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12 posts from April 5, 2013

April 05, 2013

A message from Joe Garcia: $550k cash haul shows he's tough to beat in battle for House

@MarcACaputo

With a whopping $550,000 hauled in his first three months in office, Miami-Dade Democrat Joe Garcia signaled he’s a top freshmen fundraiser in Congress.

And the money, the lifeblood of campaigns, sends a message to Republicans: He won’t be easy to beat in 2014.

Garcia’s self-reported fundraising totals rival that of fellow Democratic freshman Patrick Murphy of Jupiter who also said he raised $550,000. But Murphy’s far more vulnerable.

Both Florida freshmen are considered at-risk, even by Democrats. They’re on the frontlines of the battle for the U.S. House – and therefore President Obama’s agenda. Just 16 Republicans stand in the way of Democrats controlling the House and all of Congress.

“My job is not to worry about people’s political perceptions. My job is to represent the people,” said Garcia, who bested a scandal-plagued Rep. David Rivera by nearly 11 percentage points in November.
Republicans say they won’t let Garcia rest.

They say they need the right candidate and the absence of the Obama voter-turnout machine to beat the Democrat. Florida Republicans tend to fare better than Democrats during non-presidential election years.

Continue reading "A message from Joe Garcia: $550k cash haul shows he's tough to beat in battle for House" »

Whistleblower alleges agency circumvented rules to hire MacNamara's choice

@Britt_Alana

(Update below) Leaders at the state's Department of Elder Affairs circumvented hiring procedures and appointed an attorney with a criminal history at the urging of Gov. Rick Scott's then-chief of staff, according to a whistleblower lawsuit filed in Leon County court.

Attorney Donald Bell was hired for the $98,000-a-year top-level post despite a drug conviction and two arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol, the lawsuit alleges. He was recommended by former Scott chief of staff Steve MacNamara, emails show.

The lawsuit, filed by former human resources employee Frances Brooks, says Elder Affairs secretary Charles Corley passed over other applicants and allowed Bell to skip key background screenings, shielding his record from other employees while bypassing safeguards to protect elderly people served by the agency. More here. 

Update: Department of Elder Affairs’ Communications Director Ashley Marshall released the follow statement in response to the article:

 The facts presented in Tampa Bay Times are inaccurate. Donald Bell was not allowed to “skip background screenings” when hired at the Department of Elder Affairs. In accordance with Florida Statutes and Department policy, a Level II Background Screening was conducted on January 6, 2012. Because of his position in executive management at the Department, a second more extensive background investigation began on January 13, 2012. It is common practice for employees to begin work while background results are still pending. During the hiring process, Bell was forthcoming to Department leadership about his history. With his pardon, the offenses in his record do not prohibit him from employment.

Big staff changes at RPOF: Grissom leaves top post for FL Chamber, regional roster announced

@MarcACaputo

Big changes at the Republican Party of Florida. Here's the press release:

Tallahassee -- Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry today announced key staff departures and arrivals.

After leading the Republican Party of Florida since October 2011, Mike Grissom, the party's Executive Director will become Senior Director of Political Affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. During his tenure as Executive Director, Grissom was instrumental in helping Curry continue reforms at the RPOF after the untimely passing of Chairman Dave Bitner.

"Mike Grissom is not only my friend, but he is one of Florida's most respected political campaign operatives," said Curry. "Through triumphs and challenges, Mike has been a steady leader for our party, we are sorry to see him go. The Florida Chamber has made an excellent choice, and I know he will be an invaluable asset to their mission of creating economic growth and opportunity for Florida."

Continue reading "Big staff changes at RPOF: Grissom leaves top post for FL Chamber, regional roster announced" »

Rep. Wilson claims credit for FAA reversal on Brow airport tower closure

Updated below with an explanation from Wilson:

"Congresswoman Frederica Wilson successfully postpones closure of the North Perry airport tower," reads a press release today from Miami Representative today. 

Wilson's press release states that after her month-long campaign to save the tower, she was notified this morning by the FAA that the tower had been granted a temporary reprieve. She omitted that this was a decision by the FAA to delay closing 149 towers across the county.

Yesterday, Wilson held a presser at the tower to bash the sequester and emphasized the Republicans' role in it without mentionning that along with both parties she voted for the Budget Control Act that led to the sequester. Broward County  had agreed to backfill most of the FAA cuts to maintain the majority of the hours at the tower.

So was there anything special about the protests by Wilson that convinced the FAA to grant that reprieve until June 15?

We couldn't get a direct answer to that question from the FAA. But an important reason is noted in the FAA's press release: the plan had led to legal challenges. Airport operators in multiple states including Florida had filed lawsuits and Republican and Democratic politicians nationwide decried the cuts, according to news reports.

"This additional time will allow the agency to attempt to resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions," the FAA press release stated. "As part of the tower closure implementation process, the agency continues to consult with airports and operators and review appropriate risk mitigations. Extending the transition deadline will give the FAA and airports more time to execute the changes to the National Airspace System." 

We spoke with Wilson directly this evening to ask why she was taking credit when the FAA cited this as a national decision based on legal challenges.

