Moving to Miami: An Intro to Local Politics

Miami politics benefits the wealthy and well connected.
Miami politics benefits the wealthy and well connected. Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images

So you've settled in: You have a few new tropical plants you've named Harriet and Oswald, you've got a basic handle on which highways suck (all of them), and you're at least tangentially aware that whatever apartment you inhabit now will probably be chronically flooded by 2100. You're coming to the realization that the local bus system sucks and that it's insane nobody has built a train over any of the causeways despite the fact that the bridges have stood for 100 years. What's a newly angry carpetbagger to do?

You could certainly try getting involved in politics, showing up at city and county commission meetings, and shouting at various politicians to do something about the thing making you mad today. But at whom should you yell? And about what? Miami-Dade County politics can be byzantine and confusing, so here are handy tips to navigate the local levers of power.

Tip #1: Everything is as corrupt as you think it is — probably more so

Miami has been, in various instances, described as "one gigantic Ponzi scheme," "a place with no indigenous industry except sunshine," and "a sunny place for shady people." While the Cocaine Cowboys heyday of the '70s and '80s are behind us, everything in Miami politics is still pretty transparently corrupt. All the stories that sound kinda bad at the outset almost inevitably turn out to be way worse as they unfold.

Tip #2: There are like six major political families, and all of their kids battle for power like the lamest version of Game of Thrones

You're really only ever voting for someone with one of about a half-dozen or so surnames in Miami. Politicians stick around, bounce from city to city, and groom their kids, spouses, or siblings to take over for them after they're gone. You've got the Suarez family, the Carollo brothers, the Diaz de la Portilla clan, the many Barreiros, the flying Regalados, the massive house of Hardemon, and a host of smaller bit players vying for their slice of local resources. They've all been in charge for like 30 years and can be blamed for creating the utter mess that is Miami-area politics.

The city is a playground for the Saudi royal family, Russian oligarchs, and various other global 1-percenters.

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Tip #3: Those families are essentially propped up by the same class of rich land developers

Honestly, the dynastic political families matter slightly less than the moneyed interests backing them, and those interests are almost entirely made up of real-estate developers and various other wealthy folks who benefit from Miami's ever-expanding skyline. A seemingly endless array of donors and lobbyists stands directly between the public and any useful governmental reforms that would help the city's poor and working class. The city has been designed as a playground for the Saudi royal family, Russian oligarchs, and various other global 1-percenters. They fund local politics, and they sure get what they pay for.

Tip #4: Miami-Dade County's small municipalities are just vehicles for graft and corruption

Did you happen to move to, say, North Miami Beach, North Bay Village, Sweetwater, Biscayne Park, or any of the county's other weird little towns? Good for you — they're a complete mess and probably should not exist. The mayors of North Miami Beach keep getting arrested. Nobody is paying much attention to public spending in cities like North Bay Village. The Sweetwater Police Department at one point was secretly waterboarding people. Avoid those cities if you can help it.

Tip #5: It's basically been this way since Henry Flagler put a railroad here, and barring major change, it will stay this way for a while

Everything is psychotic and terrible right now because Florida, roughly a hundred years ago, was quote-unquote "founded" by a bunch of robber barons and land speculators who wanted to get rich selling drained swampland to rubes and marks. Unfortunately, their plan worked. Here we all are.

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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.