The City of Hialeah presents something of a political paradox. It is a breeding ground for dynamic political leaders who attract devoted followings. But too often machine politics overrides good government.
The so-called “slates,” whereby candidates run as members of a team, exemplify the problem. Anyone not a member of a slate usually stands little chance of winning election. Once elected, members of the City Council in the majority display little independence.
As a result, transparency suffers and backroom deals proliferate. The process discourages unattached independents from running for office.
The only solution is for elected officials to break free of this pattern and for strong contenders to dare to run against entrenched incumbents. This year, as often happens, the incumbents faced no strong challengers, which gives voters fewer genuine choices.
The latest in Hialeah’s string of politically dynamic leaders is Carlos Hernandez. In the two years since he won the office in a special two-year election, Mr. Hernandez, 52, has made that post his own.
The incumbent’s main opponents are Julio J. Martinez, 70, a bailiff in the Miami-Dade County courts and former mayor from 1990 to 1993; and Juan Santana, 30, whose main beef seems to be that he has been harassed by the city for complaining about unfair code enforcement. Of the two, Mr. Martinez is the best informed and most thoughtful critic of the Hernandez administration.
Originally named in May of 2011 to replace former mayor Julio Robaina, who resigned to run for county mayor, Mr. Hernandez handily defeated another Hialeah ex-mayor, Raul Martinez, in November of 2011. After that, he claimed center stage politically and leaves little doubt today that he’s the man in charge.
This is most obvious at Hialeah Council meetings, where his loyal slate of political allies rarely challenges him and naysayers are generally ignored. Citizens who dare to express criticism are often treated curtly, if not rudely. Items favored by the mayor are placed on a “consent agenda” and slide through without public scrutiny.
This style of governance has long been the tradition in politically active Hialeah, which has a strong mayor form of government and where mayors rule — in more ways than one. But many of Hialeah’s citizens don’t like it one bit and they should be treated with respect when they exercise their right to express grievances.
To his credit, Mr. Hernandez has made tough but correct decisions, as when he faced down firefighters over necessary pay cuts in 2011 in order to preserve jobs and a balanced budget.
The problem is he hasn’t always done things correctly, leading to costly legal challenges.
In a letter to the Miami Herald Editorial Board (he did not appear before the board or fill out a questionnaire), the mayor said his top priority remains maintaining a balanced budget despite six straight years of reduced revenues, without cutting basic services. That’s a tough but worthwhile goal.
Mr. Hernandez would do himself — and the city of Hialeah — a favor by governing in a less divisive and more transparent style. He could start by following through on a promise to televise council meetings. He has shown that he understands the issues affecting his city, but his style of governance leaves much to be desired. That’s something to work on in a second term, if he’s re-elected.
For Mayor of Hialeah, the Miami Herald recommends CARLOS HERNANDEZ.