Archive for the ‘Mayor’ Category

The Mayor’s Tiny ‘Megaphone’
April 20, 2006

Not long ago, the Mayor — Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez — wrote a letter to the editor, blasting Commission Chair Joe Martinez for accepting free work on his new house from local contractors. It was pretty direct criticism: Alvarez, writing that Martinez’ deal “smacks of a conflict of interest and is exactly the type of behavior elected officials should avoid.”

The sentiments were not surprising. Martinez’ cozy arrangement with development interests has been widely criticized, and there’s been bad blood between him and the mayor since the days they were county cops together.

What struck me is that the mayor has such a small “megaphone” that his sentiments were expressed through letters to the editor instead of news coverage. While local media may not cover as much government news as they used to, I think the reason mostly lies in the mayor’s office.

Alex Penelas, somehow, stayed at the center of debate. He was a player, as mayor. Reporters sought him out for comment. Alvarez gets much less of that.

It’s not that reporters don’t like or respect the mayor. He has good one-on-one relations with reporters, as far as I can tell. But he is seen as less relevant to the debate.

Partly, it’s a tribute to the considerable political skills of Penelas. He often came down to the commission chambers to speak. It was widely believed that his position on issues could sway various members of the commission. But, in the end, he pretty much conceded it was all smoke and mirrors. After Alvarez was elected and Penelas was a lame-duck, the outgoing mayor said — “He’ll never have more power than he does right now.”

The mayor’s job has been all but gutted of real control. He can appoint the manager and veto legislation, but the manager has to please commissioners too, and commissioners can override any veto.

Part of Alvarez’ problem is he has no pull on the commission. He ran on a platform of taking power away from them, highlighting recent peccadilloes, conflicts of interest and financial fiascoes arising from the commission’s involvement in letting county contracts. He did so with the moral authority gained from years of fighting the bad guys as police director, but his tone grated on many commissioners as “holier than thou.”

Alvarez thought he’d go over their heads. He’d put his ideas for strengthening the myor’s job on the ballot. The same voters who swept him into office would give him the authority to clean things up.

The problem? — Florida’s constitution. It says county commissions should be in charge. Alvarez’ proposals got plenty of signatures but were struck down in court. They appear to be dead.

So Alvarez still enjoys the high regard of county citizens — getting far higher approval ratings than commissioners in a recent poll. But his “megaphone” to the public still seems tiny.

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