Voters Fire Salesman

March 11, 2009 - Leave a Response

Fitzroy Salesman had hoped that pulling out a gun in a crowded grocery wouldn’t be much of an issue for Miramar voters. Apparently, it was.  Salesman finished fourth in a four-way race for the commission seat he used to occupy.

History gave him reason to hope.  After all, Hialeah put Raul Martinez back in the mayor’s chair in ’93, after he’d been suspended for Federal kickback charges he later beat.  Humberto Hernandez had regained his Miami commission seat while under indictment a decade ago, though Hernandez later served time for fraud.

Salesman’s crime– waving a gun at a couple of teens he claimed were threatening him– wasn’t related to his conduct in office like those earlier examples.  And his self-assessment was not modest: “I’m still one of the best commissioners this city’s ever had”, he boasted while waving to motorists, election eve.

90% of voters didn’t buy it.  Some called Salesman an embarrassment to the city.  Even former supporter John Stevens said he’d vote for someone else, concerned that the city might be stuck with a six-figure tab for a special election, were Salesman to win at the ballot box, but lose at trial, next month (a conviction would carry a three-year minimum sentence).

Stevens accurately predicted: “I don’t think he’ll be re-elected  because of the expense to the city.  I think it’s better to put somebody in there that you know is going to be in office, rather than take a chance.”


The VP’s Stimulus Road Show

March 5, 2009 - Leave a Response

  Joe Biden came to Miami this afternoon, to trumpet an unlikely stimulus project in some ways– a $2.1 million chunk of stimulus cash, to finance construction of a bus terminal that will be linked to Miami’s airport.

  Why unlikely?  It’s not “shovel-ready”, producing instant jobs.  The ground where the project will stand won’t even be cleared until spring of next year.  Even then, it’ll only create about 50 construction jobs. 

  Moreover, the Greyhound bus facility is part of the giant Miami Intermodal Center, a project the Feds have already sunk more than $600-million into, over the years. So no one really thought coming up with another couple of million for the bus terminal was going to be a big problem.

  The project, though, is a winner on other grounds that the VP and local mayors, Miami-Dade’s Alvarez and Miami’s Diaz, are anxious to tout.  As Biden put it: “We’re not only rebuilding America, we’re laying down a platform– a competitive platform– for the 21st century.”

  The Intermodal Center aims to move tourists in and out of the airport more efficiently– critical in this tourism-dependent area.  It’s billed as eco-friendly, as well, because it will offer travellers more non-automotive options– links to Tri-Rail, Metrorail, and Amtrak trains, and to buses, as well.

  Neither Biden nor the new US Transportation Secretary, Ray Lahood, took media questions.  They certainly would have been asked about earmarks in the bill that have critics up in arms. I, for one, would have wanted to know Lahood’s opinion.  He’s a former Republican Congressman from Illinois.  Not one Republican Congressman from anywhere supported the stimulus package.  Would Lahood have been a lone GOP champion of stimulus, or does he really think– as his former Republican colleagues charge– that the stimulus bill passed by Democrats is a bloated pork-laden budget-buster?

CPAC Attack- Gov. Crist Mocked

February 28, 2009 - 2 Responses

  1757 folks attending the Conservatice Political Action Conference in Washington, express their presidential preferences in a straw poll: 

Mitt Romney – 20 percent
Bobby Jindal – 14 percent
Ron Paul -13 percent
Sarah Palin – 13 percent
Newt Gingrich -10 percent
Mike Huckabee – 7 percent
Mark Sanford – 4 percent
Rudy Guiliani – 3 percent
Tim Pawlenty – 2 percent
Charlie Crist – 1 percent
Undecided – 9 percent

  The pollster who did the survey– Tony Fabrizio– reportedly ended his announcement of the tally by saying “and 1% for Barack Obama’s favorite Republican, Charlie Crist.”

  Florida’s Gov. can console himself with robust poll numbers back home– 67% approval in Quinnipiac’s latest (2/09), including 70% of Republicans.

