Miami-Dade County mayoral candidates Carlos Gimenez and Julio Robaina debated at the University of Miami at 5:30 p.m. today in an event organized by the Miami Foundation, The Miami Herald, and El Nuevo Herald. It was my first opportunity to see the two candidates in the same place. Just over 100 people attended in person, but there were plenty of cameras and the event will be broadcast on WPTB over the weekend.
The panelists for the “debate” — as usual more a serial answering of questions than a head-to-head debate in the Lincoln-Douglass school — were Dan Grech (WLRN Radio), Myriam Marquez (Miami Herald columnist), and Manny Garcia (El Nuevo Herald’s Executive Editor).
As usual for such events in Miami, it started late. But given this was an important event, it only started ten minutes late.
The spokesman from the Miami Foundation said that the focus of the forum would be “policies not politics” — whatever that means. Then we learned the ground rules: Two minutes for openings & closings. Ninety seconds to answer each question. Rebuttals of thirty seconds.
Personally, I find 90 and 30 second statements to be somewhat at war with the idea of substantive debate, but we live in a sound bite culture. What follows is paraphrase, unless I use quote marks. Comments in (parentheses) are my own.
I took a lot of notes, but there’s really very little point in subjecting anyone to them. With only a few exceptions, which I’ll discuss below, the two candidates sounded very much alike on policy: they are against taxes, yet plan to close the $200 – $400 million annual budget deficit — in Ginimez’s case by a combination of efficiency and demanding givebacks from the unions, in Robaina’s case either by efficiencies alone, or perhaps by a combination of efficiencies and magic. They both would support a limited increase in casino gambling. Neither has plans to do anything exciting for transport, as there’s no money to pay for it, although both said they were for increasing bus service, and Gimenez suggested that smartphone apps telling you when the next bus was due might increase ridership. (Personally, I rather doubt that will help if the bus still comes only once every blue moon.)
There were some differences in their answers to a question about global warming. The questioner noted that greater Miami is vulnerable to sea level rise, as sea level has risen 10″ since 1930. Is this a significant concern? If so what can we do to protect from this rise?
Robaina’s answer was just off-the-wall weird. He said that “we have an expert in our system,” Harvey Ruvin, the Clerk of Courts, who will have all the information. We are probably leaders in preparing without creating additional regulations.
(Personally, I have a lot of respect for Harvey Ruvin, but I’d be surprised to learn that he’s an expert on either global warming or on sea-level-rise preparedness.)
Gimenez gave a much better answer, in which he said, look at the data — it is rising, and looks like it will continue. My concern, he said, is quality of life for our kids and grandkids. We need to mitigate, put developments higher up. We need to figure out when it will affect coastal developments, prepare to mitigate it now in order to prepare for future. We will have to make this part of planning and permitting. The followup question asked, “is it rising?” Gimenez said, “yes,” the issue is how fast it will be affecting us — have to get ahead of the curve. Robaina did not choose to offer a followup answer.
Where the candidates differed most of all was that Giminez emphasized his goal of “restoring trust in Miami-Dade government”. I took that originally to be code for “I am not a crook like the other guy,” but there was one moment that made me think that maybe this was too cynical. And it wasn’t the moment where Giminez, who has a nice firefighter’s pension, grandstanded by saying he’d give back 50% of his salary in order – he claimed – to seize the moral high ground in his campaign to cut county workers’ pay.
Rather, the moment came in answer to the twelfth and final question.
The question asked, you are two self-professed Republicans, Hispanic men, what can you do to bring people together in time of divisiveness and ill-feelings?
Gimenez gave a powerful answer: He said the key was to say the same to everyone. … Everybody wants fairness and consistency. I’ll be fair and consistent.
Robaina’s answer had more of a sound of the usual promise to share the pie: My administration, he said, would be a reflection of what this community looks like. It would be inclusive. …. Everyone should feel the Mayor is accessible, will listen and will ACT.
Overall, Gimenez was more polished and articulate than Robaina, but Robaina wasn’t terrible. Other than the odd Harvey Ruvin remark, neither candidate did anything odd. I left discouraged on policy grounds: these are two pretty right-wing Republicans fighting over who is more against taxes and county workers. Despite the high-minded objectives of the Miami Trust and its helpers, policy isn’t what this election is about. It’s about personalities, and about records.
Gimenez has a reputation for honesty. Robaina does not. Gimenez has a reputation for technocratic competence. Robaina has a reputation as a pretty effective fixer, and no one in law enforcement has laid a glove on him yet. Take your pick?
With a somewhat heavy heart, I plan to vote for the technocrat. The alternative is clearly worse, although this debate, which Gimenez won only on points, did not I think make that terribly clear.
The election is June 28. Only about 16% of the eligible voters voted in the first round. It might be even less this time.