The Gridlock Candidate

The county mayor’s race is bumper-to-bumper with hopefuls, but a former traffic reporter thinks he has a shot.

If you’ve ever found yourself stuck in I-95’s snarl, gazing with envy as a television news helicopter whipped past overhead, take comfort in Dave Slater’s anger. Before he retired in 1996 as a traffic reporter for both WPLG-TV (Channel 10) and WIOD-AM (610), Slater spent nearly twenty years flying above Miami’s highway tie-ups. And while you were helplessly looking up at his chopper, he was just as frustrated in looking down.

“I’ve watched the delays go from a half-hour to all day long,” he groans to Kulchur. And while he may now run a wholesale electronics business, much of Slater’s free time is given to studying Miami’s transportation plans and poring over every line of the thick budgets accompanying them. Slater’s bitter conclusion? The true culprit behind these traffic snarls isn’t simply urban sprawl, he argues. It’s a county government saddled with gross mismanagement, riddled by corruption, and sorely in need of a new mayor willing to do some house-cleaning. Three guesses who Slater believes is just the man for the job.

Indeed Slater has his $2201 filing fee ready, and come August 31, expect to see his name on the county mayoral ballot alongside such better-known contenders as José Cancela, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, and Jimmy Morales.

“I’m going to educate the people to the real issues in this town!” he thunders, running down carefully buried, wasteful budget items the way other folks cite baseball statistics. Fortunately for Kulchur, no matter how wonkish the topic, Slater still hollers about it as if he actually were at a ball game: No one has ever been this pumped up about Tri-Rail.

“They’re going to hear about the Expressway Authority!” he roars. “They’re going to hear about the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust!”

Go, Dave, go!

“They’re going to hear about the Airport Authority!”

Miami International Airport holds a particularly prominent spot on Slater’s hit list. He points to county Commissioner Dennis Moss, chairman of the commission’s transportation committee, as an example of all that’s wrong with the system.

Moss has been the loudest opponent of the recent effort to once and for all remove the airport from the commission’s control and place it under an independent authority. Despite years of press exposés over the scores of high-paying airport jobs doled out to commissioners’ family members and close pals, as well as numerous scandals over sweetheart airport deals for lobbyists and their clients willing to pony up funds for commissioners’ campaign war chests, Moss declared himself unmoved. To the contrary, he was personally offended — make that outraged — that anyone would even suggest a hint of impropriety in a commissioner’s ability to evaluate and award airport contracts.

Yet at the same time Moss has been righteously huffing and puffing over any perceived conflict of interest, Moss’s wife, Margaret Hawkins-Moss, is a senior procurement contract officer at the airport. “This is a joke,” Slater chides, “and this is the kind of nonsense that goes on every day at the airport.”

Hawkins-Moss’s employment history, as provided by the county’s Employee Relations Department, does seem a bit odd. In 1993 Hawkins, then single, was working as a staffer for Dennis Moss in his first term as a county commissioner. Three years later she jumped to the airport to become a contract compliance specialist, inspecting and monitoring the very construction contracts her former boss — and husband-to-be — was charged with awarding.

As reported in early 1997 by then-New Times writer Jim DeFede, she took advantage of the county’s internal job pipeline that allows employees to transfer from one department to another while keeping their salary. In Hawkins’s case, it proved to be a windfall: Her starting salary at the airport was nearly double that of her fellow contract compliance specialists. Today, several promotions later, the happily married Hawkins-Moss earns just under $66,000 and is intimately involved with the questionable multimillion-dollar contracts that have so many people up in arms.

Touting her own extensive responsibilities, Hawkins-Moss herself wrote in an internal evaluation that “in July 2001 the Board of County Commissioners approved a contract that I prepared and processed.” It was a project, she added, “valued at $658 million, with this contract being one of the single largest contracts awarded for the Aviation Department.”

Only a cynic with a heart much more hardened than Kulchur’s would think Hawkins’s proximity to a legion of checkbook-wielding airport lobbyists had anything to do with her abrupt career shift — or her nuptials to the county commission’s transportation chair. Still she and her husband must have some interesting dinnertime answers to the question: “How was your day at work, honey?”

Speaking to Kulchur, Hawkins-Moss denied any conflict of interest arising from the overlap between her job’s duties and those of her spouse — even citing the results of an Inspector General’s investigation as proof. Hawkins-Moss’s actual personnel file contains no such thumbs-up from the county’s Office of the Inspector General. In January 2003, however, the county’s Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, responding to a request from Commissioner Moss, did issue an advisory opinion addressing the subject of conflicts.

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