The Miami Dolphins’ short-lived quest for a subsidized stadium renovation could have turned out a lot worse for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez: Voters could have handed him a resounding political defeat at the polls had they rejected the deal he negotiated.
But the Florida House of Representatives effectively canceled the referendum, for now shielding the mayor and county commissioners from much of the fallout.
Without a public vote, the politicians who supported the stadium deal cannot declare victory. But they also don’t face the prospect of seeking reelection after a potential loss.
“There’s no animosity toward me,” Gimenez said in an interview shortly after lawmakers concluded their annual legislative session Friday without taking up the bill necessary for the special election to take place.
Gimenez required the referendum, which club executives had hoped to avoid. He also forced the team to make a nearly $4.8 million nonrefundable payment to cover election costs. The county will get to keep the more-than $1 million left over.
But despite those concessions, merely negotiating with the Dolphins has tarnished Gimenez’s reputation among some former supporters who liked him in part for stridently opposing public financing for the Miami Marlins’ ballpark.
“He’s a disappointment,” said former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, who has criticized Gimenez on Spanish-language radio.
Martinez said the mayor “pulled a fast one” by reaching a “last-minute” deal with the Dolphins less than 48 hours before commissioners gave it tentative approval. “It doesn’t look clean,” Martinez said.
Though the mayor and commissioners are elected to nonpartisan posts, both Miami-Dade Republican and Democratic party leaders opposed the plan.
No major Democrat challenged Gimenez, a Republican, in his two mayoral elections in 2011 and 2012. At least one prominent Democratic-leaning group, SAVE Dade, supported him after he endorsed county policies to benefit same-sex couples.
“We helped elect him,” Democratic Party Chairwoman Annette Taddeo-Goldstein said.
But, she added, that might change if Gimenez seeks reelection in 2016, as he has signaled he will do.
“As a Democratic Party, we expect to run a candidate against him next time,” she said, without naming any potential contenders.
Still, with reelection more than three years away, much could change for Gimenez. A referendum might have cemented the Dolphins deal — whether it succeeded or failed — as Gimenez’s legacy. Dying at the hands of legislators gives the mayor more wiggle room, said his pollster, Dario Moreno.
“If you were a Dade resident and you were for it, you can’t blame Gimenez, and if you were against it, you can’t blame Gimenez too much,” Moreno said. “Gimenez did all right.”
The mayor walked a fine political line on the deal. He said he would vote for the agreement, which would have raised the mainland county hotel-bed tax to give the stadium up to $289 million over three decades. But he also said he would not actively campaign for it.
In interviews, the mayor painstakingly explained — and praised — the deal. When he traveled to Tallahassee after commissioners approved the agreement, Gimenez spent most of his time talking about it.