Galvanizing City Hall

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz is considering the idea of changing the city charter to a strong-mayor form of government, which would essentially combine the roles of mayor and city manager, giving the unified office more power. The local example is Hialeah, although proponents of this arrangement prefer to point to New York City under Rudy Giuliani or the Los Angeles of Richard Riordan.

This change would require voter approval, but because Diaz gets along with a majority of the city commissioners, he might be able to avoid the protracted and expensive petition process strongman hopeful Carlos Alvarez faces at the county. (See "Korten," page 9.) Then the questions would be: Is this a referendum on the cult of Manny Diaz (especially since he's running for re-election)? Or is this a real debate about what kind of governing structure will keep our rapidly mutating metropolis from sinking back into the swamp?

Seth Gordon, a publicist close to Diaz, will probably play a role in helping frame the debate. He says Miami's current form of government is an anachronism. "A mayor ought to have the powers of a mayor, like they do in almost any city you've heard of," Gordon argues. "We're the oddballs here."

There are some who think Diaz, with his cooperative city manager Joe Arriola, already is a de facto strong mayor. Commissioner Tomas Regalado, a frequent Diaz critic, is wary of giving the office more juice. "Manny as the strong mayor and Joe as a deputy manager?" he asks. "That would be worse."

FIU professor and political pollster Dario Moreno says many of the pros and cons of a strong mayor structure come from the person in the job. "In large cities a strong mayor works better as long as you have the appropriate safeguards for department heads and preserving professionalism," he explains. "The danger is it can create cronyism and other ills. I think it depends on who the manager is and who the mayor is. If it's a Cesar Odio, having a strong manager system doesn't help you. If you have an Xavier Suarez, a strong mayor doesn't help."

Diaz declined to return several phone calls. Instead he had his press secretary, Alejandro Miyar, relay the following message: "The mayor has no plans to change the charter for a strong mayor. Quote, öEverything's working fine.'"

 
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