Category Archives: Miami

Working On It!

Absentee ballots are out, so it’s time for my guide to judicial elections. I’ve been fighting a (non-COVID!) cold, so I’m behind schedule. And I probably need to cut my screed on all the reasons you should vote line 99 to retain Judge Seraphin….most of which are about all the reasons you should NOT (please please please don’t) vote for his unfit challenger, political animal Renier Diaz de la Portilla.

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Only in Miami?

It not uncommon for city or county governments to rip off taxpayers by handing valuable land cheap to developers, or even subsidizing development whose benefits will run primarily or even entirely to the mega-wealthy. That is the story of many a sports stadium.

But only in Miami would the beneficiary of one giant taxpayer ripoff, indeed the largest in area history to date (the Marlins stadium), do a video mocking another proposed ripoff, here the Melreese giveaway.  That’s the giveaway of a huge park that will supposedly be used for a soccer stadium, but which camouflages the fact that most of the land will be used for a mall and other private profit-making buildings. Is the video fueled by envy that the new ripoff would smash the Marlins’ record?

See the video at Twitter. Be warned that it contains language that people from more delicate parts of the world may consider unfit for polite company.

Spotted via Political Cortadito

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Weird Doings at the Coral Gables ‘Debate’

Well, it wasn’t a debate.  For one thing, two candidates didn’t turn up.  In Group 2, Jose Valdes-Fauli was a last-minute no-show due to a medical emergency.  In Group 3, Kirk Menendez was a no-show … saying that he had an obligation with his son, which he was not able to get out of, although the moderators didn’t share this with us until right near the end; apparently they don’t check their email very often….

So the event was rebranded as an ‘informational session’ for an hour with each of the two remaining candidates (and the 120+ viewers).

The moderators, Leon Kellner & Sue Kawalerski managed to put combative questions to the candidates present, first Rhona Anderson and then Javier Baños.  The moderators clearly have their axes to grind, which meant the heat/light ratio wasn’t everything one might have hoped for.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the event was the deep resentment and hostility that the heads of the various community groups who asked questions expressed about the way they had been treated by Coral Gables staff, and their desire to have some heads roll. I have to admit that as they grew their bill of particulars against the city’s lawyers — agreeing to various zoning changes, signing off on various aspects of the Wawa gas station deal, failing to include penalty clauses that might have prevented the cutting of trees outside the site despite a promise not to, I began to wonder if they might not have a point.

As regards the candidates, there was not much effort at neutrality: I got the strong feeling that the organizers of the event support the two candidates who spoke, and really don’t want Menendez, about whom they couldn’t wait to share what they termed breaking news, but was actually a three-day-old blog post on Political Cortadito.  It accused Menendez of profiteering (the crafts homes rezoning), being sued for allegedly being tens of thousands of dollars behind on his credit card (how can we trust you with city money if you can’t manage your own?), and letting his law license lapse.

That last complaint seems odd or at least dated because when I looked it up during the non-debate, the only Kirk Menendez I could find on the Florida Bar website, was a Kirk Reagan Menendez who graduated from St. Thomas Law in 1992 — sounds like the right one, no? The Florida bar web site reports Kirk Reagan Menendez  is a “member in good standing” and “eligible to practice law”.  A smear gone wrong? Arrears suddenly paid up? I have no idea, nor exactly why I should care unless there’s some suggestion he was practicing law illegally while a candidate.

Underlining how even-handed they weren’t being,  the moderators asked Baños about a lawsuit just filed against him. with Leon Kellner emphasizing in a very bombastic fashion that allegations are not proof (no such disclaimer for the Menemdez “news” they shared, however, including the part about … a lawsuit).  Having then seen neither this explanation nor this one, I — and I suspect many other listeners — had no idea what lawsuit against Baños they were referring to. And I didn’t get to find out much from the discussion because the questioners dropped the issue as soon as Baños professed ignorance of the case and said he hadn’t been served.  Sure was a tough grilling there — on par with the audience planted softball asking how Baños’s background as a CPA would help him as a Commissioner.  (Per Baños, it would be very helpful.)

Not that I especially want Menendez, but I then I don’t especially like the Baños package either: smooth, quite well informed, and missing almost no opportunity to stick a shiv into his absent opponent by accusing him of being pro every type of development and at one point, if I followed the convoluted talk, gratuitously suggesting that Menendez had been repeatedly fired by his city employer.  (Eh?)

