The Miami Dolphins are in talks to hire former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas to head up outreach efforts as owner Stephen Ross plots another try at a tax-funded stadium deal.
Several sources familiar with the Penelas talks said the deal has not been finalized. They describe a senior position that would put the former Miami-Dade County mayor at the center of political, government and community matters facing the NFL franchise. One source said the stadium push would be just one part of Penelas’ portfolio, which would focus on the team’s overall strategy when it comes to government relations and public outreach.
The Dolphins and Penelas declined to comment on Tuesday. But a league source said Penelas has had at least one promising meeting with new Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel. “Tom has met with him, enjoyed that meeting and is developing a relationship with him,” the source said.
The potential hiring offers the latest sign that Ross still sees a stadium deal in his future, and indicates how the New York-based billionaire might handle the politics and public relations this time. Last year’s failed effort featured then-CEO Mike Dee, a relative newcomer to South Florida, as the public face of the campaign. Penelas was hired as a consultant for that effort, but did not have a large public role.
Dee left in July after failing to win approval of state and local subsidies for a $350 million renovation. The plan died in the Florida House. Ross is pumping campaign dollars to unseat three Miami Republicans who led the fight against the Dolphins’ plan in Tallahassee: Jose Felix Diaz, Carlos Trujillo and Michael Bileca.
Privately, the Dolphins’ political team says they do not expect another legislative push during the upcoming session because Ross foe Will Weatherford remains as House speaker. But Ross still wants a deal. In announcing Garfinkel’s hire last month, Ross told reporters he was prepared to “make my offer better” in pursuit of a stadium renovation.
Penelas won two terms as county mayor between 1996 and 2004. Once a rising star in the Democratic Party, Penelas lost a U.S. Senate campaign in 2004 on the heels of a fall-out with Al Gore and the Clinton administration over the Elían Gonzalez incident and the 2000 election recount. A lawyer, Penelas also works as a consultant on government issues and as a paid commentator for Univision.
Miami Herald staff writer Adam Beasley contributed to this report.