The latest wrinkle in Miami politics reminded me of the gag about the woman who likes to practice her opera singing at home. Whenever she starts doing this, her husband leaves the house and sits out on the porch.
“Do you really hate my music that much?” Sadie asks Sam indignantly.
“Nah, I don’t mind it too much. But I have to step outside so the neighbors can see I am not beating you.”
Now that we who reside in Miami-Dade County have voted by 88-12% to recall Mayor Carlos Alvarez, we need to explain to the world that we are not bullies. This was not arbitrary or random. This was a premeditated effort to show our county, our city, our state and our nation that there are limits to the abuse of power by politicians. They disregard the needs of constituents at their own peril.
Alvarez was originally elected Mayor of Miami-Dade County in 2004. He had previously been Director of the county’s police department. The voters respected him a great deal, thought him a man of integrity. He represented to them an image of a tough police officer, with the officer’s sense of balancing reality with a commitment to pushing back against antisocial elements.
While money was flowing in the economy, his leadership seemed fairly solid and his popularity grew. In 2007, he had banked so much political capital that he initiated a referendum to increase the power of the mayoralty, shifting more decisions to his office away from the County Manager and the County Commissioners. When the referendum won, local politicians were overawed by this far-ranging achievement.
It looked like Alvarez could do no wrong and he easily won reelection in 2008. He used his clout to push through a deal to build a roofed stadium for the Florida Marlins baseball team. The Marlins were a paradox in the baseball world, having a huge radio and TV following but no attendance at the games. I have been in the stadium when it looked like no more than 200 other fans were in the stands. The obvious conclusion is that the people love the team but hate frying in the sun for four hours. The solution was to build an indoor stadium.
This led to one of those deals where the team puts up some money and the county puts up more, but the team becomes the full owner of the stadium when built. A deal like this in Arlington, Texas, made George W. Bush into a millionaire seventeen times over without much of a capital investment. Here in Miami, billionaire auto dealer Norman Braman fought the stadium deal in court and lost. But some citizens took offense at Alvarez’ high-handed mien in this wrangle.
When the recession came and wiped out the local economy, sending the values of homes into a freefall (from an average value of 320 thousand in 2008 to about 220 now), locals were stuck paying property taxes based on the old values. This was a bitter pill to swallow, but it is one of the ironies of life and people endure. But there is a difference between thriving and enduring. When citizens must tighten their belts to squeeze through a cramped passage, a smart leader takes care not to add to that strain.
Alvarez responded to that situation by raising property taxes. In that same budget, he gave all his closest aides nice raises, most of them earning between 140 and 180 thousand. This was a slap in the face of every decent hard-working voter in the county. Braman jumped in with a bunch of money to gather petitions for a recall. Alvarez responded by calling it a personal vendetta, saying Braman was a sore loser over the stadium deal.
Once the vote came in at 88%-12%, it was clear this was not about one tycoon’s peccadillo. A vote with a margin like that in this country virtually never happens — in any jurisdiction, for any office, on any subject. This is a wholesale repudiation of the culture of entitlement in the political class. It is a clarion call that should echo through the land. Braman said voters have shown they are tired of being ignored and overtaxed, especially in these trying economic times. Alvarez said that now begins a time of healing, which I think is code for a grown man crying.
It is a sad comedown for a fellow who is probably a pretty decent guy who learned how to play the game. The happy part is that the people have won a round. Hopefully the lesson will be learned and the next wife gets voice lessons before she tries to sing.