednesday, citing a desire to spend more time with her family.

“While I may consider a future role in public service, the timing is right for me now with both sons in their teens to focus on their needs and see them successfully launched on to college and their own adult lives,” Alemán said, reading from a letter she wrote.

In another surprise announcement, former State Rep. David Richardson said later Wednesday that he plans to run for Alemán’s seat in November.

Read more here.

January 23, 2019

Right to grow veggies in the front yard takes root in the House

Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts stand in front of their home at 53 NE 106th St., Miami Shores, Florida, in November 2013, when the couple maintained a front-yard vegetable garden. Walter Michot Miami Herald file

The House tended to the “vegetable garden bill” for the first time Wednesday, as the bill made it through the first of three stops on its way through the Legislature.

Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff presented her amended version of bill to the House Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, which prohibits a county or municipality from regulating vegetable, fruit and herb gardens on residential properties and voids any existing ordinance of that nature.

The bill passed with dozens of questions, but only one “no vote.”

At the beginning of the month, the Senate Community Affairs Committee unanimously backed the measure, which was first filed by Sen. Rob Bradley. The Senate passed the Fleming Island Republican’s bill during the 2018 session, but the clock ran out and a House version was never filed.

The vegetable garden proposal stems from a legal dispute about a Miami Shores ordinance that banned the gardens from being planted in front yards. Village residents Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll kept a garden, and were charged $50 in daily fines.

They eventually had to dig up their 17-year-old garden, which they kept because their backyard didn’t get enough sun to support their beets, kale, tomatoes and Asian cabbage. The couple sued, and in November 2017, an appeals court upheld a ruling that they do not have the right to keep a vegetable garden in their front yard. They appealed the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, which declined to grant review.

“They were trying to have a healthier living situation and provide their family with vegetable and fruits,” Fetterhoff said. “This is a property rights issue. It’s not a home rule issue.”

The DeLand Republican added that limitations also curb possibilities for reducing food deserts, supporting the long-suffering bee community and teaching children about how vegetables grow.

The bill does not include rules set by homeowners associations and does not affect other properties like schools and churches.

The main opponent to both vegetable garden bills is the Florida League of Cities. The group’s legislative counsel, David Cruz, argues that each city in Florida is unique, and much of the unique aesthetic is brought about through code enforcement. That’s why Coral Gables looks different from Perry, Florida, he said.

“There’s the ability at the local level to come up with solutions,” he said. “We’re not against vegetable gardens. Our members are not against vegetable gardens. But local solution could be crafted.”

Cruz said bills like this one preempt local laws, and gave the example of a 2013 Orlando ordinance that allows residents to use 60 percent of their front yard as a vegetable garden.

“This bill would void that ordinance,” he said. “It would undo the good work of a city to compromise on this issue.”

Rep. Anna Eskamani was the only member of the subcommittee to vote down on the bill. Home rule is her “north star,” she said, and the smallest level of government understands their community best.

“We worked together at the local level to pass an ordinance that did the people good,” the Orlando Democrat said. “City officials and county officials should bring this up at town halls, on Facebook, talk to their constituents. If there’s a rumbling that folks want this, make it happen on a local level.

She said she would support a bill with amendments that provide clarity on what constitutes a vegetable garden and give local power to defining its size and aesthetic.

“I think the legislature can do its part to help smooth the process out,” she said. “But does it have to rip away ordinances that are already in place across 67 counties? That’s something I don’t subscribe to.”

Fetterhoff said she plans to keep working on the bill as it moves through the process, but fundamentally believes the vegetable garden restrictions in places like Miami Shores step on citizens’ constitutional rights.

“I really feel that private property rights need to be protected,” she said. “When cities start to step on those rights, then we need to step up for the citizens of Florida.”

The bill will be heard in the House Commerce Committee and State Affairs Committee, but the dates have not yet been set. 

January 14, 2019

Alex Diaz de la Portilla files to run for Miami commission



Former state senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla will make a third run at returning to public office.

On Monday, the political consultant filed to run for the Miami City Commission. Diaz de la Portilla filed paperwork with the city of Miami to open a campaign account, confirming a rumored run for the District 1 commission seat, which is being vacated by Wilfredo "Willy" Gort. Gort is term-limited this year.

Diaz de la Portilla's most recent foray into Miami City Hall politics was 2017, when he worked on Commissioner Joe Carollo's campaign. A state representative in the 1990s and state senator during the 2000s, Diaz de la Portilla has worked as political consultant in recent years and has unsuccessfully run for office twice since 2017. That year he lost a bid to return to the state Senate, where he once served among the senior leadership of the Republican majority. When former county commissioner Bruno Barreiro resigned his seat to run for Congress in 2018, Diaz de la Portilla ran for his seat in a special election. He placed third behind Zoraida Barreiro, Bruno's wife, and Eileen Higgins, who was elected in a run-off.

