Voters weigh in on local races, Jackson Hospital and Coconut Grove’s multi-million waterfront project

11/05/2013 10:04 AM

11/05/2013 8:54 PM

Miami voters went to the polls on a blustery Tuesday to decide whether Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Commissioner Frank Carollo were worthy of a second term.

Municipalities in Miami Beach, Homestead and Hialeah also weighed in on elected officials while voters had several items to decide. Chief among them: whether a seven-acre chunk of Coconut Grove waterfront near City Hall needs an $18 million makeover and if Jackson Health System’s desired hospital bond to raise $832 million to purchase state-of-the-art medical equipment and build or upgrade urgent care centers around the county can pass muster with property owners leery of any bump in property taxes.

The Jackson bond issue would be paid through property taxes that would peak in 2024 at $48.80 for a homeowner with a taxable property value of $200,000. The first-year hike would be about $9.80.

Tensions, like the wind, which could be to blame for toppling a drilling rig in Sunny Isles Beach, caused a bit of a stir in Homestead.

At the Keys Gate voting precinct, a squabble broke out involving Timothy Milton, campaign manager for mayoral candidate Jeff Porter and council candidate Jimmie Williams, and County Commissioner Lynda Bell, whose husband Mark Bell is in the race for the mayor’s seat. The argument revolved around accusations of absentee-ballot fraud.

“Matt, you said he [Milton] collects ballots,” said Lynda Bell to Matthew Jagger, a campaign worker for Williams.

Jagger responded, “I said Timothy Milton would go by the house and see if people got their ballots.”

Bell pressed on. “You said he doesn’t vote for people. He just collects ballots after they sign them and mails them,” she said.

“Well, I’ve only seen him physically do it once,” said Jagger.

Miami-Dade County law says that a designee may turn in a voter’s absentee ballot only if the voter has signed a written affidavit and the designee presents a picture ID.

Jagger said he does toy drives and backpack giveaways with Milton for a church charity organization.

“Milton doesn’t give somebody a backpack and say vote for somebody because I am giving you a backpack,” Jagger told the Miami Herald.

Hodge, the council candidate, shared a different story.

“I was there when a gentleman said, ‘Tim came to my house and took my ballot,’ and voted for him already. We asked him if he wanted to report it. But you could tell he was really scared.”

While campaigning for her husband at the Keys Gate voting precinct, Bell countered the argument that her husband’s candidacy could pose a conflict of interest and concentrate too much political power in the Bell family.

“It’s hard to refute silly arguments. The people who are saying that are not supporters of Mark and that’s probably the only negative thing they can think of,” she said.

Miami Beach

In Miami Beach, where the mayor’s race can determine the convention center’s future, resident Maria Vill-Lloch voted for Steve Berke, a former comedian who is filming this election for an MTV documentary.

“I think we need somebody young who brings good ideas to the table on how to modernize Miami Beach,” Vill-Lloch, 52, said.

She also voted for a majority consensus on the Miami Beach Convention Center renovations because even though she is for the billion-dollar plan, she wants to make sure it is what the residents want. “It has to be common consensus,” she said.

Albert Hoyt, 33, did not vote for mayor because he didn’t “trust any of the candidates.”

Hoyt said that when he began to research, what he found turned him away from the bunch, which include businessman Philip Levine, Commissioner Michael Góngora and Berke.

“It’s all mud slinging,” he said of a race in which the leading candidates have attacked one another’s integrity and brought out President Bill Clinton to stump for his pal, Levine.

Incumbent Mayor Matti Herrera Bower is term-limited in that position and is running against retired community banker Joy Malakoff and community activist Roger Abramson for a commission seat.

Runoffs will be Nov. 19.

Homestead

In Homestead, voter Hernando Hernandez III, 31, cast his ballot for Bell who has campaigned on lowering electricity bills for residents supplied by Homestead’s power plant instead of Florida Power and Light.

“By lowering the electricity bills, he is going to influence work,” said Hernandez. “The businesses will save more money. If there is more money in the pockets of the boss, there will be more money in the pockets of employees.”

Bell has said that businesses supplied by the city’s power plant pay 50 percent more for electricity compared with businesses supplied by FPL.

On the campaign trail, Bell has come under attack for his lack of previous political experience. But, Hernandez said, the fact that Bell has never held public office is a good thing.

“It’s a new book,” he said. “He won’t have any bad habits.”

Like several other voters who cast their ballots Tuesday morning, Micki McCauley voted for mayoral candidate Jeff Porter mainly because of Bell’s family ties.

“I didn’t like Lynda Bell when she was mayor,” said McCauley, 66. “She took a whole slew of people to Washington, spent a lot of money and did nothing for Homestead. So why should I vote for him? They are married. They can’t be that divergent in opinion.”

McCauley said her decision was also influenced by Porter’s promise to lower taxes.

At the YMCA Homestead Family Branch Winston Elliton sat out front with his dog King. The retired 64-year-old Homestead resident, a former staffer with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, was the first one to vote at his precinct. He cast his ballot for Councilman Jimmie Williams III because he says he has followed him ever since he got into politics and he is satisfied with his work — and his attitude. “He stands by his beliefs in critical times and is very well educated,” he said. “He doesn’t let things get him down.”

Hialeah

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández voted at the fire station at McDonald Park around 10:30 a.m. He said he was hopeful voters would give him the chance to continue serving Hialeah, and he noted that this year's campaign has been short on policy talk and platform discussions and high on name-calling and empty rhetoric.