Indeed, Menendez has yet to offer me any reason to vote for him other than just not being the other guy. Given the blithe nature of the Menendez platform, it’s hard to know what his views actually are on development, and indeed they might be awful. But as the general tenor of the Menendez campaign is a Chip-Withers-worthy ‘keep things the same’ vibe (and, no, that is not a compliment), I don’t see the support for the Crafts development — a part of town which in my opinion was no landmark — as telling me much about his attitudes to growth in the rest of the city.  And at least the Menendez campaign, unlike the Baños campaign, hasn’t resorted to attack mailers signed by some fake political group. Although, as I may have mentioned once or twice, they have spammed me and spam-texted me which is Not Nice.

Anderson acquitted herself very well.  She had practical ideas for how to improve notice about coming development projects, and how to make staff more careful in how they testify to the Commission, but she didn’t take the bait on having a referendum on every big project, noting accurately that turnout was low and not very informed for Commission races, and would likely be worse if we had regular votes on zoning issues.  Baños, to his discredit, was more willing to pander on this one.  The moderators were pushing the idea, but it’s ridiculous.  As Anderson said, some zoning plans are 1000 pages long: they need to be broken down and discussed piece by piece in citizens’ meetings, not sent to an electorate which will never read it.

Both candidates got asked if they’d support renaming our part of South Dixie Highway for Harriet Tubman (Coral Gables, alarmingly, is the only jurisdiction here to have opposed it).  Anderson said forthrightly she was for the change.  Baños first tap danced around, saying something mushy and hard to follow about having a resident’s poll or a referendum–although if I understood him he concluded by saying that he thought it would be just, and “she should be honored.”  But from the sound of it, that was couched just as a personal view, and in no way a promise to reverse the vote of the Coral Gables Commission opposing the renaming.

Anyway, two more hours of my life I won’t get back, and other than making me feel even better about voting for Anderson, I don’t think it taught me much.

I do hope Valdes-Fauli proves to be OK.

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Coral Gables Runoff Election NEXT TUESDAY

Vince Lago handily won the Mayoral election, but there are very quick runoffs in the two Commission elections: next Tuesday, April 27.

Absentee ballots went out late last week, but there will be barely time to fill them out and mail them if you want them counted — it would be much more sensible to drop them off at the dropbox which will be at the Coral Gables Library this weekend, where early voting will also be possible.

In the Group 2 race, the two candidates are Rhonda Anderson and Jose Valdes-Fauli. In the Group 3 race, the two candidates are Javier Baños and Kirk Menendez.

So, who to vote for?  In group 2 it’s fairly easy: Rhonda Anderson not only had almost enough votes to win in the first round, she’s the better candidate.  She was (like me) a bit late to the development-has-gone-too-far tendency, but she got there.  She’s very experienced in Coral Gables government, having been a participant or shadow in almost everything for twenty years or more.  I have no doubt at all that she is sincerely committed to listening to and involving residents. Anderson is no progressive, but neither is Valdez-Fauli, who is running a somewhat genial, noblesse oblige, kind of campaign. I will grant he’s not likely to be half as peremptory and obnoxious as his brother, the former Mayor, who clearly wasn’t interested in listening much when he was presiding. But I won’t grant that he’s going to be anywhere near as sensitive to representing the voters as Anderson will.

In group 3, it’s just as hard as ever.  There’s the potentially dangerous candidate or the potentially reactionary one.  I am still leaning reluctantly to Menendez despite his vapid if not backwards-looking campaign.  (And they are text spamming me now!)

The case for Menendez is mostly about why one would vote against Baños. In addition to the merits of his platform, there’s the issue of … I won’t say ‘character’, let’s say ‘campaign style’:  After I wrote my previous posts saying that while Baños  seemed more competent he also seemed like he was for the wrong things, and he had a worryingly cozy relationship with Miami Commissioner “Crazy Joe” Carollo, the candidate himself came to this blog and commented.

Here’s how Baños described his relationship with Carollo on this blog a few days ago:

My only relationship to Carollo is that my firm did the campaign books and public reporting in 2017.

Contrast that with how the Miami Herald describes Baños’s relationship with Carollo:

Baños has been involved in politics in the past, having run for South Miami’s city commissioner and serving as the treasurer of the campaign accounts and political action committee for Carollo, the Miami commissioner. He was also Carollo’s appointee on the Bayfront Park Management Trust.

