Fabiola Santiago

His son was a Formula One lobbyist. Mayor is now pushing unpopular racing. It’s wrong | Opinion

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez desperately needs one of those bright yellow “Ethics for Dummies” manuals.

Because the ever-pleasing Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, which doesn’t ever seem to find a conflict of interest where there is patently one with Gimenez and his lobbyist sons, isn’t cutting it.

Let’s review the latest example.

Until March of this year, Gimenez’s lobbyist son, C.J, was getting a paycheck from Formula One, the international group vying to bring that form of auto racing to Miami-Dade.

The group’s controversial proposal to turn downtown Miami into a raceway included the use of county-run PortMiami facilities. Gimenez appropriately recused himself, acknowledging that his son’s involvement posed a conflict of interest for him.

County commissioners review, approve, and deny port deals, and as the top county administrator, the mayor gets to shepherd projects, and approve or veto commissioners’ decisions. That’s a lot of power.

In a memo to county commissioners on May 14, 2018, Gimenez wrote that he was removing himself from Formula One matters and turning over decisions for his deputy mayor to handle “out of an abundance of caution.”

That choice of words was a flashing yellow light, a warning sign that Gimenez wasn’t all in on staying out of the issue.

And they foreshadowed his change of heart — and the undoing of his recusal now.

The conflict is hardly a matter of caution. It’s Ethics 101.

It was the right thing to do. Period.

The downtown deal with the City of Miami fell through.

No one wants the deafening noise of car racing in their front or back yard nor the interruption of turning Biscayne Boulevard into a racetrack. We’re not Monaco.

This is an artist’s rendering of the proposed course for the Formula One Miami Grand Prix, which would be held annually at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens if the race gains county approval. Miami Dolphins

F1 racing wasn’t a fit in glitzy downtown Miami nor is it now in working class Miami Gardens, home to the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium, where Formula One wants to stage races that require surrounding street closings.

The people of Miami Gardens who live close to the stadium vehemently oppose the project and they showed up Tuesday at a Miami-Dade Commission meeting to voice their concerns, which ranged from quality of life to racial issues.

Commissioners saw it their way and gave preliminary approval to a resolution and an ordinance that make it more difficult to hold the races on residential county roads and give Miami Gardens government a voice on closures near residential areas.

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How did Mayor Gimenez react?

He said he may veto the measures, clearing the zoning and regulatory obstacles — and so Gimenez travels from recusal to becoming the player who will make this happen for Formula One.

Wouldn’t you say that worked out pretty well for his son’s résumé, after all?

Gimenez claims he’s only considering that there’s $400 million in annual economic impact to be gained and that good publicity will boost Miami’s international image. (Really? Are we still so insecure we need affirmation from an event to feel important?)

“It is loud. Nobody can say it’s not loud,” Gimenez said. “There may be some other effects, but I believe we can find some common ground here and find a solution.”

So in the same breath as he threatens a veto, Gimenez says he wants to negotiate with area residents, which includes the local business community that, as Commissioner Dennis Moss pointed out, wasn’t brought into the loop to potentially profit from the races.

How can Gimenez, who is termed out and considering a run for Congress or his old commission seat, so easily make the shift from recused mayor to rainmaker?

GDX10 Gimenez News rk
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued a recusal memo in 2017 regarding his son’s pursuit of county assistance for a steel mill he wants to build on land owned by Miami-Dade. Roberto Koltun El Nuevo Herald

With a little help from his friends at the Ethics Commission, who gave him the green light.

They bought into Gimenez’s argument that son C.J. has not been a lobbyist for the race “for a substantial period of time” — seven months — and “is not currently lobbying on behalf of any interested party regarding this matter.”

And he consulted the Ethics Commission, he tells commissioners in an Oct. 28 memo, again “out of an abundance of caution.”

Red light!

It’s wrong.

Gimenez doesn’t see it that way.

His spokeswoman, Myriam Marquez, said the mayor has acted properly and followed county charter rules on conflicts of interest. If that’s the case, those ethics rules need major revision.

His son was a Formula One lobbyist. Now the mayor is the one pushing the unpopular racing project.

Allegedly, it’s good for us.

Papá mayor knows best.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”