The most interesting case I have been involved with since leaving office was not related to my law practice.
As former President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I helped craft and successfully pushed for the passage of a resolution urging the administration to grant Dream Act-eligible young people temporary status through deferred action. In fact, I spent three months extensively lobbying various members of the Administration, including the Vice President, and through my role as a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — Secretary Janet Napolitano. Incidentally, the day before the vote on my resolution, President Obama announced the administration’s decision to move forward with this new policy.
Q. During your time in office you pushed the Miami 21 plan aimed at urban development. Now you yourself live a pretty urban life; we understand you don’t have a car. How does that work? What do you do about getting the groceries home? Is it true you bum rides home with friends?
I continue to live in my home in Coconut Grove, although I fully expect to move to the urban core after my youngest daughter enters college next year. I am thrilled by the daily experience of witnessing the new pedestrian Miami, including the rapidly growing community of cyclists. There’s a new vibrancy and energy about downtown that has never existed before in the city’s history and it’s extremely exciting and rewarding.
It has been 12 years since I had my own car, and I aspire to live the rest of my life that way. Fortunately, thanks to public transportation, and very understanding family and friends, I have been able to manage so far.
My law firm is located on Brickell Avenue. As such, I either walk or take public transportation (including the new downtown trolleys and the Metromover) to meetings on a daily basis. When I was mayor, sustainability through urban design was a central focus of my administration and I enjoy living by those same principles today.
Q. What, in your view, is most needed now for Miami to become a more attractive city for people and for businesses?
First of all, I think we have to redirect our efforts at becoming a competitively sustainable (in every sense of the word) region. The old models will simply not work any longer. We continue to focus on attracting widget manufacturing companies with a handful of jobs rather than promoting the creative and innovative jobs of the future. These are the opportunities we must create if we are to retain and attract the young workers of tomorrow. In this global, inter-connected world, young people can choose to live anywhere. Virtual manufacturing and jobs are today’s reality. They must choose Miami.
Miami’s brain drain is our most serious problem. Young people who grew up in Miami and become educated in the country’s leading universities are not coming back to our city because they do not yet see the promise of real opportunity in Miami.Q. You see education as a key. Tell us more.
We also need to continue to make significant strides (and investments) in public education. A sustainable city simply cannot exist without an educated citizenry and work force.
It is very disturbing to witness our state leaders talk about creating jobs on the one hand while slashing education budgets and balancing their own budget through increased tuition costs on the other hand. Having grown up poor, I am not sure that I could afford a college education today. Q. In 2000, you were an attorney for Elian Gonzalez’ Miami family. Opinions ran high then, and the community became polarized over the issue of whether the boy should have stayed or been taken back to Cuba. Looking back on it now, what is your view of that situation and its role in the city’s history?