She said she spoke with Roderick D. Hall, FAA Assistant Administrator for Government and Industry Affairs, this morning about the cuts. The FAA had planned to shut down North Perry airport’s tower this weekend -- Broward’s funding wasn’t going to kick in until later this month.

“We gave them a threat,” Wilson said. “The threat was if they came to shut the tower down I would personally be there to stop them.”

She said Hall called back later in the day and told her about the decision to delay the closures.

“He said ‘Congresswoman go ahead, you can take the credit. It's from pressure, pressure pressure from Congress people like yourself,” Wilson said. “He didn’t mention anything about lawsuits.”

The funding cut was intended to help the FAA meet its $637 million cut due to sequestration.

 

 

South Florida, national polls show support for stricter gun laws

South Florida residents overwhelmingly support gun control -- even among Republicans and members of the National Rifle Association, according to a survey released this week.

The telephone survey of 600 residents in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties found that 90 percent favored background checks for gun purchases, and that 86 percent support requiring gun owners to register their firearms. 

Nearly 75 percent of South Florida NRA members support background checks -- and half, or 52 percent, support requiring gun owners to register their firearms, the poll said. The results have a margin of error of plus- or minus-4 percent.

The poll was commissioned by the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention, a group founded by the parents of a Miami woman who was murdered in 1995 in St. Louis while attending college at Washington University. It was co-sponsored by the University of Miami's Community and Educational Well-Being Research Center and conducted in late March by a Stuart-based research firm, Insights, Inc. 

Continue reading "South Florida, national polls show support for stricter gun laws" »

Florida: Miami Dolphins can pay for referendum on stadium renovation

@PatriciaMazzei

The Florida division of elections opined Friday that the Miami Dolphins can pay Miami-Dade County for the costs of holding a special countywide election to ask voters to approve using public funds to renovate Sun Life Stadium.

The opinion clears the way for Miami-Dade to set the referendum next month, if and when County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross reach a deal on how much the football team would receive from mainland hotel taxes. The Dolphins have asked to increase the tax to 7 percent from 6 percent. They also want an additional $3 million annual sales-tax rebate from the state.

"As I have stated before, the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County should not be forced to shoulder the cost of this election since it is being brought about by a request from a private party," Gimenez said in a statement Friday afternoon. "This is an important ruling that will give Miami-Dade County voters final approval over whether tourist development tax dollars should be used for this purpose without having our taxpayers bear the cost of the election."

Gimenez had requested the opinion two weeks ago. The Dolphins have said they would pay for the referendum if they were legally allowed to do so.

"We find nothing in Florida law to prohibit Miami-Dade County from requiring a private party to pay the cost of a referendum in the manner that you describe in your request," wrote Maria Matthews, director of the division of elections, which is within the Florida Department of State.

Continue reading "Florida: Miami Dolphins can pay for referendum on stadium renovation" »

PolitiFact Editor Bill Adair to leave Tampa Bay Times to join Duke University faculty

From the Tampa Bay Times:

WASHINGTON — Bill Adair, founding editor of the Tampa Bay Times' prize-winning PolitiFact website and the paper's Washington bureau chief, is leaving this summer to join Duke University as the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy.

Alex Leary, an award-winning senior reporter for the Times, succeeds Adair as Washington bureau chief, Times Editor Neil Brown announced Thursday.

A national search for the next PolitiFact editor will begin soon, Brown said, adding that Adair will continue a relationship with PolitiFact as a contributing editor. PolitiFact, theTimes' fact-checking operation, was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize in 2009, has won numerous online journalism awards and has expanded the fact-checking of political speech through more than 10 partnerships around the country.

Read more from Tampa Times here

From Duke University press release:

Bill Adair, creator and editor of PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning website of the Tampa Bay Times, has been appointed the Knight Professor of Computational Journalism at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy.

"Bill Adair is a terrific hire for Sanford and Duke, and he follows a long line of endowed chairs in communications, including David Broder, Alex Jones, Susan Tifft, Bill Raspberry, Sarah Cohen and Phil Bennett," said Bruce Kuniholm, dean of the Sanford School. "His track record demonstrates his capacity to develop a vision of how good journalism can survive and continue to play the crucial role it does in crafting public policy. He has a spirit of engagement that will make him extraordinarily likeable and effective as a teacher and mentor to students."

Read Duke University press release here

 

The sky isn't falling: Brow planned for sequester so seniors won't lose meals -- at least this year

U.S. Rep.

Frederica Wilson

, D-Miami, held a sequester-bashing presser Thursday at the North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines to protest the feds yanking dollars for air traffic controllers at small airports nationwide. She also mentioned that other programs will take a hit including Meals on Wheels.

 

But the sequester’s impact on Meals on Wheels can vary from county to county depending on how the program is managed. In Broward at least for 2013, it won’t mean anyone will lose a meal, said Mark Adler, director for Broward Meals on Wheels.

“We are very fortunate,” Adler said. “We anticipated this and we made cuts to avoid having to reduce the number of meals.”

