MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Florida’s Primary Election is August 18. There are quite a few high profile races including the race for Miami Dade County Mayor.
CBS4’s Jim DeFede spoke to the four major candidates and those interviews aired on Facing South Florida.
Here is part of Jim’s interview with Alex Penelas, a former County Mayor who wants his old job back after 16 years, as Jim pressed him on pay-to-play controversies during his time as Mayor as well as his plan to deliver on an old promise.
Penelas: We promised the people of South Dade rail, we can provide them with a light rail system that may actually be a lot cheaper than what you just quoted, that provides a one seat ride from Florida City, all the way to Government Center. And we also know that the additional capacity of rail is significantly greater than buses, as is the economic development surrounding rail. And those studies have been demonstrated time and time again, you don’t get the same type of economic redevelopment from busway as you do from rail. So that is part of my justification for wanting to bring rail to the people of South Dade, not to mention the fact that again, they were promised this, okay. They’ve been paying this half penny for the last 16 years. And you said a billion dollars, but a billion and a half has been misspent. I have laid out a very clear plan. How I would pay for it. I actually have a plan to start repaying annually a portion of the monies that have been misspent to the CITT to jumpstart the South Dade rail project that would allow us not to touch the currently identified Smart Plan dollars. I would then use those dollars to jumpstart the North corridor and then yes, I would go to the feds on East – West, because we need desperately an East – West corridor here as well.
DeFede: Alex, I guess what I’m trying to understand is this sounds very similar to what we were facing in 2002, which I think you were criticized on which is over promising. You are now promising rail to the south, rail to the north, and eventually rail east west. You’re talking billions of dollars at a time when the federal government is going to see massive cuts because of all the spending they’ve had on the coronavirus. County tax dollars are going to be cut because sales tax dollars are down because businesses aren’t open. Are you not over promising once again?
Penelas: Absolutely not because for several reasons. Number one, if you’ve noticed I’m talking about going to the feds for the east – west. I think there’s a local option on the north and south corridor, especially now with Broward having a full penny. I think there’s some tremendous opportunities for collaboration. Okay, so no, it’s not an issue of over promising Jim. It’s an issue of giving people exactly what they’ve been paying for, for the last 16 years.
DeFede: Having covered you in the past, I do think that one of the issues that is that often came up surrounding you and I want you to address it, is the question of ethics. I don’t think you personally profited from anything that took place while you were mayor, but many of your supporters, many of your financial backers, grew substantially in wealth. When you came in, they were not worth very much, by the time your tenure as Mayor finished, they were worth millions and had large deals at the airport and other places throughout the county. So do you believe that your financial support is the folks who helped get you elected benefited during your last tenure as mayor?
Penelas: They may have. They may have. Although I think as you stated very correctly, or at least alluded to, you know, under the executive Mayor form of government, when I was there, I didn’t vote on contracts. Jim, as you know, and I didn’t even recommend contracts.
DeFede: I just want to be clear, though, are you saying pay to play with that notion of, if you want to be able to get access to commissioners, if you want to be able to get access to county officials, that you have to basically make campaign contributions? Are you actually suggesting that that wasn’t taking place while you were in office?
Penelas: It may have been taking place but again, let me repeat, I didn’t vote on contracts, nor did I recommend contracts.
DeFede: No, but let’s be clear about something, you appointed the County Manager, the county manager who oversaw that contracting process.
Penelas: I never crossed the line Jim, as you well know, between the powers of the mayor and the county manager. No one ever suggested that I was telling the county manager whether it was him or Merrett Stierheim, who I also appointed, or George Burgess, who I also appointed as county manager, I never told them what to do.
DeFede: But isn’t that part of the point of having a circle of friends, what the Herald once described as the Wheel of Fortune, in that, the way the system was created during your time, you didn’t need to send that memo. People knew who your allies were. Whether it was Chris Korge, Rodney Baretto, Brian May, all of those individuals were well known to be close to you, financially supportive of you and your campaigns and so no county official, you know, department heads or others, we’re going to run the risk of running a foul of them for fear of what it might mean with you, whether that was true or not, that’s the perception that was created.
Penelas: And I understand that I fully understand it, and that’s why I took action to correct it. That’s why I created a cone of silence. That’s why I fully funded the Inspector General. That’s why I appointed Paul Philip as the former FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Miami office, as my anti-corruption czar.
All of Jim’s interviews are available at CBSMIAMI.COM/2020