Another Stadium Snag?

February 27, 2009 - 2 Responses

Michelle Spence-Jones– the apparent swing vote in the Marlins Stadium deal– says she’s back from maternity leave, and has concerns about the ballpark deal that must be met– “or the Marlins will strike out”.

The full text of her written statement is below (she’ll do interviews about it Monday morning).

The stadium deal, of course, failed on a 2-2 tie vote while Spence-Jones was absent two weeks ago.  Since then, the NAACP and others in her district have been pressing the Marlins for concrete, written assurances that jobs will go to  minority contractors and local residents. The Marlins haven’t signed any binding covenant to that effect, but one source in on the negotiations says that might happen early next week.

Spence-Jones is a protege of Mayor Manny Diaz, an ardent stadium backer, having served as a Diaz aide before winning her commission seat in 2005.

But she’s also up for re-election in the fall, and two political rivals I spoke with today say they’re against the stadium deal.  David Chiverton, head of a Liberty City economic development group who will formally declare his candidacy in a couple of weeks, says he doesn’t like the deal as currently constituted.  Former Opa-locka Asst. Police Chief Jeff Torain, who’s already filed to run, is even firmer.  He says the stadium deal is a bad one, and can’t be amended to win his approval.

The City Commission’s due to take up the deal next Friday, March 6th.  If it passes muster there, the Miami-Dade County Commission would take it up the next week. The Marlins still hope to break ground in July, and play ball on the old Orange Bowl site in 2012.


Now, as promised, the long-awaited Spence-Jones press release–

Commissioner Michelle Spence Jones Says Marlins
Must Hit a Home Run for Her District
– Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones returns to work after a brief maternity leave-
(Miami, FL) ─ Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, District 5 returns to work after a brief maternity leave. The first order of business is the Marlins Stadium. After reviewing the tape of the meeting and the accompanying documents provided to the commission, Commissioner Spence-Jones encourages the Marlins to step up to the plate and vastly improve the benefits to her community from the construction of the new baseball facility. In an economic environment where jobs are critical, small businesses are struggling, and construction work has slowed, the Commissioner says the deal must appeal to the needs of her district or the Marlins will strike
out on March 6.

According to the Commissioner, Overtown has waited long enough. The Commissioner supported the Global Agreement because of the benefits to her community. The Global Agreement bailed out the Performance Art Center from its funding crisis. It also contained $100 million in funding for the Port Tunnel. Additionally, the tunnel is included as part of the economic stimulus plan. The agreement also includes the new baseball stadium that is now being recommended at a cost of almost $600 plus million.

“ I am glad to see the areas around the Omni, Downtown, Little Havana and the Medical District reap the benefits of the Global Agreement and other City and County investments; however, Overtown, Allapattah, Little Haiti and Liberty City are left behind,” said Commissioner Spence-Jones, “Overtown must get its fair share.”

As such the commissioner  strongly recommends that the City and the County take the following actions before  she can make any decisions on funding a new baseball stadium or the Marlins will strike out :

1) Expedite the expansion of the boundaries and extension of the life of the Overtown CRA.
2) Amend the Global Agreement to prevent the City and the County and or the Marlins from taking any tax increment dollars generated in Overtown from the Overtown CRA.
3) Authorize a half  billion dollar bond issuance to fund the redevelopment of the historic Overtown community.

“While I supported the Marlins deal as a part of the Global Agreement, the financial condition of the City and the County has changed dramatically since the first vote. Foreclosures are up, unemployment has doubled and bankruptcies are at record levels,” said Commissioner Spence-Jones “Therefore any agreement to support the construction of a new stadium must also include concrete job opportunities and use of small businesses in my district with participation during both the construction and operations phase of the baseball stadium.

Finally, the Marlins organization and major league baseball have not addressed the needs of our inner city youth.  They must fund a mini-baseball youth academy located in the inner city. They must offer additional support to the local optimist organizations operating in Overtown and in Liberty City or the Marlins will strike out. And as everyone knows in baseball three strikes and you’re out.”

