Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

New day on Miami Beach


OUR OPINION: New faces, old problems — with convention center expansion as a priority

Miami Beach voters decided to turn the page in a big way in this month’s elections, leaving little doubt about their desire to take the tourist hub in a new direction.

Every incumbent running for office was shown the door. The sweeping change resulted in a new lineup consisting of a mayor and three new commissioners, none of whom has ever held elected office before, plus three sitting commissioners with unexpired terms.

Drawing big lessons from one round of elections can be risky, more so when campaigns were characterized by negative ads and personal attacks. But it seems fairly clear that in at least one instance — the lopsided defeat of Matti Herrera Bower for the Group 3 seat by newcomer Joy Malakoff — voters sent a clear message rejecting the notion of a “lifetime politician,” as Ms. Malakoff labeled Ms. Bower.

We have never supported term limits because we believe that’s what elections are about. Ms. Bower had been in office 14 years, as a commissioner and then as mayor. Since she was term-limited as mayor, she decided to run for the commission again, which is allowed under the city’s charter. Voters responded No. The most talked-about result of the elections is the absence of Hispanics in the new government. In a community where 53 percent of the population is Hispanic, according to the 2010 Census, this raises questions about bias. Some saw the slogan of the winning candidate for mayor, Philip Levine — “Let’s take back Miami Beach” — as a subtle appeal to vote against Hispanics.

That’s a stretch, and unfair to Mr. Levine. “Take back our city” is a timeworn slogan used by challengers against incumbents whenever it seems likely to work. If it proved a winner this time, it may just be that voters were tired of the familiar faces at City Hall in a campaign that pivoted on the question of insiders versus outsiders.

The $2 million Mr. Levine reportedly pumped into his campaign surely made a big difference, too.

But there is no doubt that the absence of Hispanics at City Hall — with the notable exception of City Manager Jimmy Morales — creates a genuine problem.

The absence of diversity fuels feelings of alienation and division, which Mr. Levine and the commission would be wise to nip in the bud. They should reach out to the Hispanic community on the Beach early on, appointing Hispanics to positions on prominent local boards in numbers that reflect the city’s diversity, and dealing with issues that matter to Hispanics like the chronic lack of affordable housing.

Beyond that, the new leaders will find a host of old problems they must tackle. Corruption, excessive force by police (a pattern that seems to be changing under a new chief) and leftover pension costs.

The most immediate is what to do about the convention center expansion. Voters created a significant hurdle by requiring that changes to the existing center must be approved by a 60-percent margin in a referendum. That puts the future of the expansion into question and thus threatens to put Miami-Dade County out of competition for large, lucrative conventions.

If the residents of Miami Beach consider a bigger, updated convention center a hassle, that’s to their detriment. The convention business is a pillar of the local economy and it has long been assumed that the convention site should be on Miami Beach. But if that’s not going to be the case, other communities will no doubt want to move in on the action.

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