An effort to recall Carlos Gimenez got off to a modest start Monday, with organizers gathering reporters to explain their plans to unseat the two-term Miami-Dade mayor.
A planned airing of citizen grievances never materialized, but leaders of the fledgling campaign laid out their timetable to raise about $150,000 before launching a petition drive in October. The highlight of the media event came shortly after 12:30 p.m., when an airplane trailing a banner that read “RECALLGIMENEZ.COM” circled County Hall again and again.
Led by retired firefighter Jack Garcia, the recall effort hopes to tap into anger at the mayor’s austerity measures throughout his three years in office. Garcia has been a long-time critic of Gimenez’s funding cuts to the county’s marine-rescue unit, and Garcia gained prominence this summer when he raised the issue in the wake of his son’s death in a July 4 boating accident.
Gimenez “would put out a rickshaw with two paramedics and a Band-Aid kit if he could get away with it,” Garcia told reporters in the courtyard outside County Hall. “This mayor owns nothing. He sends the blame everywhere else.”
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A Gimenez spokesman called the recall effort “unfortunate and unnecessary.” Michael Hernández, the mayor’s communications director, noted a recall process would cost $10 million — $5 million for the election to decide if Gimenez should be recalled, and another $5 million to vote in a new mayor. This would happen in 2015, a year before Gimenez faces reelection anyway in November 2016.
“The mayor is confident the majority of Miami-Dade County voters support him and will find a recall unnecessary,” Hernández said.
Modeled after the 2011 recall of Gimenez’s predecessor, Carlos Alvarez, the campaign hopes to recreate the grass-roots anger that propelled that effort without the funds of the billionaire that backed it, Norman Braman.
This recall effort has a longer time window: while Braman had 60 days to gather about 65,000 signatures, a 2012 amendment to the county charter gives Garcia 120 days. The clock would start running once the official recall papers are filed. Garcia’s group, A Better Dade, plans to submit its forms on Oct. 1, he said.
One big difference this time around: Alvarez drew the ire of voters after raising property taxes for the 2011 budget year in the face of a real estate crash. Gimenez is under fire for service cuts required after he declined to raise the county’s overall tax rate in the face of a funding gap.
“Carlos Alvarez was recalled in part because he raised taxes to fund better employee salaries and benefits,’’ said Hernández, the Gimenez communications director. “Mayor Gimenez has done the opposite.”
The latest effort also lacks the deep pockets and cachet that Braman brought to the anti-Alvarez campaign. Organizers on Monday promoted an open-microphone event to launch the County Hall event, with citizens invited to air their Gimenez grievances. No microphone ever appeared, and a press conference never officially started. Organizers simply fielded questions from various media huddles.
Garcia’s partner in the effort, the vice chairman of A Better Dade, is Tony Diaz, a politically minded college student working in local campaigns and a candidate for the Miami City Commission. He joined Garcia in fielding questions Monday, and said the recall effort is targeting not only Gimenez but also the “strong-mayor” system voters approved seven years ago at Alvarez’s urging.
“We recalled Carlos Alvarez because he abused power. But we didn’t fix the problem,’’ said Diaz, 19. “It’s a problem with the mayor. But it’s a problem with the strong-mayor system as well.”
Voters amended the county charter in 2007 to establish a strong mayor, rather than the largely ceremonial mayoral post that existed when a hired county manager ran the government. Today, the mayor serves as chief executive and Gimenez eliminated the county manager post when he took office in 2011.
While Monday’s event mostly attracted media and only a few supporters, Garcia said widespread dissatisfaction with Gimenez should fuel the recall effort into something larger.
“People are really passionate about this right now,’’ he said. “We just want to ride that wave.”