Of all the political contests on the ballot, none is more important to the residents of Miami-Dade County than the race for mayor. The mayor manages a $7 billion budget that has a direct bearing on everything from our pocketbooks to our daily commute to our sense of personal well-being.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez, 62, took the reins in 2011 after irate voters bounced his predecessor, Carlos Alvarez, following the Marlins Stadium debacle, raises he gave to his inner circle and a downward spiral caused by the economic recession. Mr. Gimenez was easily elected to a full term after that. He is seeking four more years on a platform contending that he cleaned up the mess he inherited and is poised to deliver more improvements.
But challenger Raquel Regalado, a 42-year-old former School Board member, who resigned in order to make this race, is running a high-decibel, combative campaign arguing that the incumbent is a weak manager whose style has led to a series of mistakes that have hurt the county.
As the Herald has reported, the two differ on a wide variety of issues:
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▪ Transportation: With his support of a $14 million county grant, the mayor makes an effective case that bringing Tri-Rail to downtown Miami will be a boon to the city center, as well as get cars off the road. Ms. Regalado says that neglected areas without any rail for mass transit should be a higher priority. However, Mayor Gimenez can rightly take a lot of credit for shepherding the SMART plan through the Metropolitan Planning Organization. The plan calls for six new mass-transit lines that would connect the outer reaches of the county with downtown. Funding and construction are a long way off, of course, but give the mayor credit for getting leaders to focus.
▪ Pets’ Trust: The 2012 straw vote in support of creating a body with county funding to address the population of stray animals in the county, with a no-kill animal shelter the ultimate goal, was just that — a nonbinding straw vote. Its advocates have been vocal and persistent in pushing for its creation and they have endorsed Ms. Regalado, who, they say, has pledged to make the Pets’ Trust real within her first 100 days in office. Mayor Gimenez, however, has been a staunch opponent of handing over $20 million to, as he asked the Editorial Board, “Who?” Again, credit him and commissioners for cleaning up its act, building a new, more accommodating animal shelter, dramatically lowering the animal kill rate, partnering with organizations such as the Humane Society, all while holding on to the 20 million bucks. Sounds like a victory for the Pets’ Trust folks, to us.
▪ Police body cameras: Ms. Regalado rightly is concerned that video shot by these body cameras might not be admissible in court. Mr. Gimenez, however, said that the county researched the use of body cams well before the devices ever arrived because he wanted to “do it the right way.” He cited how often officers’ use of force drops and video can clear them when falsely accused of brutality. And, no, he said, admissibility is not a problem.
▪ Economic development: Ms. Regalado is correct that there must be more economic development in low-income communities and that it’s difficult for young adults to make a living and stay rather than go elsewhere. However, through the planned transformation of Liberty Square, the Employ Miami-Dade program, the Beacon Council’s One Community One Goal initiative and the encouragement of eMerge Americas, the county has not been idle here.
Ms. Regalado brings to the table a record as an effective School Board member. She was the first to sign on to a bond issue that produced desperately needed revenue to improve county schools while others held back. She helped the district prevail in a fight with the county over the Value Adjustment Board, which resulted in schools regaining property-tax revenue that had been unfairly withheld. And it is thanks to Ms. Regalado that the district has a renewed focus on helping to educate children with disabilities.
Ms. Regalado’s problems with personal finances cannot be overlooked, however. She ultimately settled a property-tax problem, but voters have a right to question whether she is up to the job of running a county with a $7 billion budget, especially since she says that she wants to be the county’s “advocate,” not a manager.
Well, someone needs to keep an eye on all that money.
As the race has progressed, her campaign has taken on an increasingly desperate tone. In both her appearance before the Editorial Board and a debate between her and Mr. Gimenez televised on WPLG Local 10, she released an unstoppable, rapid-fire fusillade of charges that seemed over the top — much like Donald Trump’s “President Obama is the founder of ISIS” contention — and many of them inaccurate.
One stands out. She said that the crime rate is down only because more people aren’t reporting car thefts.
“You can’t say stuff like that,” an astounded mayor responded. “You come in here and you make stuff up.”
She has accused the mayor of everything from an increase in domestic abuse to the spread of the Zika virus, an issue where the county actually was out ahead of the outbreak.
Ms. Regalado also seems not to understand the role of the news media. “This newspaper has protected and will continue to protect Carlos Gimenez,” she declared in her appearance before the Board.
Actually, the Herald has not flinched from reporting stories that don’t cast a favorable light on Mr. Gimenez — the latest on Friday. The news media’s job is to report the news, not to act as an attack dog for anyone’s campaign.
The bottom line is that Ms. Regalado, who told the Board that the people of Miami-Dade County are seeking “radical change” has not made an effective case for replacing Mr. Gimenez.
He’s not a flashy politician or administrator. He could present his vision for the county more consistently. He sometimes fails to appreciate that public perception matters, as in the case of his campaign finance manager’s involvement with a lucrative sewer bond contract with the county.
But Mr. Gimenez has undoubtedly put the county on a better footing than it was when he took the job. He’s bringing taxes down this year. He has rolled up his sleeves and tackled long-festering issues inherited from years past like the improper allocation of transportation money and the crumbling sewer system. He’s done a good, solid job on behalf of Miami-Dade taxpayers and deserves another four years.
For mayor of Miami-Dade County, the Herald recommends CARLOS GIMENEZ.