Commissioner Spence-Jones will cast her vote at the upcoming commission meeting on March 6, 2009, to decide the fate of the Marlins stadium. For more information or to schedule a press interview with Commissioner Spence-Jones, contact Jonelle Adderley at (305) 250-5390.

Jonelle Adderley, Assistant to Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones
Office of Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones
3500 Pan American Drive
Miami,FL 33133
P: (305) 250-5394
F: (305) 250-5399

Meek’s Free Ads

February 25, 2009 - Leave a Response

  Kendrick Meek’s nascent candidacy for US Senate in 2010 is getting a hefty on-air boost from a couple of DC-based national advocacy groups, both lauding him for his vote to expand the SCHIP children’s health coverage program.  The 30-second spots, paid for by “America’s Agenda: Health Care for Kids” and “Families USA”, have been airing over the last couple of weeks in the Miami-Fort Lauderale market. 

   The ads aren’t endorsements, of course.  They have that squishy language of the so-called “527” advocacy groups: “Call Congressman Meek and thank him for standing up for our kids.” 

  A spokesman for both 527’s  say only 3 Florida Democratic Congressmen are getting these televised pats on the back from her group– Meek, freshman Rep. Alan Grayson from the Orlando area, and Rep. Allen Boyd, from the Panhandle.  In all, 14 FL Representatives voted for the SCHIP expansion– all 10 Dems, and 4 Republicans (South Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balart brothers, among them).

  Why are SCHIP advocates buying ad time after the fact? The America’s Agenda folks say there will be further votes on expanding government-backed health coverage, and they want to reward their staunch Congressional allies with laudatory ads.  The PR folks for both groups insist Meek was not chosen because he’s running for Senate.  Maybe, but it sure doesn’t hurt that these ads are airing in counties that are home to about a quarter of Florida’s 4.7 million Democrats.

   And both 527’s get major financial backing by the Service Employees International Union.  SEIU just happens to be the first major union to have made an endorsement in the 2010 Senate race.  Yep, they’re backing Meek.

Misery in Ft. Myers

February 10, 2009 - One Response

We’d heard many of  the President’s words before– in Elkhart the day before, at that White House press conference that night. His arguments in favor of a stimulus package sounded pretty familiar by now.

What stood out today  in Ft. Myers were the words of the people who came to see him and plead for his help.  Henrietta Hughes, homeless, who was near tears as she told the President:  “We need something more than vehicles and parks to go to. We need our own kitchen and bathroom.  Please help.”

Julio Osegueda became the most famous burger-flipper in the land– for this news cycle, anyway– as he described to Mr. Obama how he’d been stuck working at McDonald’s for 4 1/2 years now.  No sooner had Osegueda finished speaking than my cell phone rang.  The producers of MSNBC’s “Countdown” wanted Julio to chat with Keith Olbermann.  He’s scheduled  to be live from Ft. Myers at 8:30.

The hall was full of heart-breaking and compelling stories that didn’t get a national airing, folks who weren’t picked by the President to come to the mike.  The Loroms, who just returned to Ft. Myers after living in Canada for a while, can’t believe what’s happened here.  Shannon’s been looking for work for three months.  “My emails, my phone calls, I get nothing, just nothing,” he told me.  The Loroms know 5 people who are losing their homes right now, and say that half the houses in their Lehigh Acres neighborhood (now famous, thanks to the NY Times and New Yorker, as a “future slum” and “the American Dream in high reverse”) are empty.

Wayne Howard, the Human Resources director for the city of Cape Coral , says applications are up 30-40% for openings in the city.  A rep for the plumbers & pipefitters union told me earlier, he saw a house just like the one he bought in Cape Coral 20 years or so ago listed for less than the $45,000 he paid back then.

