Fabiola Santiago

April 11, 2014

Fabiola Santiago: Miami Dade College’s Padrón deserves lawmakers’ support, not scorn

When the lawmakers attacking him over a few choice words were in high school, Eduardo Padrón was already playing a key role in stewarding this community through truly troubled times.

When the lawmakers attacking him over a few choice words were in high school, Eduardo Padrón was already playing a key role in stewarding this community through truly troubled times.

He brokered peace and understanding between fractious ethnic and racial groups tearing Miami apart. He used his skill and influence to help assimilate refugees arriving in one unruly exodus after another in a region without resources. He fed the city’s cultural soul with arts programming when there was little available.

I remember covering in the mid-1980s one particular no-holds-barred meeting between Cuban-American and African-American county leaders in which Padrón was the eloquent voice that broke through the discord, the bridge over which people crossed and got to know one another.

He was then, and remains today, a visionary who deeply understands Miami’s potential to become a world-class city.

It’s that vision that turned Miami Dade College into one of the top colleges in the nation, diverse and accessible to all — the crown jewel of this community. Its campuses also serve as town squares, hubs for discussion about pressing issues of the day, including immigration and Venezuela’s unrest. They’re stages for the performing arts and literature, and host presidents and world figures.

In his post, Padrón sees the needs first-hand — and the fragility of this still young city. So it’s easy to understand his frustration over the last years of excessive budget cuts to public education by the state’s Republican leadership — and the failure of Miami-Dade’s delegation to bring home the needed dollars. We are, after all, the state’s top revenue-producing county.

When he spoke about the needs and shortcomings Tuesday to the Miami Herald’s Editorial Board, he said things journalists have heard before about the political chicanery behind the scenes, speaking candidly about the four members of the Miami-Dade delegation blocking a bill that would allow voters to decide if they want a half-penny increase to fund the college.

His critical comments were particularly newsworthy because most college and university presidents don’t dare speak so freely on the record — and for his candor now, some of the Miami-Dade delegation to the Florida House want his head on a plate.

In a letter written by delegation chairman Eduardo “Eddy” Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, 11 lawmakers, all Republicans but one, asked for a public apology.

Padrón, who’s a class act, immediately apologized in a written statement, saying he regretted the personal nature of some of his comments. But Padrón’s apology is not enough for the legislators, who are really living up to Padrón’s description of them as “bullies.”

They’re taking the episode way out of proportion, telling reporters that if they weren’t going to derail funding to MDC, they sure are now, and pressuring MDC’s heavily Republican Board of Trustees to come down on Padrón.

If the good of their community was what these legislators had in mind, this issue would be over and they would be concentrating on what’s important — not their egos, but the future of MDC.

Padrón has the right to stand up for the college he turned into a model for the nation. Not to mention that every time he has spoken his mind — remember the free speech wars? — Miami has been the better for it.

This time is no different.

This is a weak delegation with a lamentable record of endorsing issues that run contrary to South Florida’s interests.

While derailing potential funding for MDC and slashing funding for other state universities, these four legislators all voted in 2012 for an expensive North Florida GOP turkey project — the creation of a 12th public university, Florida Polytechnic University.

This STEM-focused institution will open this fall with only 500 students but with $70 million in funds from the University of South Florida, $15 million from reserves, and $27 million in state funds. Its president will earn a base salary from $310,700 to $550,000.

Given their giveaway votes to another university, the least the Miami-Dade legislators could do for their own county is to allow voters to decide for themselves whether they want a half-penny sales tax increase to benefit MDC and Florida International University.

If these legislators meant well, Padrón’s apology would be enough.

They’ve got a long way to go to prove to voters that they were worth sending to Tallahassee. They could stand to learn a few lessons in leadership from Eduardo Padrón — whom they should be honoring — instead of demanding him get on his knees.

The shame for this sad episode is on them — not Padrón.

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