Strong Mayor Appears Headed To Public Vote
By Suzy Valentine
A signing frenzy in the final days of the campaign may increase names on a petition drive supporting a strong-mayor government for Miami-Dade County.
"Over the past two to three weeks, it’s gone ballistic," said campaign chairman Jose "Pepe" Riesco, who said this week that more than 100,000 voters had offered their signatures and the strong-mayor initiative was close to being approved for an upcoming vote. The petition drive will end Saturday.
"It’s clear that there is a huge level of dissatisfaction with how tax dollars are being spent. Voters want to see the balance," he said. "Of the top 25 municipalities in the country, 22 subscribe to the form of government we’re advocating."
A second issue in the petition drive, one that would change authority for the awarding of county contracts, is lagging.
"We’re doing well on the executive-mayor front," said Mr. Riesco, "not so well with the question of procurement."
That, he said, comes from difficulties petitioners have explaining to voters how the transition from county commission consideration of lucrative contracts would work in practice.
Frontline campaigners are confident that everything is on track to acquire the required 144,000 signatures from registered voters to put the reorganization measures on an upcoming ballot. County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, elected last fall, launched the government-reform initiative and has said he hopes to get the issue on November’s ballot.
"Hialeah has exceeded targets," said Norma Dominguez, a volunteer for Citizens for Reform, "and a lot of interest has been drummed up in Miami and Miami Beach."
Mr. Riesco was treasurer for the mayor’s 18-month campaign for election before becoming chairman of Citizens for Reform when it was founded in December.
Committee officials filed a statement of organization Dec. 27 that outlined 13 items such as the names of the committee’s officers and bank accounts, as required by the state.
Some civic leaders and commissioners have been particularly sensitive to the campaign for reform, Mr. Riesco said.
"This is not a personal attack on any particular commissioner," he said, "but the commissioners have taken it personally ever since I went before them on April 5. They behaved like rabid dogs. They were afraid of losing something."
Miami-Dade County offices will be open Saturday to accept the petitions, in the works for two months.
"The 60th day falls on a Saturday," said Clerk of the Board Kay Sullivan, "and the elections department will be here until noon for verification purposes."
County staff has up to 30 days to certify the signatures. The commission then has 60 to 120 days to set a referendum.
Mr. Riesco said the 144,000-signature figure is based on 10% of the county’s more than 1 million eligible voters, about 107,000, and a 30,000-name leeway to accommodate invalid endorsements.
"There could be some dishonest people attempting to invalidate the petition," he said. "This takes care of that."