Diaz de la Portilla joins four other candidates who have already opened campaign accounts for the District 1 race: Horacio S. Aguirre, chairman of the Miami River Commission; Michael Hepburn, a former University of Miami academic adviser who ran in the Democratic primary for Florida's 27th Congressional District; Miguel Angel Gabela, a businessman who has twice lost to Gort in past elections and has already contributed $100,000 to his campaign; and Yanny Hidalgo, an attorney.

The District 1 race will be one to watch in Miami, particularly in the context of one high-profile City Commission vote on the horizon. David Beckham and his partners are expected to negotiate a lease of public land to build a soccer stadium and retail complex on Miami's only city-owned golf course -- a lease that would require four of five commission votes. Commissioner Manolo Reyes has said he's a firm no, and Gort has opposed the idea in the past. The stadium deal could be a major issue in the election.


January 03, 2019

Ken Russell appointed new chairman of Miami commission; mayor hires new chief of staff



New year, new faces and titles at Miami City Hall. 

Mayor Francis Suarez has named a new chairman of the City Commission and hired a new chief of staff. Fresh off his first year in office, which featured a mix of legislative and political wins and losses that included a failed bid to expand his powers by becoming a "strong mayor," Suarez has used one of his few powers to name Commissioner Ken Russell as the new commission chairman. Russell represents District 2 along Miami's coast stretching from Morningside to Coconut Grove. His vice chairman will be Commissioner Willy Gort, who is entering his final year in office representing District 1, which includes Allapattah and Grapeland Heights.

This mean Russell, considered a Suarez ally who is running for re-election this year, will control the flow of legislation for Miami's decision-making body and run commission meetings. Russell has served as vice chairman for Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who served as chairman for three years.

Russell will hold the gavel as he vies for a second four-year term after dropping his bid for Congress nearly last spring. He already has a challenger — Javier Gonzalez, a Coconut Grove real estate agent who ran in 2015. Russell also a war chest. After refunding donors who wanted their money back and donating to nonprofits and other Democratic organizations and campaigns last year, Russell moved $100,000 from his Congressional campaign into a political committee backing his commission campaign, a group called Turn the Page. Two donors complained they never heard from Russell before the transfer, gripes that Russell considered political potshots from folks who've been angered by his votes in the past. The District 2 race could be a lively one.

Suarez thanked Hardemon in a memo this week announcing the appointments, saying Hardemon "effectively and efficiently presided over the City Commission." Hardemon, the District 5 commissioner representing Overtown, Liberty City, Wynwood and the Upper Eastside, was known for keeping meetings moving along, thought he drew some critics with the way he organized public comment periods. He held public hearings at the beginning of morning and afternoon sessions during commission meetings instead of allowing comments before votes on individual items. Hardemon developed a reputation for capably steering the sometimes-heated conversation among commissioners without inciting their ire and using his position to make speeches about race relations in Miami.

On Wednesday, Russell told the Miami Herald he is not planning on any substantive changes at this point, but he generally wants to work with city staffers to improve the resident experience for those who come to City Hall and wish to address the commission.

Suarez also named a new chief of staff: Jeremy Schwarz, an attorney at K&L Gates, Harvard Law graduate and Navy veteran. In other personnel news, city communications director Eugene Ramirez is leaving to join national public affairs and communications firm Kivvit. A former television journalist, Ramirez joined the administration in spring 2018 as a new hire under City Manager Emilio Gonzalez, a Suarez appointee. Ramirez worked with Stephanie Severino, deputy communications director, who has now been promoted to director.

Jeremy Schwarz

September 05, 2018

Joe Carollo sues Miami over Francis Suarez's 'strong mayor' referendum

Commission5 meeting lnew cmg


Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo is suing his own government to stop a referendum that could make Mayor Francis Suarez the most powerful individual in the city government.

Late Tuesday, Carollo filed a lawsuit in civil court to block a November referendum when voters would decide if Miami’s mayor, a largely ceremonial position, should be given more power to run the city’s day-to-day operations as its chief executive.

Read more.

August 16, 2018

Joe Carollo and Little Havana club owner in spat that led to ethics complaint



The owner of Little Havana nightclub Ball and Chain, Bill Fuller, has accused Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo making false code violation complaints and staking out the bar late at night.

Fuller took his accusations to the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust earlier this year, claiming Carollo was targeting his club for code violations as retaliation for Fuller's support of Carollo's opponent in last year's commission race, Alfonso "Alfie" Leon

But at a ethics commission meeting Wednesday, Fuller asked to withdraw the formal complaint. After it was withdrawn, the complaint was made public. Miami New Times detailed Fuller's complaint Thursday morning, including allegations that Carollo followed Ball and Chain's valet employees and once tried to have Fuller's holiday shut down by accusing Fuller of handing out illegal drugs at the party. 

