Julio Robaina: Dade's next mayor?

On a dreary afternoon this past September 29, dozens of Hialeah firefighters, police officers, and city employees marched near the entrance to city hall at 501 Palm Ave. Some held signs that read, "Julio Robaina, Hialeah is the city of poverty and it's your fault," and "Julio Robaina: What did you do with the money?"

One of the sign holders was Jorge Aguilar, a parks worker with 21 years of service. He clears $390 every two weeks after taxes. He's also one of hundreds of city employees whose annual base pay was slashed by 20 to 30 percent last fall by Mayor Robaina and the Hialeah City Council. Also approved: forced furloughs and higher health care costs.

By contrast, Robaina cut only seven percent of his $155,242 salary and kept a $117,000 expense account. Alex Vega, Hialeah's budget director lost a paltry three percent of his yearly $116,967.

"This is an abuse of power," Aguilar groused. "He wants us to make sacrifices, but [his] friends are not affected."

Despite the discontent on Palm Avenue, Robaina is the early favorite to replace Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who will likely face a recall election later this year. Even without a recall, his term expires 2012.

Entering year two of his second and final four-year term as mayor, Robaina is still playing coy. Despite three requests for an interview, and a list of questions faxed and emailed to his office, he declined to comment for this story.

Robaina has solid backers in the county's Cuban-American mecca, has established himself as one of the state's leading Republican fundraisers, and has demonstrated he's not afraid to take on the powerful police and fire unions. All of this gives him an advantage over potential opponents such as Miami-Dade County Commissioners Carlos Gimenez and Joe Martinez.

The only declared candidates so far are former state Rep. Marcelo Llorrente and two unknowns.

But Robaina's ambitions could get derailed if opponents capitalize on his questionable job as Hialeah mayor. Not only has he slashed low-paid workers' salaries while barely trimming his own, he's mixed private and public business while allowing a high-ranking city administrator to accommodate his girlfriend with a well-paying city job.

"Robaina has gotten the unions very angry," notes Miami political consultant Dario Moreno. "But in today's political environment, that is an asset. All candidates who had union support in the recent general election went down in defeat."

David Custin, a political campaign manager who has guided Mario Diaz-Balart and other big-name Republicans to victory, gives Robaina the edge because Hialeah is the center of the Cuban-American electoral base. For his 2009 re-election campaign, Robaina won with more than 90 percent of the vote and raised a half-million dollars. "When you have a candidate coming out of Hialeah, they are strongly positioned in a countywide or general election," Custin says. "It is a historical and tactical fact."

Lobbyist and Republican party fundraiser Jorge Luis Lopez says Robaina increased his profile by actively campaigning and raising money during recent elections for GOP candidates such as Miami-Dade School Board member Perla Tabares Hantman, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, U.S. Congressman-elect David Rivera, and U.S. Senator-elect Marco Rubio. "You have to believe Robaina is broadening his base," Lopez says. "He has shown he can deliver votes in Hialeah, and that can be huge."

In positioning himself to run for higher office, his enemies — from union leaders to former allies such as ex-Hialeah police chief Rolando Bolaños Sr. — have been actively exposing the seedier side of Robaina's administration.

For example, Robaina's critics have often cited the case of Hialeah budget head Alexander Vega, who in 2008 was accused by his then-estranged wife of having an affair with one of his subordinates, internal auditor Ana Maria Gonzalez. In February 2009, Vega transferred his girlfriend — now his wife — to a newly created job in the city's Department of Education and Community Services that pays $74,000 per year. Robaina approved the transfer, according to Gonzalez's employee file.

"This is the type of preferential treatment that Robaina perpetuates," says parks employee Aguilar. "Yet the hard workers get screwed."

Then there are the questions about Robaina's personal ethics. As reported by New Times in August, Robaina has made private business deals with vendors who have contracts with the city, creating more conflicts of interest.

And he still hasn't addressed his business relationship with admitted $40 million Ponzi schemer Luis Felipe Perez, who in 2006 repaid a $100,000 loan with 18 percent annual interest to Robaina's wife in less than a year. "The longer these scandals hang over Robaina's head, the tougher time he will have convincing voters he would be a good county mayor," Dario Moreno says.

Already, Hialeah voters are starting to turn on the mayor. This past November, 54-year-old Cuban-American Guillermo Rodriguez complained that Robaina's budget cuts resulted in fewer police patrols inside Lago Grande, a 2000-unit residential development. Rodriguez owns a three-bedroom townhouse there since 1999.

"We've got teenage boys drinking beers and smoking pot in the parking lot on the weekends," Rodriguez says. "It wasn't like that three months ago. Yet Robaina can find money to increase the budget for his annual mayor's gala by $5,000. He's a joke."

Rodriguez's neighbor, Felix Nuñez, says Robaina has too much baggage: Making sure the residents of Hialeah are safe is more important than making sure your buddy's main squeeze gets taken care of."

