We're getting a new mayor for 13-and-a-half months to what gain?
By Michael Lewis
Miami-Dade's voters recalled a mayor because they wanted change — at least, the 15% who ousted Carlos Alvarez in March did. Next week, they get their wish.
The three-month interim has seen a county tied in knots with nobody at the helm, tens of millions of tax dollars spent on special elections, about $5 million of private funds spent on campaigning, and countless interruptions in our lives from annoying political robo-calls.
What we'll get in return is another political insider in the mayor's chair until the next mayoral election on Aug. 14, 2012 — 13-and-a-half months from now. Let's hope the folks who fought so hard for recall get a net gain out of such a short term at such a high cost.
If the result is to be gain rather than a net loss, the new mayor will have to very quickly build inside county hall and countywide a new respect for local government and its impact in bettering the lives of residents. That respect was already tattered before the recall put on the finishing touches.
If we don't respect government and its impact, the mayoral election just becomes an exercise in deciding who gets to raid the public cookie jar of goodies of all sorts and a dress rehearsal for the winner's next mayoral race in 2012 in one of quickest turnarounds at the polls ever, that short 13-and-a-half months.
Other than rebuilding respect, it's going to be hard to credit a new mayor for achievements beyond redecorating the mayor's office and finding the executive restroom. That 13-and-a-half months isn't much time, particularly when the mayor will have to hit the campaign trail for the next election as soon as he takes office.
In any time left over from decorating and campaigning, the mayor will battle the annual budget crisis and worry about union negotiations that are already months in arrears awaiting leadership. The easy, though dead wrong, answer in both will be to give the house away while focusing on settling into office.
Meanwhile, our mayor will inherit a flawed structure that allows him to fire the administration and install his own team once he finds one. A smart mayor won't do that for a 13-and-a-half-month job even if he plans to win it again — but that assumes rare astuteness. Fortunately, beyond his inner circle in his own office Mr. Alvarez largely avoided handing friends and supporters key jobs.
Between campaign forays geared for 2012, the new mayor must also avoid the pitfalls that eventually ensnared Mr. Alvarez: arrogance, a sense of entitlement for himself and that inner circle, underestimating the public and lack of candor.
For sure, whoever is elected will show up regularly at county hall, which Mr. Alvarez did not. We pray that a mayor's presence on the county's main stage will prove a plus.
Mr. Alvarez's largest single contribution was to eject long-time lobbyist cronies from the mayor's office. It's an easy victory for his successor to simply keep them out, though we might not be so fortunate.
Unlike sports, the public has no scorecard to rate our next mayor's efforts under the handicaps of the short term of office, the pressing financial and labor issues and the public distrust of those in county offices. Were there a scorecard, however, the mayor would begin with negatives in all those columns.
On that scorecard, we'd add another column for sportsmanship. To quote sportswriter Grantland Rice from a 1930 poem, "For when the one Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the game."
At the very least, despite the robo-calls' legacy, we're looking for a clean game. Let's hope the election winner is up to it, and that the few voters who bother to turn out will in the end feel that the results of the recall were worth all our cost and pain.
To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e-Miami Today.