Fuller's attorney, Alexander Orlofsky, wrote in a letter to the commission that Fuller wished to withdraw the complaint because "it was too narrowly drafted," not because the allegations were untrue. Fuller might take "further legal action" or file another ethics complaint.

Without mentioning names, Carollo has referenced his ire for Fuller in public meetings since he is election in November 2017. He's asked the city administration to up code enforcement across his district, which covers much of Little Havana, and griped about certain business owners getting off easy without scrutiny from code compliance officers. He's also mentioned multiple late-night tours of the area with city officials, including City Manager Emilio Gonzalez

July 03, 2018

Miami commissioner makes counter-proposal for strong mayor government



Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes has offered his own proposal for reorganizing the city government, a counter-proposal to Mayor Francis Suarez's strong-mayor initiative.

Reyes presented his pitch for making the mayor the most powerful elected official in the city, a strong mayor who would essentially be the chief executive officer in charge of City Hall's bureaucracy.

Suarez wants to be Miami's top administrator, the individual who controls the city's billion-dollar budget, makes recommendations for awarding city contracts and oversees public employees. So he's pushing to place a question on the November ballot so voters can decide if they want to make him a strong mayor. His campaign is gathering signatures in order to get the question on the ballot.

At Thursday's commission meeting, Reyes handed the other commissioners his proposal, describing it as a "template" commissioners could use to develop an alternative plan negotiated by commissioners and placed on a the ballot through a commission vote. The Reyes proposal has a few notable differences to Suarez's initiative. Under the Reyes plan, Suarez would not get an immediate raise. The mayor's $97,000 salary would remain and any raises would be determined by the commission.


Under Suarez's plan, he would get an immediate bump to $112,500 because he would be paid no less than 75 percent of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez's salary.

Reyes also wants to have the commission elect its own chair. Suarez is proposing he be the nonvoting chair of the commission. And while Suarez wants to have broader power to appoint high-level city officials — the city attorney, city clerk and the independent auditor general — Reyes wants the commission to make those appointments.

On Thursday, Suarez said he was open to more talks with Reyes and other commissioners to negotiate a consensus version of the strong mayor plan. He noted that the new proposal resembles his previous attempts to create a strong mayor in 2011 and 2016. In both cases, he failed to convince fellow commissioners to put a referendum on the ballot. 

Whether it comes from the City Commission through a vote or from Suarez's camp through a petition, a referendum to reshape Miami's government would have to be placed on the ballot by August 7, the deadline set by Miami-Dade's elections department.

Suarez's strong-mayor campaign is helmed by political consultant Jesse Manzano-Plaza, a partner at Miami Beach-based firm LSN Partners and the campaign aide who led Gimenez's re-election effort. 

June 19, 2018

Miami, Miami Gardens mayors heading to Texas border to protest 'tent city' with other U.S. mayors



Amid growing backlash against President Donald Trump's policy to separate immigrant children from their parents — including uproar over an immigrant children center in their own backyard — Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert are joining a group of other U.S. mayors on a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border to protest at shelters housing unaccompanied migrant children.

The nonpartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors is paying to fly the mayors out to Tornillo, Texas, to join Stephen K. Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, to tour the tent city that has been erected to house children of immigrants.

Benjamin is president of the national mayor's group, which passed a resolution condemning the policy. The mayors of Los Angeles; Augusta, Georgia; Gary, Indiana and Rochester Hills, Michigan, are among the other municipal leaders who will attend.

Suarez said Benjamin called him Tuesday to ask him to join him and other U.S. mayors on the trip.

"Hopefully, they will give us access," Suarez said Tuesday evening. "The images we are seeing are very troublesome and appalling."

Suarez, a Republican, echoed bipartisan calls to end the separation of children from their parents. 

"It's contrary to our core values as a country," he said.

As Suarez prepared for the trip, controversy continued to swell in his own county Tuesday as U.S Sen. Bill Nelson and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz were blocked from entering a Homestead shelter housing as many as 1,000 immigrant children.

The mayor, who will return to Miami late Thursday, said he attempted to arrange a visit to the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children but was told he wouldn't be allowed.

June 05, 2018

Miami mayor has a new job, but he won't say where it is



UPDATED: After the Miami Herald published this article Tuesday afternoon, Greenspoon Marder announced they had hired Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. Read more.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is joining a new law firm after leaving Carlton Fields last week, but he won’t say where he’s headed.

In his seventh month as mayor, Suarez has left Carlton Fields — a firm he joined two months before being elected. One reason for his departure: A conflict of interest stemming from the fact that an attorney for Carlton Fields represents a company suing city hall.