Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade’s mayor is on a county trip to Europe. Soccer is on the agenda.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez during an August 2016 meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board. He and top aides are in Europe this week on a county trip scheduled to end on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez during an August 2016 meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board. He and top aides are in Europe this week on a county trip scheduled to end on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, four senior officials and their spouses are on a trip to Europe this week, and the itinerary includes tours of foreign ports and a meeting with management of the Real Madrid soccer franchise in Spain.

Gimenez said in an internal memo he would be out of the office for 13 days, relinquishing day-to-day authority in county affairs to Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp through Wednesday, Jan. 16.

The nine-day itinerary for the county-funded trip shows the last stop scheduled for Friday, Jan. 11. That’s when Gimenez, port director Juan Kuryla and the rest of the small delegation plan to attend a signing ceremony in Geneva for a deal negotiated with the Swiss-based MSC cruise and cargo line, which has ships at the county port in Miami and wants to expand operations there.

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A photo released Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, by Miami-Dade County shows Mayor Carlos Gimenez, center, exchanging a gift with Alvaro Rodriguez Paena, director of Spain’s state ports authority. Also pictured, from left, are Miami-Dade ports chief Juan Kuryla, aviation director Lester Sola, and Magec Montesdeoca, another Spanish ports official.

The trip started in Madrid on Jan. 4, when Gimenez and aides met with the marketing director for the Spanish soccer league, La Liga. Two days later, on Jan. 6, they met with Florentino Perez, president of Real Madrid, the Spanish soccer team that helps draw sold-out crowds to Hard Rock Stadium during exhibition matches in Miami Gardens.

Myriam Marquez, the mayor’s communications chief, said the meetings were part of the county’s effort to promote Miami as a destination for global soccer matches and not related to David Beckham’s plan for a Major League Soccer franchise in Miami.

“It’s no secret the mayor would like to bring more international soccer to Miami-Dade,” Marquez said.

Traveling with Gimenez are Kuryla; Lester Sola, who runs Miami International Airport as the county’s aviation director; Alex Ferro, Gimenez’s chief of staff; and Manny Gonzalez, who runs the county office that organizes foreign trade trips.

The five county officials are traveling with their wives, but the spouses’ airfare, food and other expenses aren’t paid by the county, Marquez said. She said Gimenez also pays the extra cost of renting double-occupancy hotel rooms for him and his wife, Lourdes, who usually joins the mayor on overseas trips.

Marquez said no budget was prepared for the European trip, and that the final cost would be released to the media once the participants turn in their expense reports. Combined airfare for Ferro and Gimenez cost about $3,500. Marquez said the delegation follows county guidelines capping travel expenses, and said the mayor opted to take a train from Barcelona to Madrid in order to save money on airfare. She also said Gimenez will pay his way for a vacation tacked onto the end of the county trip Friday, until he returns to Miami on Jan. 16.

An itinerary released by Gimenez’s office shows 10 events over eight days, including a tour of the Bilbao port Tuesday and meetings with Spanish officials who oversee ports and economic development. A press released issued Tuesday by Spain’s Ministry of Economic Development carried the headline: “Miami-Dade County and Spain’s Ports of State explore collaboration opportunities.”

Spain is the 20th largest trading partner for PortMiami, according to statistics compiled by World City. Spain is also MIA’s second-busiest European market, according to the airport.

On Tuesday, Gimenez met with Bilbao Mayor Juan María Aburto about a possible expansion of the city’s airport, and how that could allow flights to county-owned MIA. A summary from Gimenez’s office said the meetings included a session on parliamentary proceedings with three local lawmakers, and how the governments could cooperate in boosting tourism between the regions.

The European trip overlapped with Tuesday’s inauguration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a fellow Republican who was endorsed by Gimenez during the campaign. Esteban “Steve” Bovo, the outgoing chairman of the county commission, was the most senior county official to attend Tuesday’s festivities in Tallahassee, which also drew several county commissioners.

Gimenez has led large county delegations in the past that consisted of commissioners and private-sector executives who paid Miami-Dade to join the trip. The latest was the 50-plus delegation that traveled to China and Japan in March. This trip to Spain and Switzerland was not organized as an official county trade mission and only involves the mayor and the four senior county appointees, Marquez said.

“This is a staff trip to wrap up a very important port agreement with a very prestigious cruise company,” Marquez said, “and to reach out to Bilbao officials about potential direct flights between that region and Miami-Dade.”