During the short time he has been mayor since last summer’s special election, Carlos Gimenez has done a yeoman’s job against tough economic circumstances, saving taxpayers more than $405 million.
Mayor Gimenez, 58, has followed through on his promises to balance the county’s books without raising taxes — indeed his proposed budgets cut the property tax rate two years in a row, helped this year by rising property values in some county areas. He has kept crucial services for residents while negotiating with unions to remove costly perks that were out of whack with the pay and benefits that private-sector workers receive. And he has deferred to county commissioners’ wishes and worked on their concerns to achieve those savings while keeping to the “strong mayor” form of government that voters want.
Not everyone is happy, of course. Public sector union members are understandably upset that a portion of their salaries are going toward the county’s health insurance program. In truth, it would have been simpler to roll back salaries instead of discounting insurance from higher salaries that were set by a previous mayor’s negotiations. But Mr. Gimenez didn’t impose the way to reach the savings — he offered the unions to come up with their own plans that would reach the same amount of savings, and police and other unions chose to keep a higher salary with the insurance deduction because it would benefit their pensions in the long run.
Mr. Gimenez has set a fine example of the county working within its means. He cut his own salary in half, got rid of millions of dollars in benefits for his direct staff, including rental cars, cut by half the number of county departments and has kept his focus where it should be: on economic development. The expansion of PortMiami and the new transit hub at Miami International Airport (a project under construction before the mayor was elected) will help create good paying jobs in trade and travel. The mayor’s focus on expediting the permitting process and getting rid of redundant regulations — without hurting the environment — should create the conditions needed for job growth.
Mr. Gimenez faces six challengers, but only one, Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, is mounting a serious campaign that includes fund-raising and key endorsements, such as support from the county’s police union. A former police detective who has served on the commission since 2000, Mr. Martinez is congenial and understands how government runs, but he has never overseen the day-to-day operations of any government, particularly one as large as Miami-Dade.
Mr. Gimenez, by contrast, was Miami’s fire chief and later was tapped as city manager to steer that city out of near bankruptcy. His experience balancing budgets and negotiating contracts has proven to be a huge asset for the county. He has worked with federal officials to fix a transmit mess he inherited and has not meddled (as others have done in the past) with the board now overseeing Jackson Memorial Hospital, which has started to balance its books after years of dripping red ink.
The mayor is committed to protecting the Everglades and keeping the Urban Development Boundary intact, fixing the county’s aging water and sewer system with a longterm plan and continuing to shrink county government, which exploded in the flush years.
Mayor Gimenez is creating the right climate for job growth, keeping vital services, such as police and fire safety, intact and continuing to reform government to restore public trust, which was shattered by years of pie-in-the-sky spending and huge cost overruns. He deserves four more years.
For Miami-Dade mayor in this nonpartisan race, The Miami Herald recommends CARLOS GIMENEZ.