Commissioners launch offensive against strong mayor
By Dan Dolan
With a special charter election looming in less than two weeks, Miami-Dade County commissioners last week launched an organized offensive against Mayor Carlos Alvarez' controversial push to gain sweeping new executive powers.
But the commissioners' moves — which include raising $250,000 in six days, organizing a political action committee and making a rash of personal appearances — could be too little too late, their supporters said Tuesday.
"We're definitely in a deep hole because we got a late start," said Commission Chairman Bruno A. Barreiro, who is leading the Citizens for Unity and Common Rights political action committee formed to fight Mr. Alvarez' plan to transfer to the mayor all powers currently held by the appointed county manager. "It's going to be tough, but I think we'll win once we get our message out to voters."
Mr. Alvarez and supporters of his plan have a head start there, too. Last week, they fired the first salvos in a planned $300,000 media barrage using 30-second commercials on two popular Spanish-language radio stations, Radio Mambi and WQBA-AM, urging voters to pass the charter change Jan. 23.
Citizens for Unity and Common Rights campaign coordinator Jeff Garcia said his group is preparing its response. He wouldn't detail advertising strategy but said the committee intends to raise money until Jan. 18, the last day it can legally collect contributions.
The committee has collected $100,000 in donations and another $150,000 in pledges, Mr. Garcia said. The average contribution is about $2,500, he said. The largest single contribution has been $20,000, Mr. Garcia said.
"Frankly, I don't know who our largest contributor is," Mr. Garcia said. "But I do know that to this point, we haven't gotten a single contribution from a developer." Some critics have said developers have excessive influence over commissioners.
Mr. Garcia said Miami-Dade labor unions, led by South Florida Labor Council president Fred Frost, are pouring money and manpower into the bid to defeat the charter change, the local equivalent of adopting an amendment to the US Constitution.
He said former county commissioner Larry Hawkins and retired county manager Merrett Stierheim have joined the push to defeat the charter change, which would give the mayor the power to hire and fire all department heads. The mayor would also gain more control over the county's appointed citizen-run boards and agencies.
"Right now, our side is behind the 8 ball because of our late start," Mr. Garcia said. "It's an uphill battle, but I think we'll win when we deliver our message to voters and let them know exactly how dangerous this strong-mayor plan is."
Political analyst Dario Moreno, who heads Florida International University's Metropolitan Center, said voters seem to be leaning toward the strong-mayor proposal. But that view, he said, is based on old data.
Mr. Moreno said the Metropolitan Center began a five-question telephone poll of 650 registered voters on Monday, the day early voting began. The poll will be concluded by this weekend and results will be released next week, he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Alvarez and the commissioners have dramatically increased their appearances at community events, club luncheons and special public forums in an effort to rally their troops and win new support.
Mr. Alvarez argues changing the county charter would lead to a more efficient government. The commissioners contend the strong-mayor plan puts too much power in the executive branch. They say the change would lead to creation of a political patronage system that would drive away the county's current professional managers.