Adler anticipates a cut of about $300,000 as of July 1 which represents an 8 percent cut for congregate dining and 5 percent cut for homebound seniors. About two-thirds of the $5.2 million annual budget is federally funded with local communities helping make up the difference.

The program serves more than 10,000 people a year -- congregate clients get five meals per week while clients who get meals at home get 10 meals per week. (To serve more clients, the program found in recent years it had to cut back from 14 meals a week to 10.)

Broward Meals on Wheels left staff positions unfilled and asked for clients who could afford to make contributions, Adler said. That means the program won’t have to reduce the number of meals or clients this year.

“Now going forward that’s going to be a challenge,” Adler said.

The publicity about Meals on Wheels programs slashing meals has created anxiety.

“Our clients really started freaking out when they heard that it was on CNN,” Adler said. “We got calls immediately -- am I going to lose my meals?”

Though Broward seniors will get their meals this year, Adler expressed concern about future funding which he says has remained flat-lined for years and will now decrease.

“It’s kind of like waiting for a trainwreck -- you see demand is going to be increasing and dollars are decreasing. ... Sixteen thousand people turn 60 years old each day in this country. Broward County has one of the highest concentrations of people turning 60.”

Mike Elwell, Broward’s human services director, said he didn’t know if the county will backfill the anticipated lost federal dollars for Meals on Wheels. (That seems unlikely since the program has a plan for this year.) Earlier this week in response to sequester cuts at the North Perry airport, the county agreed to provide about $43,000 a month to keep the tower staffed 10 hours a day, down from the current 14.


 

Pit crew of night thieves steals tires from former Miami lawmaker's car in Coral Gables

@PatriciaMazzei IMG_0132

Marcelo Llorente stepped outside Monday morning -- April Fools Day -- to find his leased Mercedes, parked in the driveway of his Coral Gables home, on cinder blocks. All four tires were gone.

"I've never seen anything like it," he said. "It's just crazy."

The car was parked "five yards" from his front door, Llorente said. The family dog, a Maltese named Lulu, had woken him up twice in the middle of the night, barking. He got up, turned on the indoor lights to look outside, but didn't see anyone.

"I didn't think to look down" at his tires, he said. "Now I know to trust my dog!"

After reporting the brazen theft, Llorente said police told him the tires had also been removed that same night from a car belonging to one of his neighbors a few houses away.

"This is a professional job," Llorente said.

Llorente, a Republican former state representative, works as a lawyer and is one of the Miami Dolphins' Tallahassee lobbyists. He recently moved to the Gables from Kendall (where he never had his car tires stolen, he said). 

News of the theft traveled quickly among alarmed political-types in the Gables. A city election takes place Tuesday, and crime has become a point of contention between Mayor Jim Cason and challenger Ralph Cabrera. The police chief has said the overall crime rate is down, but has also acknowledged that residents are worried.

Photo courtesy of Marcelo Llorente

Miami-Dade GOP opposes Dolphins stadium effort, calling it 'corporate welfare for billionaires'

@PatriciaMazzei

In a troubling sign for the Miami Dolphins, the Miami-Dade Republican Party approved a strongly worded resolution Thursday night opposing the football team's pursuit of public tax dollars to help fund a renovation to their Miami Gardens stadium.

"Tax-payers should never be the source of corporate welfare for billionaires, and should not be responsible for the funds to renovate Sun Life Stadium for the Miami Dolphins," the resolution says.

The measure also calls on state Reps. Eddy Gonzalez and Erik Fresen, the Miami Republicans carrying and supporting legislation for the Dolphins in Tallahassee, "to immediately withdraw sponsorship and support."

The Dolphins are seeking a $3 million annual sales-tax rebate from the state and an increase in mainland Miami-Dade hotel taxes to 7 percent from 6 percent to fund about 43 percent of a $390 million stadium renovation. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross would use private dollars to pay for the rest.

The team is still in negotiations with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez -- a Republican in a nonpartisan post -- to reach a deal on the hotel taxes. Both sides have agreed to put the tax hike to voters in a referendum. The Dolphins want the vote to take place May 14, a week before NFL owners award the 50th and 51st Super Bowls.

Despite being approved with a split 37-34 vote, the Republican Executive Committee resolution should worry the Dolphins. The party knows how to quickly organize voters -- many of them who vote by mail -- for elections. It's the first sign of organized opposition. Another Republican mayor, Ed MacDougall of Cutler Bay, has traveled to Tallahassee to speak against the team's proposal.

The Dolphins say there's no problem with the vote, however.

"The largely internal, personal politics of the Miami-Dade REC, which drove the 37-34 vote, has no impact on the efforts to modernize Sun Life Stadium. As the people of Miami-Dade learn more about the unprecedented public-private partnership where the Dolphins will pay more than a majority of the costs, will repay approximately $167 million to the state and county, and will pay for 100 percent of any cost overruns during construction, the momentum continues to grow to modernize Sun Life Stadium. We are confident that the people of Miami-Dade will support bringing Super Bowls, college championships and international soccer in Miami by voting to modernize Sun Life Stadium," spokesman Anthony Bustamante, a Republican who attended the meeting, said in a written statement.

--WITH MARC CAPUTO