The Miami Dolphins’ lobbying team looks like a reunion of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s campaign brain trust.
To push for a $400-million stadium renovation funded in part with tax dollars, the Dolphins have enlisted three key figures from Gimenez’s recent election races: Marcelo Llorente, Brian Goldmeier and Jesse Manzano-Plaza.
Llorente, who became a frequent presence on the campaign trail after losing his own mayoral bid, has been hired as one of the Dolphins’ Tallahassee lobbyists. Goldmeier, Gimenez’s fundraiser, and Manzano-Plaza, a former Gimenez campaign manager, have been brought on as advisers to help drum up community support for the Dolphins’ plan.
The three men’s participation could indicate a calculated effort on the Dolphins’ part to appeal to the mayor, whom Miami-Dade commissioners tasked on Wednesday with negotiating a potential deal with the football team. Gimenez was a stubborn critic of the lopsided public financing deal for the new Miami Marlins ballpark in Little Havana — a position that helped the former commissioner in his campaign for mayor.
Gimenez dismissed the suggestion that a particular lobbying or campaign team could curry favor with his office.
“If anybody knows me, you can hire whoever you want. At the end of the day, I work for the people of Miami-Dade County — that’s who pays my salary,” he said in an interview Thursday. “I’m pretty black-and-white about things like that.”
Gimenez, who said he was unaware of Llorente’s and Manzano-Plaza’s involvement with the Dolphins, said his former election workers are successful in their own right.
“They’re very good at what they do, and they’re professionals,” he said. “I would hope that’s why the Dolphins hired them. In terms of me, that makes no difference.”
Goldmeier, Llorente and Manzano-Plaza are part of a larger team, led by Dolphins CEO Mike Dee, hunting for votes among state lawmakers and county commissioners, who would have to sign off on the football team’s request to raise a Miami-Dade mainland hotel tax to 7 percent from 6 percent and to receive a $3 million annual subsidy from the state. The funds would amount to some $199 million, about half the cost of proposed upgrades to Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
Voting 9-4, commissioners on Wednesday endorsed state legislation that would allow the county to raise the hotel tax — an early victory for the Dolphins, who are having to stare down criticism of the Marlins deal. Commissioners directed Gimenez to negotiate with the Dolphins. The mayor said talks would begin soon, led on the county side by deputy mayors Ed Marquez and Jack Osterholt.
“If the public is going to be investing money via a bed tax — which is tourist money, but still public money — then what are we going to be getting in return? Why should we be investing public money into the enterprise?” Gimenez said. “I know we’re not going to put the general fund at risk in any way, shape or form. There’s not going to be any fancy financing.”
His administration will likely hire outside consultants with expertise in negotiating with professional sports teams, the mayor added.
“I don’t want to be at a disadvantage,” he said. “So it may be that we come to some kind of framework — and maybe we don’t.”