Perhaps Baños’s statement quoted above is technically correct, but you be the judge as to how open, transparent, and complete that statement is.

I may have more to say after tonight’s (sole) candidate’s debate, a poorly-publicized event.  According to the Gables Insider blog, the details are:

On Wednesday, April 21st, the Coral Gables Neighbors Association, Gables Good Government, Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables, Ponce Neighbors Association and Urban Core Community Coalition, Inc. will hold a debate with the four remaining Commission candidates for the April 27th Runoff election.

Those interested in participating can register at:

This is the only scheduled debate for the runoff, and will be a formal debate, not a forum. “This election and we saved this tough-question format for the runoffs,” says the invitation.

Former U.S. Attorney Leon Kellner will moderate the debate.

7:00PM Commission Seat 2: Featuring Rhonda Anderson vs. Jose Valdes-Fauli.

8:00PMCommission Seat 3: Featuring Javier Baños vs. Kirk Menendez.

Questions for the candidates can be submitted to:

I put in a question about traffic calming.

P.S. This rushed runoff is not a good idea for airing of issues or turnout.  If we’re going to go for speed, instant runoff voting would be a lot better.  Pity then-Mayor Valdes-Fauli shot it down when I proposed it in the last charter revision process.

Posted in Coral Gables | Leave a comment

Weird Silence on February Shooting in Coral Gables?

I live in a very very quiet neighborhood near the University of Miami. Shootings are, to the say the least, rather rare: this incident on Feb 12 only a few blocks from my house is the only one I can think of around here in almost three decades.

It got a lot of news coverage the day it happened.  The story was that federal agents shot and killed a person who brandished a weapon; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was involved in what was described as “part of a large scale financial investigation.”

A large-scale financial investigation?  Homeland Security/ICE involved?  Someone in quiet Coral Gables being shot for (allegedly) ‘brandishing’ a weapon? It all sounded like there would be lots more to report.  But then … at last as far as I know .. nothing?  Did I miss the follow-up story on what happened (always possible, but nothing seems to turn up on search engines either)? If not, why the silence for more than a month?

Posted in Coral Gables, Law: Criminal Law | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Coral Gables Commission Group III 2021 Election

Group II is stuffed with plausible candidates.  In relative, and maybe absolute terms, Group III is a desert.

There are four candidates:  Javier Baños (#80); Alex Bucelo (#81); Kirk Menendez (#82); Phillip “PJ” Mitchell (#83).

There are two elephants in this race: Baños and Menendez.  I have trouble with both.

If you just went by the two candidates’ forums (fora?) you would have to say that Baños was the most well-spoken and authoritative. As a CPA and lawyer, he likely wins on paper too. The problems are the substance of what he says, and the baggage he brings with him.  I have never been a fan of candidates who say their number one priority is to take it out of the hide of city workers, yet that is what Baños said in response to a question.  Over the last decade Coral Gables, like a lot of municipalities, has made some changes to its pension system to reduce long-term liabilities; apparently that’s not enough for Baños, who wants more. At at time when the city faces major environmental challenges and some serious issues about the pace of development and the degree of citizen notice and involvement in commission decisions, this is an odd first priority.

Then there’s the baggage. Baños’s experience is outside the Gables, from Miami and Miami Beach. Local blogger Elaine de Valle suggests he has ties not just to Miami Commissioner “Crazy Joe” Carollo, which is bad, but also to Marc Sarnoff, the great failed hope of progressives turned political Svengali, and the money trail (see below) supports that claim.

People also are beating up on the other elephant, Kirk Menendez, for supporting zoning changes in the Crafts district which just happen to greatly increase the value of his property. Personally, I can’t get excited about that ‘issue’.  What gets me is the anemic platform, the likelihood that he’d be a negative force on the Commission. He’s for parks, civility, and “hometown charm.” That’s nice but not really responsive to the issues of the day.  He’s for “smart development” too, whatever that is, but it’s mostly a nostalgia agenda.  I want a lot more.

Menendez’s main claim to fame–and it seems, office–is a long career as a soccer coach at the Coral Gables Youth Center. (Although, in fairness, Menendez does have a law degree from St. Thomas.) He knows a lot of folks, and they like him. But listening to him in the forums, reading his rather scanty online platform, makes me think he’ll be, at best, a follower, and not necessarily of the right people. He’s all about keeping things the way they are–or were. Either pablum, or code for bad things. I think pablum, probably, but who knows.

