BEST LOCAL POLITICIAN Miami 2004 - Miami Mayor Manny Diaz
Readers' Choice: Alex Penelas
The quiet, reserved Manny Diaz came out of nowhere in his 2001 mayoral bid against opponents who were far more prominent. He had been a well-liked but low-profile lawyer who was thrust into the limelight as part of the legal team trying to keep Elian Gonzalez in Little Havana. Initially his principal qualification, aside from having Elian credentials, seemed to be that he wasn't Joe Carollo. But Diaz, in his understated way, promised a major revolution in city government, proposing to run the place more like a business and less like a Calle Ocho festival that has gone on far too long. After taking office, he eased out city manager Carlos Gimenez and hired Joe Arriola, a wealthy retired executive with a big mouth but considerable business acumen. Arriola restructured city operations and ousted several long-time department heads, among them the police chief, which cleared the way for a ball-breaker to come in and shake things up. Diaz and his lieutenants have made priorities of improving streets, services, and economic development in general. You can certainly disagree with specific actions and outcomes presided over by Diaz and Co., but the overall direction of change has been very good. The urban core is being revitalized and the city's bond ratings have soared.