This past Wednesday night, a couple dozen Miami-Dade voters gathered inside a back dining room of Town Kitchen & Bar in South Miami to hear New Times columnist Luther Campbell, county Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, and former state Rep. Marcelo Llorente talk about their platforms for Miami-Dade mayor.
It was an intimate and informal setting organized by the Miami-Dade chapter of Democracy for America. As their spectators munched on pizza, Asian fusion food dishes, and sliders, the candidates took turns addressing questions from the audience.
Gimenez kicked things off by listing his accomplishments as Miami's first Hispanic fire chief, city manager, and county commissioner, while also taking a shot at one opponent who was a no-show, Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina. "Unlike an opponent who is not here who keeps saying he did not support the Marlins stadium deal, I fought the contract to give a multimillionaire owner a ball park at a multi-billion dollar cost to the taxpayers," Gimenez said.
Llorente highlighted his time as chair for a state budget budget committee when he was legislator as the experience needed to address the bloated county bureacracy. "Our next mayor needs to be able to address a $250 million budget shortfall," Llorente says. "We also need someone who is going to act as our chief economic development officer to create high quality jobs."
In his first public appearance stumping for votes, Campbell stressed his music business credentials gave him the experience to tackle the county's top executive job. "People like to stress that I was a member of 2 Live Crew," he said. "But I owned my own record company. I started it 25 years ago in Liberty City at a time when people were telling me that there was no way rappers could come out of Miami. I put people to work."
If we had to grade Campbell, we'd give him a B-. It was apparent that Gimenez and Llorente were more polished on some issues affecting Miami-Dade, particularly when it came to answering questions about the urban development boundary, public transportation and Jackson Memorial Hospital. But that's to be expected from two career politicians.
But on other issues, the rap music producer was on point. Asked about incorporation, Campbell talked about the City of Miami Gardens. "It started out as a donor city, meaning the county had to provide more services for the city," Campbell said. "Now it is a model for incorporation because Miami Gardens has been able to pay for its own police department and after school youth programs." Gimenez even gave him props for noting Miami Gardens's success.
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On affordable housing, which is one of the main issues of his platform, Campbell explained that the solution is simple: Stop the back room deals and money mismanagement that has plagued the Miami-Dade Housing Agency. He cited the Villages of East Lake development in Atlanta as an example of the type of affordable housing he wants to build in Miami-Dade. In 1995, a private group led by an African American developer razed a violent crime infested public housing project into a pristine mixed income residential development.
"I don't have all the answers," Campbell told the crowd. "But I know from running my own business that I have to surround myself with a great team of people to get the job done. Don Shula wasn't a great coach because he was just great. No, he had a great staff and great players."