On Tuesday Miami-Dade County voters recalled Mayor Carlos Alvarez. The margin of the vote in favor of recall sends an unmistakable message regarding the mood of voters. The vote in favor of recall amounted to 88 percent of the 200,000 votes cast, an unnaturally large majority. So it’s worth sorting out what might have provoked the Miami-Dade electorate. The Miami Herald reports:
Voters swept Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez out of office by a stunning margin Tuesday, capping a dramatic collapse for a politician who was given increased authority by voters four years ago to clean up much-maligned county government but was ushered out in the largest recall of a local politician in U.S. history.
The spectacular fall from power comes after two years of missteps, ranging from granting top staffers big pay hikes to construction of a publicly funded stadium for the Florida Marlins to implementation of a property-tax rate increase that outraged an electorate struggling through an ugly recession.
The Herald adds that County Commissioner Natacha Seijas was also recalled on Tuesday “in a resounding defeat. For 18 years she represented a district that includes Miami Lakes and Hialeah and was widely regarded as the most powerful politician on the commission.” The Herald’s implied explanation is that she stayed too long at the fair.
There is a name-that-party quality to the Herald’s story. I would have guessed from the story that Alvarez is a Democrat. I don’t think the story identifies Alvarez’s party, but he is a Republican. Nevertheless, Alvarez’s approach to the issues has a Democratic sheen (see below)
And would a Republican really engage in effrontery that is indicative of a bizarre sense of entitlement? Say it ain’t so: “In May, Alvarez came under fire for shopping for a new BMW 550i Grand Turismo sedan subsidized by an $800-a-month car allowance. He got the new car even as he already had two Chevy Suburbans to ferry him around on official business. Alvarez — earning a $233,123 salary and $92,187 in benefits — refused to get rid of the car allowance, saying he wasn’t ‘going to do something that is symbolic.'” He’s just not that kind of a guy.
The recall effort was the work of billionaire car dealer and former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman. The Herald provides background that is also relevant to events elsewhere: “The campaign to recall Alvarez was launched in October by billionaire businessman Norman Braman after Alvarez successfully pushed for a property tax-rate increase to help plug a gaping budget hole. At the same time, Alvarez pushed for labor contracts with employee unions that included pay hikes for most county workers this year.”
The Herald notes that “[w]hen Alvarez pushed for a 12 percent property tax-rate increase in September, it was the last straw for many voters. Particularly galling to many, Alvarez pushed for the increase while supporting labor agreements that included salary increases this year.” It adds that “efforts to demonize Braman didn’t resonate with voters. A recent poll for The Herald and its news partners by Bendixen & Amandi International showed respondents identified the Indian Creek billionaire as a principled community activist.”
The Herald story includes a video of Braman commenting on the recall results. We could use his help in points beyond Miami-Dade County, but I’m sure the New Yorker and the New York Times would be all over Braman’s case if he were to display any signs that he intends to take his show on the road and set his sights on a Democrat.
The Times’s account of the recall is here and is in fact worth a look. One can infer that the Times is not necessarily thrilled with the outcome despite the fact that a Republican was its most prominent victim. The Times hauls out a University of Miami professor for this comment: “A reasonable person would say there is a kind of radioactive crankiness in the air.” And this: “In times of duress, you want to be careful about what kind of car you drive.” Especially on the public dime.
Mayor Alvarez remains undaunted. He has posted a message to voters on the County Web site: “It has been an honor and privilege to serve this community for the past 35 years. The voters have spoken and a time of healing and reconciliation must now begin. No matter which side of the recall issue, one thing is certain: we all care very deeply about this community.” Not that he’s going to do anything symbolic about it.