Beckham's New Plan Highlights Miami's Big Problem With Lobbyists Related to Politicians

City of Miami
Miami's political ecosystem has long had a problem with family members getting paid to lobby other, elected family members. Last night's hours-long sideshow at the Miami City Commission over David Beckham's latest soccer plan was just another testament to how it's basically taken for granted that developers are going to pay patronage fees to the lawmakers' relatives on huge projects. 

Before the meeting, Beckham's MLS group hired Barbara Hardemon, Commissioner Keon Hardemon's aunt, as a lobbyist on the project. Commissioners deferred a vote until next week, when Hardemon may well be the deciding vote on the $1 billion proposal to build a private soccer stadium on publicly owned land. At the same time, his aunt is getting paid to convince the commissioner and his colleagues to vote for the deal. Keon Hardemon is not recusing himself from the July 18 vote.

This happens all the time in Miami City Hall. Lobbying records show Barbara Hardemon is also working for the Ultra Music Festival and the Munilla Construction Management building firm, among other groups — familial connections like this are either ignored or buried in paragraph 33 of many news stories about city deals.

There's a reason Beckham has partnered with Jorge Mas, the progeny of one of the rich Miami families that pioneered the city's clubby and incestuous style of politics. For the last few months, outsiders have praised Beckham for partnering with Mas, since, the prevailing wisdom goes, Mas is a seasoned operator who knows how to succeed at city hall. In Miami, that basically just translates into Mas knowing how to play the area's small handful of dynastic political families against one another.

But the problem goes deeper than the Hardemon family. The Beckham/Mas team has also hired C.J. Gimenez, the son of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, as a lobbyist. C.J. is an up-and-coming star in Florida's world of political influencers — he briefly joined ex-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski's lobbying firm for a few months in the spring of 2017 but left that May because the firm, Avenue Strategies, took on Citgo, the Venezuelan national oil company, as a client.

While C.J. is not currently listed as an active lobbyist at the county level, he repeatedly lobbied commissioners from 2004 to 2011 while his father, Carlos, was sitting on the dais. The younger Gimenez remains close to city commissioner and domestic-abuse-accused Trump apologist Joe Carollo, and the Beckham group's hiring was largely seen as an attempt to get Carollo to vote for the plan.

But it's not hard to imagine that a development team constructing a $1 billion stadium package will need to ask the county for a few favors over the years, and it's going to be difficult for the elder Gimenez to forget which team his son works for. Case in point: The county mayor has already appeared alongside Beckham at numerous MLS events in Dade County, including Beckham's confetti-filled January team announcement.

Hardemon, meanwhile, has repeatedly defended his aunt's work, as have many of his prominent backers, including New Times' own columnist Uncle Luke, who noted in May 2017 that, if the lobbying arrangement were actually illegal, Hardemon's detractors should "give a sworn statement to Katherine Fernandez Rundle," Miami-Dade County's state attorney.

Other local gadflies have not been so kind. Miami documentary filmmaker and political activist Billy Corben, a longtime Hardemon family critic, took a swing at Keon over the stadium deal earlier this week, calling him "pay to play" due to his family's extensive political ties.

Given this wasn't the first time Corben had launched that criticism at him, Hardemon fired straight back with his own insult.

"Your mama is pay to play," Hardemon tweeted.

Corben liked that one so much that he printed it on a T-shirt:
No word yet on whether his bay-jumping promise will carry over to next Wednesday's meeting. 
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.