Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez still has two years left of his final term, but now is the time to start identifying the best candidate to replace him in 2020. For my money, it's Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert.
The question is whether Cubans and other Hispanics will vote for him. It would be unprecedented if they did. See, Gilbert is African-American. Miami-Dade residents love to claim we are inclusive, especially when a hurricane is threatening us. Yet we all know that Cubans and whites tend to vote for candidates who look like them.
Gilbert has been pegged as a natural to replace termed-out Florida Sen. Oscar Braynon II or termed-out Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan. But the former Broward state prosecutor can look higher. He is a proven leader who can take the reins from Gimenez and lift Miami-Dade to new heights.
Under Gilbert's watch, Miami Gardens has reformed a police department that was notorious as a snake pit that unfairly targeted the city's majority black population. He has been instrumental in getting the city's largest property owner, the Miami Dolphins, to contribute resources and assistance to residents. Last year, he spearheaded an effort to create a community redevelopment agency (CRA) for the city that could generate $136 million over 30 years for economic development projects.
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Gilbert has proposed using $20 million to $40 million from the new CRA to build a 1,000-seat theater and catering center run by a culinary program on city-owned land. He has also helped turn the city's signature event, Jazz in the Gardens, into a nationally acclaimed music festival. As a civic leader, he has forged relationships with every major business group in Miami-Dade, including the Latin Builders Association and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. He is president of the Miami-Dade County League of Cities. (As with any prominent politician, Gilbert has been the target of complaints of financial and personal misconduct, but none of those charges have been proven.)
Furthermore, Gilbert is mayor of the third-largest city in Miami-Dade and the third-largest predominantly African-American city in the United States. He was recently named president of the African American Mayors Association and sits on the board of directors of the National League of Cities, as well as the advisory board of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He has lured major corporations such as Starbucks, Sonic, and Top Golf to open locations in a city they would have otherwise ignored. Waffle House is about debut its first Miami-Dade restaurant in Miami Gardens. And for the first time in Miami Gardens history, a national hotel will be developed in the city. All of this happened because of Gilbert.
He certainly has the clout and the qualifications to be county mayor.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.