Politics

Thanks to Jorge Gonzalez, Miami Beach Is Now Dade's Most Corrupt Town

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For two decades, the City of Miami and county hall have dominated South Florida corruption. Two Miami city managers and a commissioner have spent time in the pen, while another commissioner resigned over ethics charges and a mayor was forced out by voter fraud. County hall has seen a commissioner sentenced to jail, a mayor recalled, and another commissioner flee to Australia to avoid drug and sex charges.

Miami Beach seemed like the sanest locale in the 305. By the late '90s, memories had already faded of the Caligula-like term of former mayor Alex Daoud, who earned 18 months in federal prison after his arrest in 1991 on 41 bribery counts.

When Gonzalez was hired in 2000 to replace Sergio Rodriguez, he seemed to be a wunderkind -- a Hialeah native plucked from a county management job in the Washington, D.C. area. At the tender age of 34, he stepped into a job that allowed him vast power to hire, fire, and direct budgets. Fellow managers in the City of Miami and Dade County, where the mayor is supreme, wield less influence.

Gonzalez used that perch to lure high-rise hotels such as the W on Collins Avenue, revitalize the east end of Lincoln Road, and nurture Art Basel and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival until they became world-class events.

There were some early missteps. In 2008, three Building Department employees were arrested for taking bribes from developer Michael Stern, who was trying to knock down a historic coral rock house on Washington Avenue. Gonzalez's handpicked department head, Thomas Velazquez, later resigned over the scandal. But Gonzalez avoided serious blowback.

"You have to give Gonzalez credit. For a number of years, he juggled a lot of competing interests," Tobin says.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink