The Miami Dolphins officially launched their political campaign Thursday to persuade voters to approve a tax-subsidized renovation of Sun Life Stadium — even though the effort might be all for nought.
The May 14 referendum will take place only if Florida lawmakers pass Dolphins-backed legislation increasing a state sales-tax subsidy and allowing Miami-Dade County to raise its hotel-tax rate — prospects still in doubt in the tax-averse Legislature.
But the Dolphins couldn’t wait until the lawmaking session ends May 3 — a mere 11 days before the referendum — to kick off their political push.
On Thursday, the Dolphins announced their effort would be headed by businessman and longtime fundraiser Jorge Arrizurieta and lawyer H.T. Smith, both seasoned campaigners who can appeal to two key Miami-Dade constituencies: Hispanics and blacks. Smith is black, and Arrizurieta is Hispanic.
At a news conference held at the National Football League’s “Youth Education Town” center in Liberty City, Smith emphasized the Dolphins’ and the league’s contributions to community programs. The NFL created the center at Gwen Cherry Park when Miami hosted the 29th Super Bowl in 1995.
“The reason why I’m here today is because every time the Super Bowl comes to Miami, the NFL YET center gets $500,000,” Smith said.
One of the conditions of the renovation deal negotiated by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is that the Dolphins bring at least four Super Bowls over the next 30 years to the Miami Gardens stadium. County commissioners on Wednesday approved putting the deal before voters, and scheduled the referendum.
As part of the agreement, the Dolphins will have to bear the election costs. Due to the county by Friday is a nonrefundable payment of $4,784,337.
The Dolphins began assembling a political team weeks ago, bringing in local and outside advisors. Phone calls to voters to drum up support have been going on for days. Dolphins spokesman Eric Jotkoff said the team registered its political action committee, named Friends of Miami First, on Thursday afternoon.
Smith and Arrizurieta, who will be compensated for their work, said it was too early to say how much the PAC plans to spend on the campaign, which will be a month-long dash. The Miami-Dade Elections Department will mail its first batch of absentee ballots, to overseas voters, on Tuesday, with domestic ballots first hitting the mail April 23. Two weeks of early voting would begin April 29.
Those dates mean voting will begin before the end of the legislative session, where the entire Dolphins deal could unravel. Though the legislation has received approval from all the Florida House and Senate committees it has faced, top Republican sources in the GOP-controlled state Capitol say the legislation is anywhere from “limping” to “dead.”
Another sign it’s in trouble: The chief opponent to the stadium plan, Miami auto magnate Norman Braman, said he’s focused on killing it in the Legislature instead of kick-starting a voter-persuasion campaign to rival the Dolphins’.
“Why spend all those resources and time when it might be a waste?” he said.
Braman said he has spoken with lawmakers and hired a Tallahassee lobbyist, Patrick Bell, and is “optimistic” the legislation will fail.