A trusted adviser helps Mayor Alvarez salvage his future
By Michael Lewis
If Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez has a trusted adviser anywhere, here's what he should be told:
Mr. Mayor, you need to turn a courtroom defeat on your strong-mayor plan into victory on some other battlefield - and do it now.
You've put your mayoral eggs into a single basket and staked your future on that basket. Now a judge has ruled the plan unconstitutional, smashing all your eggs - but you insist on carrying on the battle to the end.
Mr. Mayor, this ought to be the end. End it.
You've been in office for nine months and have done nothing but fight with the county commission to the point that you've become irrelevant. Your only accomplishment has been to unify a fractured commission. The only thing all 13 members ever have agreed upon other than adjourning a meeting is that you are the enemy.
You got enough signatures on a petition for a strong mayor, but you let your team draft the plan so badly that the courts will keep killing it all the way up the line. Now you're blaming the county's lawyers.
Mr. Mayor, don't go there. It's irrelevant whether your idea was right or wrong because you're going to spend years defending it and still not win.
Don't throw away the power of the mayor's office tilting at windmills. You've been squandering your chance to lead today by trying to amass more power for tomorrow. You won't get that added power in the near term - and probably never will - so why not do something with your mandate?
There's still time to use the very considerable powers voters gave you in November to accomplish good for this county and to rebuild your reputation as mayor. You can face re-election with your head high and a track record behind you - and it won't hurt you a bit.
The trick, Mr. Mayor, is to pick a winning horse to ride. Ride an issue that the public is as much behind as it was behind you at the polls just because voters didn't like county government and you, as an outsider, weren't already tarred by it.
Remember Mayor Alex Penelas? He became a trusted name - at least for a while - because he jumped aboard the bandwagon in the fight against homelessness and then got out in front of the parade. He picked an issue that had lots of support and no opposition and capitalized on it.
Why don't you do the same thing, Mr. Mayor?
You could lead a communitywide effort to develop a vision and mission statement for this county - Miami's version of I ? New York would be a big winner, and it's certainly constitutional.
If that broad vision is too much to chew after nine months as a one-issue mayor, take on a narrower topic that has no downside and no opponents: Convene a communitywide task force to examine what infrastructure Miami-Dade County will need to handle its massive growth, and then go after that infrastructure piece by piece until we get those problems under control before they strangle us. Where's the downside in that?
Still too big a task? OK, Mr. Mayor, why don't we target a single county need: affordable housing. Put all the moral suasion of your office to work on a task everyone agrees is crucial. Even the county commission would have to get on board or be labeled grinches.
The commission can't fight affordable housing, Mr. Mayor, because most of the work involves the community as a whole, not commission votes. You as county leader don't need an ounce of additional formal power to spearhead this effort, get everyone to the table, get something accomplished - heaven knows we need it desperately! - and replenish your political capital.
You can't fight the whole world, from commission to courts, over a scheme to build your power when you haven't tried to use the power your office already has aplenty.
I've looked at what you're doing with your time, Mr. Mayor, and it won't cut it.
Last week, you listed two public appearances: You went to the ninth-birthday celebration of Radio Lollipop at Miami Children's Hospital - yes, you did, too! - and you attended the Miami Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department Gala. That's it. Not a very impressive list.
This week, you're stepping it up: Going on the Miami River Dredging Success Tour, speaking at the Perrine-Cutler Ridge Rotary meeting, speaking at the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 121 membership meeting and greeting people at the Haitian-American Civic Association of South Dade.
Sure, all of those are nice, but where have you used the power of your office for some overriding good? Where have you set a civic agenda? What, Mr. Mayor, have you done beyond saying you don't have enough power to do anything?
Mr. Mayor, I'm talking to you as both a friend and a citizen of this county: You need to step up to the plate and start doing your job.
You're never going to get commissioners to love you. But if you do the right things, some of them might respect you - as will the people who elected you once and could do it again.
Mr. Mayor, why don't we start with affordable housing? Why don't we start today?