Five Reasons Miami-Dade Needs Better Mayoral Candidates

Carlos Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, is a man so boring he might actually just be a pile of wood pulp with googly eyes stuck to the sides. So it's somewhat surprising to see pro-immigration activists marching through the streets of Miami, chanting, "Shame on you!" at the mayor, waving signs imploring him to find his spine, and staging sit-ins at County Hall.

But such are the gravity of Gimenez's recent decisions. Gimenez became the first mayor in the nation to cave to President Donald Trump's hollow threat that so-called sanctuary cities, which protect immigrants from deportation, would be stripped of federal funding.

It's not surprising that Gimenez would roll over for Trump. The mayor is supremely budget-conscious, and his son once worked as a lobbyist for Trump's Doral country club long before the barely sentient pile of circus-peanut crumbs ran for president.

Now, with many people focusing their eyes on Gimenez for the first time in a long while, we'd like to remind folks that Gimenez has been — at best — a mediocre excuse for a mayor and, at worst, a wholly ineffectual leader of one of the nation's largest and most diverse cities. His term will end in 2020.

While we're stuck with Snoozy Carlos for another three years or so, Gimenez's Trump debacle should serve as a reminder that Miami's majority-Democratic electorate really ought to pay more attention to the majority-Republican machine politics in Miami-Dade — and that the 305 deserves far better county mayoral candidates.

So, as a reminder:

1. Gimenez has funded each of his election campaigns using crazy amounts of rich-developer money.

He is basically just a machine that wealthy real-estate developers can use to develop profits into favorable laws for themselves. In 2016, Gimenez raised a record-setting $6.5 million — largely from the crop of rich Miami property developers and construction magnates responsible for the city's urban sprawl, traffic woes, high rents, and lack of affordable housing. In fact, he owes his entire mayorship to auto dealer Norman Braman, who bankrolled the campaign to oust Gimenez's predecessor, Carlos Alvarez, in a recall election.

2. Gimenez seems to care only about Miami when the county budget is on the line.

One of Gimenez's main promises during his initial campaign run was to cut the number of county departments because there were apparently too many. In the end, Gimenez kept his word and chopped the number of departments from 42 to 25. But the process required some major bloodletting: He ultimately cut 555 government jobs, and a New Times evaluation at the time showed that most of the people cut were making $28,000 to $93,000 per year — hardly "fat cats" siphoning needless cash from taxpayers. Worse yet, he ultimately just reassigned the wealthy department directors who'd been slated for firing — that means the actual bureaucrats he was complaining about stayed on, while lower-level workers got the ax.

Elsewhere, he threatened to slash library budgets in 2014 before Miami's library workers intervened. He has not championed proactive solutions to Miami's major crises, such as traffic or global warming. The city got a competent budget-balancer when it needs a bulldog willing to fight rising seas and rising Trumpism.

3. He's been crazy slow to respond to almost every political controversy — and his budget-slashing has often left Miami flatfooted when issues arose.

Remarkably, Gimenez did not create a sea-level-rise position within Miami-Dade's government until late 2015. Until that point, Dade's sustainability office was ten times smaller than Broward County's. That is, simply put, unacceptable: Though Gimenez at least says he believes in climate change, he has not treated sea-level rise like the actual threat it is: The ocean will swallow large parts of Miami-Dade in the coming years, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine cannot fix the county's issues on his own.

The same was true during last summer's Zika crisis: Miami-Dade Mosquito Control also sustained huge cuts over the years, only to get hit with a true public health emergency without necessary staff in place to fight the insect-borne onslaught. For a budget-conscious mayor, the relative lack of money he'd thrown toward Mosquito Control in such a bug-prone town was astounding.

As for hot-button issues such as police brutality, the rise in Trump-related hate crimes, and Trump himself, Gimenez has typically kept his mouth shut, acting less like a city leader and more like a city accountant. He was nowhere to be seen when Charles Kinsey was shot by cops in North Miami for trying to help an autistic person. He dragged his feet during this year's election cycle before finally and painstakingly announcing his support for Hillary Clinton.

4. Miami-Dade's voting bloc is heavily Democratic, but Republicans regularly win the mayorship.

This is less a Gimenez issue and more a Miami one: Miami-Dade County overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton this past election cycle. The county has voted Democrat in the last five presidential elections. When it comes to presidential or senatorial campaigns, the county turns a deep shade of navy. But when it comes to electing a leader to unite Miami's various cities, we've been stuck with folks like Alvarez, who was content to openly screw Miami taxpayers to build a stadium, and Gimenez. The mayor's only major reelection opponent this year was Republican Raquel Regalado, daughter of Tomás Regalado, the mayor of the City of Miami. The county deserves leaders that better reflect its diverse voting bloc.

5. During the Trump era, big cities need strong, proactive mayors.

In the Trump era, the county deserves a mayor willing to stand up for his or her citizens. Gimenez is not that person. Across the nation, big-city mayors are openly standing up to Trump's authoritarianism by pitching new, creative ideas for city infrastructure and altogether acting like leaders their constituents can get behind. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has threatened to sue Trump over the sanctuary-city ordinance. Houston just overhauled its bus system into a grid that the rest of the nation says it wants to emulate. The mayor of Miami Beach is upstaging his own superior when it comes to climate change. Miami-Dade County deserves better than what it's getting.
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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.