It’s petty, but Menendez also is the only candidate in either Group II or Group III who has spammed me. (Keon spam-texted me.) My neighbor who flew the long-past-its-sell-date Trump flag has a Menendez sign (along with his Lago and Cruz-Gimenez signs), so that isn’t good either.

I spoke with PJ Mitchell on some of his previous campaigns, and found him likable and sincere — but very very committed to an anti-spending agenda, which inevitably would impact public services.  Other bloggers, who have done a better job than I of covering this race, have tended to characterize his last-minute campaign this year as not serious, and he hasn’t done a good job of responding to questionnaires.  I like the guy, but I’m not a fan of the agenda, whether or not he’s in it for real.  Judging by the mailer volume at my house, he’s way underfunded compared to the other candidates.

That leaves Alex Bucelo. He didn’t cover himself with glory at the candidates’ forums. Sometimes he sounded fine, sometimes he seemed a bit over his head. On the plus side, he’s endorsed by former Mayor Dorothy Thomson, whose endorsements I think carry weight. On the minus side, former Mayor Cason endorsed him too. On the plus side, so did former Mayor Don Slesnick.

The dark money mailers tell a confused story in this race.  “Citizens for a Better Miami-Dade Government” (based in Miami, Bradley Cassel, Chairman) sent me attack mailers against Bucelo and Menendez. The Herald reports that

Cassel is a former member of the South Miami pension board, on which he served alongside Javier Baños, who is competing with Menendez in Group Three.

The political committee has reported only $30,000 raised, all of it last month. Most of the money — $25,000 — came from Truth is the Daughter of Time, another political committee chaired by lobbyist and former Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff. Alvarez, Carbonell, Feltman & DaSilva PL, a Gables-based firm, contributed the other $5,000.

Meanwhile, the “Communities First Project” (based in Tallahassee, chaired by Christian Camara) sent me attack mailers against Bucelo, Menendez, and Baños. Camara is a Republican politician based in Tallahassee; what the connection is to Coral Gables might be (or to Mitchell, who would seem to be the beneficiary of these mailers) isn’t clear.

The absence of dark money mailers sent to benefit the Bucelo and Mendendez campaigns is a point or two in their favor.

There really isn’t a candidate I can feel happy about in this group.  Bucelo seems the least bad in the bunch, if only because least formed.  Baños seems the most competent — but would, I fear, use those talents to take us in the wrong direction. Menendez is the candidate of old Gables, a flavor that has no attraction for me. Mitchel might have made a case for himself if he’d tried harder.

So I guess I would say Bucelo is the least problematic of the bunch, followed, I guess, maybe by Menendez. But who knows, really?

The fact is that voters like me, people who really only focus on local politics every so often, have been particularly badly served by this campaign, especially if we were sheltering in place.  The Herald has done a sort-of-decent job of coverage, but circulation is way down, some key articles were paywalled online. The candidates’ forums were too crowded for us to get much sense of what candidates thought about issues, a round-robin format where no one got to speak very much, although the Chamber of Commerce/UM event organizers did their best to manage the crowd of candidates.

On the other hand, the second forum, held at Carver, was an informational disaster.  Most of the questions were, unsurprisingly, about education-related issues. But that is a subject that the Coral Gables Commission has very little sway over, that being the role of the county-wide School Board.  We were treated to three hours of discussion that concentrated on it anyway.  And, at the end we were told that there was no time for the audience questions that had been promised, either. (I wanted to ask about the weird, excessive, traffic calming proposal unveiled a few weeks ago. No go for the question–or future cars either.)  Yes, there is/was one genuine schools related issue: the existing Commission’s back-room deal to allow a gas station to be built across from Carver Elementary. Trouble is, both serious candidates in the Mayor’s race were part of it, and none of the Group II or III candidates were, so by and large they were free to bash it at will.  Didn’t tell us much, and could have safely been one question amidst many more diverse ones in a properly organized event.

A few local blogs have tried to fill the gap, but sometimes in a partisan way. And of course all the mailers — I’m really tired of the mailers, but what else can candidates do?

Posted in Coral Gables | 3 Comments