Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Ousted in Homestead

 

OUR OPINION: Suspended mayor misjudged his constituents’ tolerance for misdeeds

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

A court of law will decide whether suspended Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman is guilty as charged. However, the city’s voters decided that they didn’t want him in office no matter what. Mr. Bateman faces public-corruption charges, filed in August by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. He has yet to face a jury, which will determine whether he purposely used his office — and the political power that came with it — for personal gain.

At the very least, the majority of Homestead residents who voted saw in Mr. Bateman an elected official who went to great lengths to conceal conflicts of interest from which he and his wife stood to benefit. Tuesday, he paid at the polls.

Mr. Bateman came in third in a four-way primary for mayor. Former City Councilman Jeff Porter and innkeeper Mark Bell, husband of Miami-Dade Commissioner — and former Homestead mayor — Lynda Bell. She, ironically was unseated by Mr. Bateman for the mayor’s office in 2009.

As for the suspended mayor, he gets to go home, the one from which he was escorted in handcuffs early one August morning to the county jail. And home is where he should have stayed once he was sprung to await trial. But instead, he arrogantly hit the campaign trail again, certain that he had a shot of being reelected.

Greater Miami has seen such hubris before.

Mr. Bateman clearly miscalculated his level of support. It was an insult to the intelligence of his constituents to think that they would blithely overlook both the allegations of corruption and what he actually did.

He, for instance, met with county officials, including county Mayor Carlos Gimenez, pushing hard for a multimillion-dollar sewer-system expansion, which would benefit a healthcare provider. The county representatives said that Mr. Bateman never told them that he was on the payroll for the company, CHI, and that he was making $125 an hour as a consultant, whatever that meant. Whether he pressed CHI to pay him illegally under the table remains to be determined. However, voters rightly couldn’t ignore what prosecutors say are detailed invoices that the mayor submitted to CHI, even overbilling the nonprofit that provides health services to poor residents.

Mr. Bateman also had dealings with downtown Homestead developer, Ernesto A. Perez, the CEO of Dade Medical College. The mayor took the lead in asking his city to help Mr. Perez buy city-owned property at an attractively low price. The mayor’s wife, Donna, happened to be the college’s real-estate agent.

On the campaign trail, leading up to the November elections in several local cities, candidates talk time and again about restoring the public’s trust and how too many elected officials have ruptured that bond with constituents.

It remains to be seen how the courts will treat Mr. Bateman — and two other mayors arrested the same month, Michael Pizzi, of Miami Lakes, and Manny Maroño, of Sweetwater. In Mr. Bateman’s case, voters were wise enough to impose their own form of justice.

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