“It's a shame that this has turned into a circus,” he said. “It's a shame that when there aren’t serious candidates, there is no serious debate.”

Hernández, a retired Hialeah police officer, has served on the city council since 2005 and is seeking his first full term as mayor after winning a special election in 2011. Former Hialeah Mayor Julio Martinez and local activist Juan Santana, a security officer, are challenging for the seat.

“Carlos Hernández is the best one here,” said Antonia Ruiz, 66, who is retired and has lived in Hialeah for 20 years.

Ruiz supports Hernández’s decision to keep a Hialeah’s Milander Park private.

“People want to make the park public, but it was and it was a disaster. Now it’s private and it’s better. The terrain is better and there are more programs and more children using it.”

Salsa music played from the stereo of a burgundy Impala parked outside the John F. Kennedy library in Hialeah. Supporters of the incumbent mayor and council members Paul “Pablito” Hernandez and Luis Gonzalez held signs and danced to the music as they waved to cars.

Among the crowd, Paul Hernandez, joined by his mother and father.

Raul Sosa, 51, owner of Accion Uno Auto Parts in Hialeah, voted for the three.

“Hialeah is not confused,” he said. “Carlos, Pablito and Luis know this city and the law. This is going to be historic because people are already tired of the corruption in Hialeah.”

Jackson, Hialeah City Council pension plans and the mayoral race brought Pedro Perez, 50, out to vote.

“I’m against the hospital tax because we live so tight we can’t afford that payment,” he said.

Perez, an electrician, also said he supported the incumbent mayor but does not think voters should have a say on how city council members deal with pension plans of elected officials.

“It’s not the people’s issue,” he said.

Miami

At Miami’s Charles Hadley Park Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Keon Hardemon shook hands with supporters outside the park grounds. Hardemon, the youngest candidate, faces incumbent Rev. Richard P. Dunn, Jacqui Colyer, who runs Neighborhood and Community Services for Miami-Dade Children’s Trust and Robert Malone Jr., a substitute teacher at Jackson High. Hardemon said he felt good despite his race being “the most contested” in the district. He also noted a low number of voters early on the windy Tuesday morning.

“It’s not the presidential election so turnout’s a little low,” said Hardemon.

Samuel Merilus, 30, opted for Dunn. His decision was based on who he thought could best combat gun violence in the city. “Dunn was more experienced so I chose him,” he said.

Annette Marshall, 58, also voted for Dunn calling him “old-school.” She supported Hardemon when he ran against Audrey Edmondson for commissioner in District 3 last year, but said Dunn needed an opportunity to properly fill in for Michelle Spence-Jones.

Marshall said she chose to not vote in the Miami mayor’s race, which pits incumbent Regalado against hospital consultant Jeffrey Anthony Benjamin, Coconut Grove activist Williams Armbrister and Social Workers Party member Tom Baumann. Regalado, favored to win given name recognition and a huge fundraising advantage, vies for a second and final term.

“Tomás is probably going to end up winning, so I didn’t vote for him or Benjamin,” said Marshall.

Jackson Health System

Mimi Hopkins, 56, a 40-year Miami resident, supported Jackson and the Coconut Grove development project.

“I support whatever improves the community and what looks good,” Hopkins said. “If we’re looking good we feel better.”

Albert Hoyt of Miami Beach voted against funding Jackson Hospital because he feels that the hospital needs a change in management.

“It’s unbelievably mismanaged,” he said. “Giving them more money is not going to fix them.”

Jorge Seoane, 87, has lived in Hialeah since 1961 and voted against the countywide item for Jackson.

“I’ve lived here 40 years and never been to Jackson,” he said. “It’s another tax and we don’t need another tax.”

However, Anastasia Martinez, 73, marked ‘yes’ on the tax.

“It’s good for humanity and for us who are older now,” said Martinez, a resident of West Hialeah.

Grove Bay Project

Kathryn Villano, 46, a Coconut Grove resident, opted out of the mayoral race at Miami City Hall but opined on the Grove Bay Development project.

She voted against the plan, saying that it’s a bad deal financially for the city and alters the tradition and character of Coconut Grove.

The $18 million plan would pay Miami rent of at least $1.4 million annually and demolish longtime eateries Scotty’s Landing and the Chart House and replace them with three new restaurants, a restoration of two historic Pan American Airways hangars, and the building of a promenade from Bayshore Drive to the bay. Retail and a walking pier would also be a part of the Grove plan if approved.

“I don’t want the waterfront taken up by expensive restaurants where people can’t just order a beer and enjoy the water and tradition of the Grove,” Villano said. “We don’t need retail, chain restaurants and parking garages that take away from the character of the city.”

David Villano, 52, voted against the project, too.

“The city of Miami has a poor track record for leasing waterfront land,” said Villano, a freelance writer and 41-year resident of the Grove. “We don't want to see that mistake made again over an 80-year lease.”

David Linder, an attorney, voted for Jeff Benjamin primarily because he is against the Grove Bay project.

“It's not a very balance approach," said Linder, 28. "I don't think what it's the best way to improve the waterfront.”

The county’s polling stations closed at 7 p.m.

Miami Herald writers Elizabeth DeArmas, Lidia Dinkova, Lance Dixon, Madison Fantozzi, Joey Flechas, Margaux Herrera, Michael Sharp and Brittny Valdes contributed to this story. This story will be updated throughout the day.

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