Hours before heading to Washington to witness Donald Trump become president, Miami-Dade’s Republican mayor offered a blunt message to skeptics of climate change and the crisis it presents the coast.
“Let’s be clear, sea-level rise is a very serious concern for Miami-Dade County and all of South Florida,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the crowd Wednesday morning at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center during his annual State of the County address. “It’s not a theory. It’s a fact. We live it every day.”
Gimenez’s comments came in the middle of a speech touting his administration’s response to a string of crises and long-standing problems the previous year, including gun violence, Zika, affordable housing and traffic. But his remarks on sea-level rise carried extra political intrigue, given the president-elect’s history of calling climate change a hoax.
“Snowing in Texas and Louisiana, record setting freezing temperatures throughout the country and beyond,” Trump tweeted in 2014, about 18 months before entering the Republican primary. “Global warming is an expensive hoax!”
Though Gimenez supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, he has more ties to Trump than most mayors. Gimenez golfed with the mogul at least twice in recent years before Trump pursued a takeover of a county golf course, and one of his sons, C.J. Gimenez, was a top local lobbyist for Trump. The president-elect’s company owns the third-largest resort in Miami-Dade, the Trump National Doral. Mayor Gimenez is heading to Washington Thursday for Friday’s inaugural, the first swearing-in of a president that he has attended, a spokesman said.
Two years ago, Gimenez took some heat when environmental activists slammed his 2016 budget for only mentioning the words “sea-level rise” once in the three-volume spending plan, and that was in a section dedicated to unfunded capital projects. Gimenez responded by creating the new position of chief resiliency officer, and hired longtime planning official James Murley to fill it.
In his 2017 State of the County speech, his first since winning reelection in November, Gimenez described Miami-Dade as tackling sea-level rise with the urgency it deserves. He noted Miami-Dade was selected as one of the 100 metropolitan areas that the Rockefeller Foundation is helping with resiliency plans, and that hundreds of projects are under way focused on adapting the county’s infrastructure for higher sea levels.
“Our community’s resiliency work is also critical to our future growth and prosperity,” Gimenez said. “Jim Murley is hard at work on resiliency planning to prepare our entire region to adapt to the biggest challenges facing our community so we can create an even better Miami-Dade for our children and grandchildren.”
Term limits bar Gimenez from running again in 2020, and the address marked the unofficial start of his final four years as the county’s chief executive. In his speech, he promised to follow through on the county’s new “SMART” transit plan, which seeks to bring rail lines to six areas throughout the county.
“Fixing our transportation challenges is a promise that we have made to residents time and again,” Gimenez said. “It’s a promise that we intend to keep…We expect to move forward with one or more of these corridors very, very soon.”
Xavier Suarez, the Miami-Dade commissioner who briefly considered challenging Gimenez in the 2016 mayoral race, described the mayor’s address as well-delivered rundown of past promises and declarations. Suarez said he was hoping to hear specifics on how the SMART plan, which some estimates say would cost more than $6 billion, could be funded.
“It looked to me as business as usual,” Suarez said of Gimenez’s address. “I didn’t see anything new. There was no great visionary idea, and no solutions to major problems.”
Gimenez began his speech asking for a moment of silence in honor of victims of a mass shooting at a Miami-Dade park on Martin Luther King Day and the Jan. 6 shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
“I am the mayor of all Miami-Dade. When violence strikes one of our neighborhoods, it affects all of us,” he said. “We’re going to continue to work together as a community to find solutions to gun violence.”