Voters Guide

The Herald Recommendations

OUR OPINION: HIALEAH

Aside from voting for mayor, Hialeah voters will have the opportunity to pick five City Council members and decide on a city charter question. The Herald has recommended Rudy Garcia for mayor and Lourdes Lozano for City Council Group 1 and Julio Jose Martinez for Group 2.

As we stated in our recommendation editorial on Thursday, most Hialeah council candidates have aligned themselves with one of two mayoral candidates, with most incumbents following Mayor Carlos Hernandez and past council members running in the slate with former Mayor Raul Martinez.

The Herald suggests voters take a new approach, bust up the slates and consider each candidate’s qualifications independently. That would bring more checks and balances to the council and more discussion in the public interest.

For too long in Hialeah, issues get discussed and deals are cut between individual council members and the mayor, who also serves as the city’s administrator in this strong-mayor form of government, without any public input. Because the mayor does not have a council vote, it is not a violation of the Sunshine Law to have closed-door discussions, but it does not bode well for residents seeking transparency in their government. Thus, most council meetings turn into rubber-stamp decisions, and lately they have turned into a free-for-all as vying camps seek to outshout one another.

City Council, Group 3

Incumbent Vivian Casals-Muñoz, who was appointed in 2006 and elected in 2007, has two challengers: Danny Bolaños, 35, a former police officer who resigned from the Hialeah force after an incident involving him and his brother; and gun-shop owner Antonio “Tony” Vega, 41. In this race, every candidate seems to have a negative. Ms. Casals-Muñoz, 44, is a witness in a federal case in which prosecutors are investigating former Mayor Julio Robaina’s reported income. Her title company handled paperwork for Mr. Robaina and others who made loans and lost money to a now-convicted Ponzi schemer.

Mr. Vega, the underdog in this race, seems to be voters’ best choice. He wants to focus on courting new businesses. He also supports an independent audit of the city’s books so that its negotiations can proceed with the firefighters’ union and wants the end of red light cameras. For Hialeah City Council Group 3, The Miami Herald recommends Tony Vega.

City Council, Group 4

Council President Isis Garcia-Martinez is seeking re-election, but her performance on the dais the last few months in keeping order during meetings has been a disappointment. Her supporters say she has had to get tough to end the circus of naysayers, many of them political enemies. The problem with that argument is that Ms. Garcia-Martinez’s attitude at council meetings has only escalated tensions and besmirched Hialeah’s good name.

Her challenger, Cindy Miel, 31, served on the council from 2003-2007. We recommend Ms. Miel, an educator who has strong ideas to bring transparency to Hialeah City Hall and good knowledge of how the city operates. As Ms. Miel states, “There are ways to disagree agreeably.” She wants council meetings to be on the web and cable TV and also supports an independent forensic audit of city finances. For Hialeah City Council Group 4, The Miami Herald recommends Cindy Miel.

City Council Group 6

Paul “Pablito” Hernandez, 23, is a Florida International University student who was appointed to the City Council in June to fill a vacancy. His challengers are Frank Lago, 31, a former chief of staff to the Sweetwater mayor, and Daisy Castellanos, 58, who retired from Hialeah’s water department after 20 years in customer service. She is involved in various civic groups and served four years in the city’s Planning and Zoning Board. She promises to push for transparency in city dealings if she is elected and calls for an independent audit. “Everybody needs to take off their political hat; they need to work things out,” she says of the city’s strained negotiations with the firefighters union. For Hialeah City Council, Group 6, The Miami Herald recommends Daisy Castellanos.

Charter Amendment

In these tough economic times, reducing the mayor’s salary makes sense. The salary and expenses for that office have been as high as $272,000, though acting Mayor Hernandez took a pay cut and offered the amendment to the city’s charter to set the mayoral salary at $150,000 with a $40,000 expense account. The Miami Herald recommends a Yes vote.


OUR OPINION: MIAMI BEACH MAYOR AND COMMISSION, GROUP 6

Miami Beach voters have good reason to feel ill-served by their city leaders. Many residents consider Urban Beach weekend a nightmare. Bad behavior by some police officers has raised questions about the force’s integrity and performance. And pensions for municipal employees are out of control.

Meanwhile, there’s been a lot of talk — but no progress — about the Convention Center’s desperate need for a complete makeover. Now the threat of a major resort and potential for gambling just across Biscayne Bay in Miami threatens to outshine Miami Beach’s allure as a destination for domestic and international tourism.

All of these problems demand decisive, visionary leadership. But that’s precisely what’s lacking at the moment at City Hall.

For mayor

Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, running for reelection, can talk at length about the Beach’s various challenges and how they came about, but she has been frustratingly slow to offer solutions.

The day-to-day operational duties are vested in a strong city manager, but the Office of Mayor is, or should be, more than a ceremonial position. The mayor sets the tone for the city, offers ideas and ensures the manager follows through. Over the years, first as an activist and then as Miami Beach commissioner since 1999 and later as mayor for two two-year terms, beginning with the 2007 election, Ms. Bower has become thoroughly familiar with the issues, but lately she has seemed overwhelmed and slow to react.

