For too long, Tallahassee has looked down on South Florida as the “exotic,” the strange place, the part of the state that’s “not like the rest of us.”
And too many elected officials from outside the region — state legislators in particular — have been punishing in their disregard for our needs.
That’s why our region sends more revenue to the state than it gets back.
That’s why, as South Florida confronts the real threat of sea-level rise, Gov. Rick Scott has been distressingly silent on the issue – until this election year. And even then, he requested a paltry $3.6 million to help governments in the third-largest state with response planning.
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That’s why, time and again, state lawmakers cut the budgets of the two-year colleges that give low-income residents, immigrants and older workers academic and career boosts. In South Florida, the need is acute. But powerful lawmakers in North and Central Florida apparently don’t care.
And that is why the Miami Herald Editorial Board recommends Philip Levine for governor in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary. He will be an assertive and clear-eyed leader for South Florida. But, statewide, Floridians can have confidence that Levine will be their governor, too. Here’s why:
As mayor of Miami Beach, from 2013-2017, Levine confronted the statewide concerns contained within the microcosm of that coastal city. He is fully capable of bringing the same muscular leadership to the governor’s mansion, even when the more dubious elements of his tenure are considered.
Like Levine, his opponents in the race to be the Democratic nominee for governor are smart, capable, accomplished — and imperfect:
Andrew Gillum is the Miami-born mayor of Tallahassee. Of all the candidates, he’s the most razor-sharp about governance. He was sued by two pro-gun groups — a suit backed by the National Rifle Association — when the city refused to repeal ordinances that banned shooting guns in public parks. The city won in court. Gillum’s optimistic campaign, however, has the cloud of an FBI investigation hovering over it. He told the Editorial Board he was informed that he was not a target. No charges have been filed, but this needs to be resolved before Gillum can confidently ascend.
Gwen Graham represented North Florida for one term in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is the safe, moderate choice who would be a deliberative advocate for the progressive goals that have gone missing in the state. After two interviews, however, the Editorial Board was concerned as to how much fighting spirit she would have facing a Republican-controlled Legislature. She answered questions far too cautiously, fudging on the uncomfortable ones, such as her business relationship with the American Dream mega-mall in North Dade — or dodging them altogether.
Jeff Greene is a late entrant into the race. This is the billionaire real-estate entrepreneur’s second run for office. He ran for the U.S. Senate in Florida in 2010. He’s an appealing, earnest candidate who has made education reform a centerpiece of his campaign, having built what appears to be an innovative private school in Palm Beach County, where he lives. Still, he says he is committed to ensuring that everyone can receive a high-quality education in public schools. He says that to protect Florida’s interests, he will stand up to President Trump. He says he no longer belongs to Trump’s ritzy Mar-a-Lago, though in a previous interview, he did not deny that he was a member. So far, he has spent $18 million to win this race and is playing hardball, using misleading TV ads to attack Graham and Levine.
Chris King is a Winter Park entrepreneur who expresses the most compassionate vision of where he wants to lead. With so many big guns in this race, however, this newcomer is getting far less traction.
There’s actually little daylight between these progressive candidates in their support for public education, healthcare for all, gun control or the environment. That’s why we give Levine the edge.
South Florida is not the exotic “other.” It is part and parcel of the state. Its challenges are Florida’s challenges, and Levine already has taken many of them on.
The environmental wake-up call of flooding in Miami Beach demands the same attention as the scourge of blue-green algae choking waters off the Treasure Coast and the poisonous red tide on the west coast that’s decimating the fish and manatee populations. And drilling for oil off our coasts remains a credible threat. In Miami Beach, Levine took the lead. The city put together a $500 million package to install pumps to drain the streets of king tide flooding, raise streets and strengthen seawalls. Unlike the current governor, who has blanketed the state in a haze of denial, we are confident Levine will take all of Florida’s environmental threats seriously.
Transportation challenges spread far beyond the borders of Miami Beach, where trolleys help take cars off clogged streets while giving residents without motor vehicles a convenient way to get around. As he works to raise his profile around the state, Levine has pledged to get high-speed rail back on track — Scott nixed it in 2011 — and the delayed I-4 corridor expansion back on schedule. It is currently $100 million over budget. Levine steered the much-delayed expansion of the Miami Beach Convention Center, keeping it under budget.
Levine, a multimillionaire who built a marketing firm that catered to the cruise-ship industry, proudly touts that he is the product of Florida’s public schools. He pledged to support them in the face of funding cuts and the GOP’s outright fawning over charter schools.
As mayor, he pushed through an increase in the minimum wage, remade a tainted police department, hiring a new chief, installing body cameras on officer and revising the department’s use-of-force policy that had led to the unjust targeting of minorities.
However, Levine is not without blemish.
In 2015, he and a city commissioner created an ill-advised political action committee that was accused of strong-arming city vendors, developers, large commercial property owners and other businesses into making sizable “donations” that helped elect a slate of three commission candidates who had reportedly pledged their support to Levine. The PAC did receive the approval of the city attorney, but many considered it borderline unethical.
He is far too prickly when criticized. Two years ago, he dismissed as “defamatory” a Miami Herald story about a scientific study that found the city’s flood pumps were possibly sending flood water tainted by fecal bacteria into the bay — at levels up to 600 times acceptable limits. Levine called it “sloppy science.”
When Zika-infected mosquitoes were found in his tourist-dependent city, Levine balked at confirming their presence — only to have Gov. Scott do it resolutely the next day. Facts are facts, and Levine should have faced them head-on.
Despite these lapses, Levine has exhibited the leadership strength that gets to the source of problems. In a state that has challenges that have gone unaddressed — or worse, exacerbated by the state’s current leaders, Levine can forcefully address Florida’s needs.
In Florida’s 2018 Democratic primary for governor, the Miami Herald recommends PHILIP LEVINE.