DeFede: Deconstructing Alex

He billed himself as a reformer, but a close look at Alex Penelas's record reveals a politician more in tune with ambition than innovation

In recent months key members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have argued that it is ludicrous for the federal government to spend billions of dollars cleaning up and restoring the Everglades while at the same time risking irreparable harm to that national treasure by permitting the construction of a major airport so close to it.

Yet through it all Penelas has remained steadfast in his support of HABDI, whose owners include Carlos Herrera, a former president of the Latin Builders Association; Pedro Adrian, a prominent Cuban-American developer; and the family of the late Jorge Mas Canosa, founder of the Cuban American National Foundation.

Penelas refuses even to consider other options for the land, among them a widely praised plan offered by the venerable Collier family, which has proposed turning the base into a tourism center featuring, among other things, a golf course, a resort-style hotel, 1.7 million square feet of office space, and a world-class aquarium. The Collier plan would create thousands of jobs in South Miami-Dade and already has been accepted by environmental groups.

Penelas has welcomed more than just visitors to the airport; he's also rolled out the welcome  mat for lobbyists
Steve Satterwhite
Penelas has welcomed more than just visitors to the airport; he's also rolled out the welcome mat for lobbyists

Penelas, however, won't budge.

Let's run through a few of the mayor's other so-called achievements:

•Crime. Penelas claims he has reduced crime in Miami-Dade County during his tenure. He doesn't mention, however, that crime rates have been dropping across the United States, and that the trend in Miami-Dade County began before he was elected. Many experts ascribe the drop in crime to the nation's booming economy, not to the wisdom of Alex Penelas.

•Name change. Being the mayor of Dade County wasn't such a great thing for the part of Penelas that craves attention, which is to say the biggest part. People around the country may not have realized he was the mayor of a major metropolitan area. So he arranged a ballot measure three years ago that changed the county's name to Miami-Dade County. The new handle may help his name recognition, but to call it a valuable accomplishment is dubious at best.

•Political boy toy. People magazine named Penelas the “sexiest politician” in the nation last year. “I think anything that puts this community in a positive light is good,” Penelas remarked to the Herald. “But this is not the reason why I'm mayor. I have other things to offer people.” Such as?

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