About the candidate
Joe Martinez entered politics because of a broken fax machine.
It was 1996 or 1997, as Martinez recalls, when the fax at the Kendall substation of the Miami-Dade police department broke down. Martinez, a police sergeant, told a subordinate to purchase a machine he had found on sale.
Three months later, after arguing about registered vendors and a bidding process, the department finally got a new machine — that cost $100 more than the one on sale.
“I thought this was bull----. I was in charge of the budget,” said Martinez, a two-time chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission.
Entering the political arena, he thought, could make a difference.
A decade and a half later, Martinez finds himself within striking distance of the powerful county mayor’s job, which oversees more than 27,000 employees, 25 departments and a budget of close to $7 billion.
The only thing standing in his way: incumbent Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a two-term commissioner who won a nasty battle for the mayor’s slot a year ago to fill the remainder of the term Carlos Alvarez left behind after he was recalled by voters.
The mayoral election — pitting Gimenez, Martinez and five lesser-known candidates against each other — is on Aug. 14. A runoff, if no one gets a majority of the votes, would take place Nov. 6.
“I wanted to be a public servant,” Martinez said during a breakfast last week at Islas Canarias restaurant in West Kendall with about a dozen supporters. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always thought politics was a very noble profession.”
Unlike county mayoral elections of the recent past, this one has been relatively subdued.
The two leading candidates are almost always amicable with each other, shaking hands before and after events, making small talk during breaks. Fiscally they’re similar, conservative with a belief in smaller government. Where they differ is in management style, Martinez said. While Gimenez leans toward micro-management, Martinez said he would have no problem delegating authority.
In fact, despite the county charter’s definition of the mayor’s job as the government’s chief executive, Martinez doesn’t believe the mayor’s job is to run the day-to-day operations of Miami-Dade’s sprawling bureaucracy.
“The job of the county mayor is not to be the manager, it’s to be the chief economic development manager, a diplomat, to be a liaison with other counties,” said Martinez. “The mayor is the bridge between the municipalities and the county.”
As for reducing the size of government, Martinez brushes aside the mayor’s claim that he saved the county $40 million by consolidating 42 departments into 25. Martinez said the savings come from vacant positions that haven’t been filled, and the mayor simply shifted people around. Martinez said if elected he would get rid of the five deputy mayors, who each earn in excess of $200,000 a year.
“That’s only added a layer of bureaucracy,” Martinez said.
The two men have even remained cordial over the most explosive issue this local campaign season: Thursday’s arrest of 56-year-old Deisy Cabrera on absentee-ballot fraud charges. Before Cabrera was arrested, a private investigator told police he had seen her enter the building that houses Gimenez’s campaign office in Hialeah. And a photograph of a Gimenez campaign event shows Cabrera in attendance.