Miami-Dade voters have had their “Network” moment. By recalling Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas, they didn’t just say they were angry, they screamed it at the top of their lungs. “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” was the great line delivered by actor Peter Finch in the classic movie “Network” and now repeated in chorus by voters in this community.
Okay, I get it. Voters are mad about high property taxes and a sluggish economy. They’re appalled at the generous salaries and benefits given to many high-ranking county officials. They cringe at commissioners who dole out so-called “discretionary funds” to pet projects and groups that keep them elected. They were shocked when the mayor gave hefty pay raises to his top staffers. Many voters I talked to accuse the mayor of arrogance. The mayor and commissioners, many feel, see the county budget as their personal piggy bank.
These feelings of anger and frustration are understandable. But I’ve got my own issues with the recall. Why, for example, couldn’t we have waited until November 2012 for Alvarez to leave office? He’s term limited anyway? We must now pay up to $15 million to elect someone to serve as mayor for a little over a year. That’s a hefty price. Why haven’t we focused more on charter reforms like at-large commission districts, term limits, and getting rid of generous perks given to commissioners and the mayor himself?
These are some of the questions I asked my guests on News & Views this week. Joining me were Barry University Political Science Professor Dr. Sean Foreman and Dan Ricker, editor of the Watchdog Report, an email newsletter that keeps tabs on local government and politics.
“This was unprecedented,” Ricker told me. “It was the result of more than 20 years of frustration and a period of disconnect between the voters and county hall.”
“The mayor was caught in a perfect storm,” Foreman said. “ People are worried about the economy, the Marlins Stadium, problems at Jackson Health and the Transportation Department, issues of staff misusing county funds. Anything having to do with county government that angered voters was blamed on the mayor.”
Ricker and Foreman helped me size up some of the leading candidates for mayor, including Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, former State Rep. Marcelo Llorente and rapper Luther Campbell. Will more jump into the fray? Hey, this is South Florida. We should expect the unexpected. It might be a good thing. Hopefully, now that voters have had their $15 million “Network” moment, the anger can be channeled into positive energy that will result in real reforms.