On the Politico web site, Roger Simon describes Obama’s mission on economic stimulus this way:  “Petrify people and restore their confidence.”

There are a lot of petrified people in these parts, and I’m sure not all of them are sold on the stimulus package.  But as she left, grocer Agnes Thompson said Obama’s confidence– which critics sometimes find off-putting and arrogant–  made her feel better.  “My confidence in him is very high and my confidence in the American people also is very high.”

Presidential Visit Politics

February 9, 2009 - 3 Responses

The President’s visit to Ft. Myers has prompted a fascinating political fandango in Florida.

Charlie Crist’s give-and-take with reporters in Orlando at midday Monday, for instance.  The Gov supports a Federal stimulus spending plan in general, while every FL Republican on Capitol Hill has voted against the stimulus packages.

Crist tried his best not to criticize Congressional Republicans, doing some pretty fancy rhetorical dancing, in the process.

When asked about his contacts with Sen. Mel Martinez, Crist said “I probably pester him too much. I call him every day.”   Reporters pressed Crist on Martinez’ intention to vote no on stimulus.  Crist responded by saying how hard the Senator had been working to “save  some of  the education funding” the Senate had cut from the House bill, and said blithely “I hope he continues to help.”

Martinez, meanwhile, didn’t make his “no” vote sound like a close call, blasting the compromise stimulus package before the Senate as falling “far short of providing the timely, targeted, and temporary stimulus” the country needs.

Gov. Crist will journey to Ft. Myers to introduce the Democratic President as he stumps for stimulus, surely prompting more complaints from Republicans that Crist is a “RINO”- Republican in name only.  The event’s being held in the heart of the district represented by Cong. Connie Mack III.  Republican Mack says the stimulus package is “chock full of pork.”

Some Democratic politi-drama also surrounds the Obama visit to Ft. Myers.  Cong. Kendrick Meek will fly with the President, aboard Air Force One, to the Town Hall event.  Meek’s spokesman made sure to let reporters around the state know that, this afternoon, his press release quoting the Congressman as saying: “Floridians cannot afford a business as usual approach in Washington during these worrisome economic times.”

Meek is, of course, running for Mel Martinez’s Senate seat.  His high-profile flight arrangement must be galling to St. Sen. Dan Gelber, his announced opponent in the 2010 Democratic primary.  Gelber was supporting Obama when Meek was still doing the talk-show rounds for Hillary Clinton last spring, and Gelber’s got Obama’s FL campaign director running his Senate bid.

But Gelber will be at committee meetings in Tallahassee while Meek shares a plane ride, and the stage, with the President.  Ouch.

Claudine Ryce

January 21, 2009 - 2 Responses

I depart from the usual focus of this blog to note the death of Claudine Ryce.  She wasn’t a politician, though tragedy thrust her into the role of lobbyist and policy advocate, briefly.

Claudine was the mother of Jimmy Ryce.  I met her shortly after Jimmy, age 9 at the time, disappeared. He’d gotten off his school bus one September afternoon in the 1995 in a rural neighborhood south of Miami, and was never seen alive again.

It turned out Jimmy had been abducted, molested, and killed by a handyman at a nearby ranch.  When that evil man went on trial in Orlando (trial moved, because most folks in south Florida wanted to string up the defendant on the spot), I got to know Claudine Ryce and her husband Don, a little better.

She died, says a family publicist, of a heart attack.  But her heart had been torn apart and hurting since her only son was snatched from her.

She and Don learned well how to deal with the media, as they pushed to get the Jimmy Ryce Act (which required sexual predators to get extra judicial review before being allowed to leave prison), and as they went through the torture of a murder trial.  They graciously accommodated reporters seeking interviews, and my heart always ached for them afterward.

During the trial in Orlando, the Ryces celebrated a wedding anniversary.  Knowing that their resources were strained by having to miss work and stay in a hotel while attending the trial, the media gaggle pooled resources, and bought them dinner at a nice restaurant near the courthouse.

