Call for ethnic quotas in Miami Beach City Hall outmoded
Written by Michael Lewis on November 27, 2013
New Miami Beach officials last week were shoveled the worst sort of advice by the daily newspaper across the county in Doral, which admonished them to appoint Hispanics to local posts “in numbers that reflect the city’s diversity.”
The Herald has been wringing its collective hands over the election, not just that three of the four persons it supported lost but that – horrors – a Hispanic-majority city managed to elect four leaders who aren’t Hispanic.
The Herald editorialized that this is “a genuine problem” and “fuels feelings of alienation and division.”
We believe it truly shows maturity that voters can elect officials on a basis other than ethnicity. We felt that way when our nation elected a president of color that surely did not match the majority, and we’d have felt that way in Miami Beach if we’d even noticed.
Miami-Dade, after all, has no scarcity of Hispanics in government, business or civic leadership. It’s been a long time, thank heaven, since Hispanics have been kept out of any board room because of their heritage.
It has also been a long time, thankfully, since many of us saw ethnicity as a criterion. We might choose the right or wrong leaders, but we have come a long way since language, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or economic status was the primary qualifier for, or barrier to, most meaningful jobs.
So accustomed have we become to base choices on ability that it grates like squeaky chalk on an old-time blackboard to see a newspaper call for key appointments in proportion to ethnicity.
Going backward to quotas in city hall is in fact backward. It plays into the hands of those who broker jobs in return for bloc support at the polls – the urban political ills that tore at our democratic fabric a full century ago, the era of big city bosses.
Muckraking journalists in those times destroyed a spoils system that swapped votes for city jobs. It’s painful to see journalists try to rake the muck back into Miami Beach City Hall with a misguided call for ethnic politics.
Let’s be clear: while a city that is more than 53% Hispanic did elect four non-Hispanics, voters had many rationales.
Some might have tried to “throw the rascals out.” No past officeholder won – all four winners are city hall newcomers, which is both refreshing and of concern, because experience and institutional memory are useful.
Others knew neighbors they were voting for and trusted them. The tighter the community, the more that’s a factor.
Some no doubt were concerned with perceived city gaffes or had agendas for the future.
The Miami Beach Convention Center surely played a role – and for the 99th time we’re on record as supporting a vast upgrade as vital to not only the city but Miami-Dade’s total economy. There’s more than one path to this goal – but the city must hustle down one path or another rather than saunter.
Some might have recognized the candidates’ parties, even though all ran without labels. In a political process, you can’t rule out politics.
Other voters might have heeded campaign messages. Millions were spent on the campaign – reportedly by now-Mayor Philip Levine alone. They don’t spend if they don’t expect it to yield votes.
Finally – and we hope this was common – some examined platforms and rationally chose which candidates would best serve their aims and their city.
Note, please, that none of these rationales includes ethnicity or the other non-criteria for office like religion, gender, sexual orientation or bank balance – though some voters probably did heed such misguided non-criteria.
Thankfully, most did not. For that, we congratulate Miami Beach.
That said, let’s be clear: while all the new officials might be great, some could be duds. That we won’t know until they settle into office and do their jobs.
Let’s also be clear: while we personally like some of the candidates, we had no horses in the race. We’re simply happy that the race appeared to be won based on sound rather than spurious criteria.
We have our own advice to the winners about appointments they’ll make:
•Seek out the best people.
•Don’t count heads based on non-criteria. If you appoint the best people, they’ll fall naturally into all of these non-criteria categories without you paying the least heed.
•Admonish appointees to serve all the people of Miami Beach, not target special groups.
Do that and you’ll get the best results. Play ethnic politics and the entire city loses.
We’re sad at this stage in our community’s life to have to rebut a call for ethnic quotas. We should be far past that, without media stirring up ethnic divisions.
We congratulate Miami Beach’s victors, thank the losers for being honest players in the democratic process, and look forward to the city moving ahead on its true challenges without being admonished by the media to go a century backward.