Miami New Times. This week, Luke tackles the groupie culture among Miami politicians.
In Miami, having a celebrity as a frontman practically guarantees politicians will approve a public boondoggle. Indeed, it seems Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is ready to hand over prime waterfront land, owned by the taxpayers, to global soccer star David Beckham. The British football icon recently unveiled his vision for a soccer stadium at PortMiami. Beckham has even sweetened the pot, claiming he's talking to the University of Miami about moving the soccer team's home games out of Sun Life Stadium.
Gimenez and his cronies are star-struck. Small-owned businesses can't get a minute on the mayor's calendar, but a multimillionaire soccer player can ask for the port and get it. For a politician who won the mayor's seat in 2011 by promoting his vote against the Marlins ballpark, Gimenez has now supported two stadium deals. Last year, he helped Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross try to get public financing to revamp Sunlife Stadium.
Miami politicians have a track record of being Hollywood groupies. In 2001, celebrity racecar driver Emerson Fittipaldi partnered with prominent Miami architect Willy Bermello and local attorney Peter Yanowitch to return Grand Prix racing to the streets of downtown Miami. The City of Miami awarded them a no-bid deal that allowed Fittipaldi and crew to use Bayfront Park and rip up city sidewalks and city streets for the race course. They also received a $2 million loan from the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority for the race, which was held in October 2002. Guess who was the city manager who inked the deal? Bingo! Gimenez.
In 2003, the three sold their interest for $1.2 million to a motorsports company that folded, leaving an oil slick of debt with the city and the sports authority.
Gimenez is not the only groupie mayor. Hialeah's Carlos Hernandez flimflammed city residents on behalf of former New York Yankees pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, who is not related to the mayor. In 2011, Hernandez awarded a no-bid contract to El Duke Sports Association LLC to take over all seven baseball fields at Hialeah's Babcock Park. El Duque closed off the fields with fences and padlocks. The only way to use them is to pay $300 to $500 per little-league team for El Duque's tournaments.
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It seems you have to be famous for these politicians to help you. Either that or have a bag full of cash for their re-election campaigns.
Tune into Luke on the Andy Slater Show every Tuesday, 2 to 5 p.m., on Miami's Sports Animal, 940 AM.