Technically, that violated everyone’s journalistic integrity, I suppose, but it certainly seemed the right thing to do. We wanted to give this decent, ravaged couple a night out during which they might, even for a second, forget the heartache that haunted them.

We cover a lot of people touched by tragedy, and you can’t take every story to heart.  But the Ryces stay with me, always.  Maybe even more, since I had a child.

They are a scary reminder that awful things happen to good people.  They doted on their son, were mindful of his safety, and still– it wasn’t enough to keep Jimmy from the clutches of a ghoul of a human.

My heart goes out, once again, to Don.  Rest in Peace– finally– Claudine.

Wall-to-Wall Balls for All

January 19, 2009 - Leave a Response

Washingtonian magazine says there are more than 30 balls and parties around Washington on this Inaugural eve.  A couple of hundred Floridians done up in black tie are dining and dancing at the Corcoran Museum of Art, a stone’s throw from the White House.

Streets all around the Corcoran– and throughout central Washington– have been shut down for security reasons.  That means cabs are in short supply, traffic is backed up, and the Metro is attracting a really well-dressed crowd this evening.  We saw scads of black ties and sequined gowns on the Red Line.

Tickets to the “Sunshine and Stars” ball– priced at $150 to $500 a pop– have been sold out for weeks.  Among notable Dems we saw were state CFO Alex Sink– who’s just decided she’s not running to comer here as a US Senator in 2010– and Cong. Ron Klein, who said again tonight he’s pondering a Senate bid. Barack Obama’s first prominent FL political supporter– Cong. Rob Wexler– was also there.

Pretty much everyone you talk to is impressed by the size and the good humor of the crowds that descended on Capitol Hill today.  Security screening created huge lines outside Congressional office buildings, as people from around the country tried to get Inaugural tickets being distributed by Congresspeople.

But I never heard an angry word out of any of those folks.  They chatted, made new Obama-phile friends, took pictures of each other and the occasion passing political celebrity (Bob Graham got pulled into a few snaps for the folks back home, and I obliged a few people who wanted me to pretend I was interviewing them).

The crowds are well-behaved, but boy, are they big.  I’ve heard that Washington’s Metro subway set a new daily ridership record on Sunday (some 616,000 rides), and probably set another one today.

Almost certainly, tomorrow will set another record, and will provide a severe test for the Metro.  Bridges to and from Virginia are closed to most cars tomorrow, so the trains will be the favored means olf transportation.  Even with the Metro providing its most-frequent rush-hour service throughout the day, a lot of people fear the trains won’t be up to the task.

I met a young Virginian who said he’ll spend the night in the DC beauty salon  where he works, to ensure he won’t miss the Inaugural ceremony. Another friend– a reporter for a California newspaper– is sleeping in his DC office tonight, rather than hazard a commute in from McLean, VA.

Floridians who make it through tomorrow and have energy left to party have one more chance Tuesday evening— the Southern States ball will be held at DC’s National Guard Armory, with the Derek Trucks Band providing Southern-fried boogie, and the Will Gravatt Band playing more sedate numbers.

Me– after a second 16-hour work day, I’ll be asleep.

The Travails of Taravella

January 19, 2009 - One Response

The only Florida high school band marching in tomorrow’s Inaugural parade almost suffered a 20% cutback.  Taravella’s Marching Trojans– 174 strong– found out today they were short 34 credentials.

Would the woodwinds be winnowed, as a result?  Would the band be down a drummer or two?  Given the security at this Inauguration, nobody– NOBODY– will be marching without a credential.  Hey, police dogs sniffed Taravella’s instruments BEFORE they left Coral Springs last Friday.

The Trojans will march intact.  Just after 6, band director Neil Jenkins told me he had the last 5 passes he needed.

Taravella, we’re told, will be the 24th unit in the 4th division of the parade (the parade’s divided into 6 divisions, on for each branch of the Armed Services).  Scheduled step-off time, around 4:30… all 174 band members, properly credentialed.