 
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11 comments
Thinkfair1
Thinkfair1

Mayor Robaina back in December illegally fired 16 senior firefighters with the City of Hialeah. He has cost the city of Hialeah over 1 MILLION DOLLARS by this action. He has been ordered to return the firefighters back to work Immediately (WITH BACK PAY over 2 weeks ago). Everyday he ignores this ruling it is costing the City of Hialeah Taxpayer between 5000 to 10000 dollars a day. I am sure this taxpayer money could go to better use. A leader should be able to admit when he has made a mistake or misjudgement. In this order it was also found that he didnot save the taxpayers the money he stated. IS this savings (I THINK NOT). When you try to use a smoking gun (the word union) It is just that a word. Speaking of retirementsMayor Robaina has a fully funded(no contributions) (100%) retirement from the City of Hialeah. He talks with alot of words but if I am not mistaken he will be earning over 250,000 a year in retirement for serving as the mayor of hialeah ( that is not a career of over 25 years to say the least.) Again Mayor Robaina talks for others but it does not apply to

Mike
Mike

My Taxes matter, he is my candidate. I haven't seen any other proposal like this.

Rubenbpd
Rubenbpd

What is wrong with you people? If city employees get a pay cut you all cry about it. But is better than all the residents of Miami Dade county getting their taxes raised. So get a hold of your self's and act like man an not like quitters like the common sense guy that wrote. Thats why I moved out of Hialeah. yeah... you moved out of Hialeah to move right next to Carlos Alvarez smart guy.

solidwasteseminola
solidwasteseminola

guys wake up call union guys evrybody tell them get a contract done asap. i wrote a long message but has to b approved first.i work in solidwaste.i bet everybody wish we had a do over .

Walter
Walter

Having grown up in Hialeah, and moved away, like most people with common sense have done, I've watched mayor Julio flourish and plump up as the alcalde...both literally and figuratively.There isn't anything ethical about him. He's a glutton and a bully. Employee morale is at an all time low and the formerly "nationally recognized Parks and Recreation" department is a totally different beast today. All the best and the brightest of the city employees left for greener pastures when they saw what big bad Julio was up to.And that doesn't even begin to address the nepotism at city hall, including appointing his ex-in law cousin Vivian Casals-Munoz to the open city council seat in 2006. Robaina and his council also appointed highly unqualified twenty-one year old bimbo Katherine Cue to another seat vacated by Esteban "Steve" Bovo's resignation to run for State House. Katherine's mom runs the absurdly large e-communications program for the city. She was fired from her part time parks and recreation job but somehow got rehired by Robaina who eventually created an entire department for her.Robaina also had the audacity to support "potty mouth" council member Jose F. Caragol for election after the councilman's nasty campaign jingle became public record.The only thing Julio Robaina want is a unanimous vote on the city council. Just ask the candidates he has stabbed in the back. I suspect some of them may come back to work against his bid to become the next county mayor. At least we can hope so!

Frank76
Frank76

ex police chief bolanos put robaina on the spot in a city council meeting last year,the big question that was asked by bolanos was ''what happend to the 95 million dollars hialeah got from the government that was never accounted for?''''tell these people how many properties youve recently invested in due to rising foreclosures,yet you stand by your hialeah foreclosure program for citizens losing their homes...is he serious!!! why dont you state which/how many companies and inc. you and your wife are involved with?

Dcella
Dcella

This is all we need another power hungry, egotistical, self centered go with the flow incumbent. We are trying to get out of debt not further in the hole. This man is inexperienced and does not have what it takes. PEPE were are you?, we need you to run for Mayor. Leadership qualities and conservative values.. don't let us down Pepe.

Local Resident
Local Resident

BOOOOO! Julio Robaina gives a bad name to the Cuban Americans. And an even worst name to our local politicians. He is a first class delinquent. If he is elected we are going to need another recall... Call Norman Braman!!

Lost In So. Fla!
Lost In So. Fla!

Julio will win, because rater than put the good of the community ahead of everything, people in Hialeah vote for their "Favorite Son" of the moment.Yep, Dade County IS Hialeah!

solidwasteseminola
solidwasteseminola

an everybody voted no because solidwaste had the best deal an orlando was goin to not get furlough.an we even had stupid guys an solidwaste who voted no because he was takin holidays away.so what your not gettin rich from that.an the mechanics.they were sayin the mayor not goin to do anything.an they have 20 years togo an screw orlando.geuss what guys. orlando retired next day after meetin at cityhall.i went to see the mechanics.i ask one guy r u on break.he said they cuttin his pay 17% he not doin to much work.now they wish they can have a revote lol!!!!!!!!!!!!!.guys we need to start thinkin for ourslfs.we all have families car notes,house notes .,loans.we need to talk to union guys an tell them to get a contract so we can all vote yes for it so they can stop takin 17%..we have to stop being petty about furloughs.an who has better deal an realize that we cant get any better deal now.yeah he lost appeal so what .once we would have sign that contract we would have been better offlady an gentlemen.look around the unitedstates.there takin away fromworkers.look at wiscosin.hell look at the news.the reality is that we screwed ourselves.we should have voted yes.an we would have been fine.we need to put pressure on union guys to get contract that we can vote yes on asap.an poeple.start thinkin for yourselfs.most workers dont even no y the voted no .thats funny.1 lady was talkin at meetin at city hall said she voted no cuz she said they were afraid thatthey were goin to take some sick time an comp time away an we would never get it back.hello. that was not on contract.you can only vote for or against whats on paper.i mean come on or you kiddin me.an now yous cryin.people use common since.everybody i bet uu wish we could have a do over on vote.specially the mechanics,an water department workers.you guys thuoght you were screwing solidwaste guys guess what you all screwed yourselfs.everybody get on your phone an lets call union guys an orlando an tell them they need to get something done asap.or we vote all them out.

 
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