Last week, I had the incredible honor of being sworn in as the 33rd mayor of Miami.
This month’s elections ushered a new generation to the forefront of our city’s civic leadership. I am honored to have been elected mayor and am committed to bringing a new approach to address the various issues facing our community.
One of Miami’s main challenges is its limited mobility and transportation infrastructure. Residents spend, on average, 125 hours a year stuck in traffic, mainly because we are a horizontal community with too many people driving too many cars.
Essentially, we have a physics problem in Miami-Dade County: Two cars can’t occupy the same place at the same time. If we want to decongest the roads, we must aggregate people and move them. Put more simply, we need mass transit. I am less concerned about the technology we use to do this than I am about finding a technology that works and that people will be inclined to use.
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Affordable housing is another major challenge we face. After traffic and mobility, the cost of housing in Miami is one of the most consistent complaints I have heard.
We are going to have to be smart, innovative, and creative in the way we leverage resources to build more affordable-housing units in the city. This means creating more incentives for our partners in the private sector, as well as teaming up with other governments to maximize our resources.
The recently approved Miami Forever bond includes $100 million for affordable housing — I propose that the administration begin drafting a Request For Qualifications to pre-qualify and select projects that are eligible and shovel ready to receive that bond money as soon as it becomes available.
The Miami Forever bond will also generate about $200 million to go toward flood prevention and sea level rise mitigation. These funds, responsibly managed by a Citizen Oversight Committee that I will be announcing within my first 100 days in office, will provide a strong foundation for our goal of making Miami the most resilient city on Earth.
As recent weather events have reminded us, climate resiliency means more than just accounting for sea level rise: we must consider storm surge, rainfall, king tides, and other climatic events in our planning as well. My predecessor, Tomás Regalado, laid the groundwork by making resiliency a priority. It is my hope that by the time we are done, the world will look to Miami as a model of resiliency and responsible planning.
This mentality must also include responsible development. During my eight years as a city commissioner, I demonstrated my commitment to protecting the endangered species that are Miami’s single-family residential neighborhoods and will continue this approach as mayor. We will also complete the large-scale development reforms that we started during my time on the commission, including an overhaul of the Special Area Plan system.
I also believe that technology must be one of the economic drivers of our city if we want to remain competitive in the global marketplace. We must continue to support tech start-ups through programs like Endeavor Miami that provide capital and mentorship to small business owners. And most important, we must continue to foster a passion for technology in our kids and then find ways to keep them in Miami once they graduate college and are ready to start careers.
Finally, in order to effectively accomplish the goals I have laid out, I believe that the role of the mayor needs to be redefined. Every great city needs a strong leader, and a city like Miami can’t afford to continue experiencing the levels of instability it has seen during the past eight years. The mayor of Miami, and not an unelected city manager, should be the person taking a position, making decisions, taking the initiative, and taking the blame. It’s called accountability.
For these reasons, I am proposing a new system of government where the mayor has the power to make administrative decisions and is responsible directly to residents. Some call this a “strong mayor” system, but in reality, it’s a “strong voter” system, because it would give you, the voters, the power to elect and recall the city’s chief executive. I intend to bring this proposal as a referendum on next year’s ballot so that Miami’s residents can decide what form our government will take.
I am grateful to Miami residents for putting their faith in me to be their mayor. We are embarking on a journey together — Miami’s journey — and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for our beautiful city.
Francis X. Suarez is the newly elected mayor of Miami.