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Politicians in both parties should cast their eyes towards Miami if they believe they can continue to ignore the will of the electorate. Republican Mayor Carlos Alvarez who was first elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2008, was given the boot in a recall election that was stunning in terms of percentages. With one hundred percent of the vote counted, 88% of Miami-Dade voters decided enough was enough. What did Alvarez in? Tax hikes, raises for members of his inner circle, and an ill-fated decision to have taxpayers underwrite a portion of the building costs for a new Florida Marlins baseball stadium. “The voters have spoken and a time of healing and reconciliation must now begin,’’ said Alvarez in a statement released Tuesday night. “No matter which side of the recall issue, one thing is certain: We all care very deeply about this community… I wish the next mayor of Miami-Dade County much success.”
Alvarez was not the only politician ousted. County Commissioner Natacha Seijas was also recalled Tuesday in an equally 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. Known for her abrasiveness, Ms. Seijas had survived a previous recall campaign in 2006 and was re-elected with a comfortable margin in 2008. Both Alvarez and Seijas went to court to prevent a recall vote from occurring. The courts rejected two lawsuits by the mayor. The suit filed by the commissioner, who had fought to separate her recall election from the one including Mayor Alvarez, was dropped before it was ruled on by the judge. An aide for the commissioner said she would make no comments or issue any statement regarding her ouster. Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi was less reticent. ”Finally, after 18 years, the people of District 13 have restored democracy,” he said.
Alvarez’s recall effort was spearheaded by a local car dealer, billionaire Norman Braman. ”County voters have demonstrated by their ballots that they are tired of unaccountable officials, of being ignored and of being overtaxed in this very difficult recessionary time,” he said at a news conference. In 2008, Braman filed a suit to prevent a $3 billion dollar re-development plan which included putting taxpayers on the hook for a baseball stadium that, although partially funded by taxpayers would be privately owned by the team. Braman’s attorneys claimed that funding for the 37,000-seat, $525 million stadium with a retractable roof and parking garage should have been put before the voters in a referendum. The Marlins had threatened to relocate to another city if they didn’t get a permanent home in Miami. Mr. Braman lost the lawsuit, and Mayor Alvarez contended that his subsequent funding of the recall election was a personal vendetta. Braman denied the charge. ”This is a referendum for change,” said Mr. Braman who, like the Mayor, is a registered Republican.
If it was a personal vendetta it was one heartily supported by the voters even before the election took place. Within a three month period, Braman, who spent $1 million of his own money organizing the recall, submitted approximately 114,000 signatures to the Clerk of Courts, of which 95,499 were certified as valid. That figure represented more than twice the number needed to engender a recall. And while the stadium funding generated a lot of anger it is likely that the other two issues which did in the Mayor were equally upsetting. Florida is one of the states that has been hit hardest by the housing boom and bust that led to the current recession. Property values have fallen over 40 percent, and yet Alvarez raised property taxes, claiming it was the only viable option, other than cutting social services, that could be implemented to close a $444 million budget gap. It should be noted that the taxpayer share for the baseball stadium is “$409 million in loans loaded with balloon payments and long grace periods. By 2049, when the debt is due, the county will have paid billions,” according to Yahoosports.com
As a result, two-fifths of the county’s homeowners were hit with an average hike of 13 percent, at a time when the jobless rate stands at 12 percent which is substantially higher than the national average. ”I’m fed up with my taxes being raised–we’re all suffering,” said Miguel Sanchez, a 33-year-old computer programmer from Doral, Florida. Mr. Sanchez estimated his property taxes would increase $800 this year to $4,800.
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