Three contenders are vying for the job against the incumbent. Laura Rivero Levey, 46, a public-relations consultant, ran against Ms. Bower in 2009 and lost. Steve Berke and Dave Crystal are new to electoral politics.

Mr. Crystal, 34, a standardized test tutor and licensed financial advisor, wants to separate Internal Affairs from the rest of the Police Department and include private citizens on the board to bring more accountability to the department. He says the problems are caused by a “minority of bad apples” but the whole department needs an overhaul. He wants to replace Urban Beach parties with a city-sponsored event and supports gambling on the Beach. (Ms. Bower says she does not support that.)

Mr. Crystal says he jumped into the race because of concern over ballooning pensions. He wants a thorough overhaul of the system, possibly including litigation.

Mr. Berke, 31, a professional comedian, says he also deems the pension system badly flawed and suggests putting the issue of altering it before voters in a referendum, as Hollywood did recently. He supports bringing gambling to the city and also wants to see a “re-branded” event replace Urban Beach festivities. Critical of the Police Department, he wants “every single police officer to go before a review board periodically.”

The challengers have a grasp of the issues, but their lack of a track record in public office is troubling. They should consider running for the commission next time.

Ms. Bower, 72, says “meaningful pension reform” for the city and “some kind of reform” for the Police Department is necessary. We expect her to lead on these issues if elected to serve her final term.

She is aware of the Urban Week fiasco, but says “we can’t keep people from coming.” True, but clear rules for party-goers and more police training are clearly needed, and we expect Ms. Bower to take a more pro-active role.

There is no ideal choice in this race, but Ms. Bower’s dedication to the job over the years and her promise to enact needed reforms give her the edge, by default.

For Miami Beach mayor, The Miami Herald recommends Matti Herrera Bower.

Miami Beach Commission, Group 6

Incumbent Deede Weithorn is seeking reelection to a job she first won in 2007. She is opposed by Maria Carmen Meruelo, who did not respond to requests for an interview with the Editorial Board and did not submit answers to a questionnaire.

A practicing CPA, Ms. Weithorn has a strong grasp of the pension problem and says the current system is unsustainable. She says tackling the problem of police and fire retirement benefits — which currently get 50 cents per dollar of wages, compared to 35 cents for general employees — must be addressed.

She is also troubled by what she calls a lack of accountability at the Police Department and seemed shocked that the department’s leadership “sometimes doesn’t know where the troops are.” As for the Convention Center, she talks of the need to “reenvision the whole parcel” and find a way to obtain the needed funding to bring it up to speed. For Miami Beach Commissioner, Group 6, The Miami Herald recommends Deede Weithorn.


OUR OPINION: MIAMI COMMISSION DISTRICTS 1 AND 2

Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort rejoined the commission in January 2010, after serving several terms in the 1990s. He wasn’t our first choice but he has done a solid job. His calm and experienced stewardship is essential.

Mr. Gort has one challenger, Shawn Selleck, a former community development contractor with Department of Children & Families.

District 1 is a residential district sustained by small businesses. It also is a group of neighborhoods in flux: Wynwood, with its long-abandoned textile factories, is seeing new life as an arts colony; Allapattah needs support to take advantage of the University of Miami’s Life Sciences center. All need housing, and better transportation alternatives. Mr. Gort has done a good job enlisting county government and service agencies to help fill the district’s needs.

Mr. Gort sees the imperative of remaking city pensions to plug the drain of revenue long-term.

The Miami Herald recommends WIFREDO ‘WILLY’ GORT for District 1.

Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff took office in flush times with the full support of the municipal unions — whose contracts he later targeted in order to help balance the budget. It was a pragmatic and responsible answer to a cold, harsh reality of the city’s deteriorating financial condition. It was a sign of political growth on Mr. Sarnoff’s part, for which he warrants a third and final term on the commission.

Mr. Sarnoff, an attorney, faces four opponents for this District 2 seat: Williams Armbrister, Kate Callahan, Donna Milo and Michelle Niemeyer — mostly political novices. However, Ms. Callahan, a nurse and healthcare consultant, brings an administrative savvy to the table having served on the Public Health Trust for 16 years. She should not hesitate to seek elective office again.

Mr. Sarnoff generally has served his district — and the city — well. District 2, which runs along Biscayne Bay from Coconut Grove north to the Upper East Side, is the city’s wealthiest. He wants the city to proceed with extreme caution as the possibility of bayside casinos are debated, sending the decision to the electorate and ensuring private interests don’t usurp those of the public; he envisions a municipal pension system that’s “market driven without guarantees.” This last has cost him the support he once enjoyed from the unions.

Like Mr. Sarnoff, his opponents are focused on the city’s ailing budget. But another complaint seems to bind the challengers: the sense that the once populist-sounding incumbent has become arrogant and aloof. That attitude, sadly, was on display during the Editorial Board’s candidates meeting. Mr. Sarnoff would do well to reconnect and remember that the voters can hire and fire.

The Miami Herald recommends MARC SARNOFF for District 2.

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