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13 posts from January 7, 2014

January 07, 2014

Are pashminas to Joe Garcia what hats are to Frederica Wilson?


Washington reporters have gotten a kick out of Frederica Wilson's glamorous hats ever since she was elected to Congress in 2010. At one point, she even made the cover of the Washington Post magazine.

Now BuzzFeed -- which has highlighted Wilson's fashion sense in the past -- has caught onto the latest haute couture from another Miami Democrat in the nation's Capitol: Joe Garcia's pashmina scarves.

They're "fashionable and functional," Garcia spokeswoman Nicole Cueto told the popular website, which on Tuesday published one of its signature listicles titled, "This Congressman Uses D.C.'s Freezing Weather As An Excuse To Look Fabulous." (Subhead: "Scarf. YOLO.")

The piece appears to have been inspired by Garcia's tweet earlier Tuesday featuring a powder blue number for the 10-degree D.C. weather:

BuzzFeed even asked how many different pashminas Garcia owns. Alas, Cueto said she could not say.

Bill Nelson asks - again - if feds can investigate Florida's unemployment website


Concerned by continuous media reports about the botched debut of Florida’s $63 million unemployment benefits website,U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Tuesday repeated his request that federal officials investigate and, if necessary, intervene.

“Any continued problems in processing unemployment claims only delays financial help to those who need it most due to misfortune,” Nelson said in a letter to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez. “I would appreciate hearing back to you by Jan. 14.”

Nelson first asked Perez to investigate Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity’s Oct. 15 launch of the CONNECT web on Oct. 30. By then, thousands of recipients complained they couldn’t log on or contact DEO employees for help.

In Tuesday’s letter, Nelson says Perez told him then that the DEO promised that the website’s unresolved issues would be “fixed and the system stabilized by mid-to-late December.”

“You also noted, ‘should we learn any additional information suggesting that Florida’s issues are not being resolved, we will work with DEO to ensure the state is employing methods of administration that result in unemployment benefits being paid when due,’” Nelson said in the letter.

But he said recent reports in the Times/Herald and Tuesday’s front page story in the New York Times led him to conclude the problems are not resolved.

“In light of these reports, I now request that you look further into whether the state is doing everything it can to meet the needs of all Floridians eligible to receive unemployment benefits in a timely manner,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he questions whether the DEO is in violation of the Social Security Act by not providing “full payment of unemployment compensation when due.”

If Florida is found in violation, Nelson asked Perez to determine what actions the federal government can take to “ensure timely payment of claims due Floridians.”

Genting offers plan for a slots-only casino aimed at winning horse racing support

Miami Herald demolishedGenting Resorts World announced Monday that it wants to stake its fortunes on a scaled-back, slots-only resort on the Miami waterfront, a suggestion that the company may be prepared to sidetrack the glitzy destination resort that it planned two years ago.

Under the proposal, the Malaysian gambling company would enter into a four-way partnership that would allow it to use a permit owned by Gulfstream racetrack to open a slots casino at the Biscayne Bay property once owned by the Miami Herald.

If approved by legislators or state gambling regulators, the permit would allow Genting’s Resorts World Miami to open 2,000 slot machines and off-track betting. The proceeds would be used to augment thoroughbred purses at Gulfstream’s racetrack and go into a non-profit company to benefit the other partners: Florida horse breeders, owners and trainers. Genting and Gulfstream would keep some of the revenue as administrative fees.

“I think it’s game-changing,” said Lonny Powell, CEO of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association. “This is the first partnership where the revenue stream and investment would actually go back into the horses.”

Gulfstream has argued that a permit it obtained last year for a non-profit subsidiary allows it to operate in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties because of property it owns that straddles the county line. But state regulators have rejected that interpretation and Genting would have to get legislators to clarify the law, get partimutuel regulators to change the ruling or take the matter to court to obtain the permit.

The concept is a “less lucrative option” than the $3.1 billion resort on 13.9 acres originally sought by the company in 2011, said Genting lobbyist Brian Ballard, but allows the company to work with the horseracing industry. More here.

Photo: Former Miami Herald building being dismantled

Florida executes Miami triple murderer


STARKE -- Miami triple murderer Thomas Knight was executed Tuesday evening, offering no apology to his victims’ families or last words at all.

He was pronounced dead at 6:45 p.m.

Knight loaded up on sweets and visited with a friend earlier in the day and his demeanor before the execution was calm, a Florida corrections spokeswoman said Tuesday afternoon.

Knight ate portions of sweet potato pie, coconut cake, banana nut bread, vanilla ice cream, strawberry-and-butter pecan ice cream and Fritos corn chips — all washed down by a quarter of a bottle of Sprite.

The condemned inmate – who has been awaiting execution for nearly four decades – visited with an unidentified friend Tuesday, one day after meeting with four of his sisters.

More here.

Challenger launches campaign against Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell


Levine kickoffSurrounded by nearly 100 well-wishers bundled up in a chilly Tuesday afternoon, Daniella Levine Cava jumped into the political race to challenge Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell.

Drawing a parallel to the time after 1992's Hurricane Andrew, which devastated the South Miami-Dade district she's seeking to represent, Levine Cava urged her early supporters to join forces to improve their community -- and help her get elected.

"That storm could have torn us apart, but instead it became the tie that bound us," she said. "We can achieve very big results without a big storm."

Before her remarks, Levine Cava was endorsed by Katy Sorenson, Bell's predecessor who represented District 8 for 16 years. Now the head of the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami, she is still beloved by progressive politicians county activists, many of whom attended Tuesday's campaign launch.

Continue reading "Challenger launches campaign against Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell" »

Words matter when avoiding an ethics violation


A terrific example of how absurd Tallahassee’s political theater can get, where stagecraft presents up as down, right as left, was on full display Tuesday.

It came in the form of a Tuesday press release from Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando. The one-page release was issued a few hours after the 53-year-old was chosen as the next executive director of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority.

Here’s Precourt’s aw shucks reaction, according to the release from his Florida House office:

“I am honored to have the support of the OOCEA board for the position of Executive Director, and look forward to further discussing the opportunity with Chairman (Walter) Ketcham. At this time, I remain an active member of the Florida House while my family and I thoughtfully consider the options and our best path forward. I will make an announcement regarding my future with the Florida Legislature and this opportunity at the appropriate time.”

The uninitiated reader would conclude that Precourt was definitely flattered that he has the “support” of the authority, but now has to huddle with his wife and five kids and figure out what to do next. Should he take the job? So much to decide!



Continue reading "Words matter when avoiding an ethics violation" »

Dems may tap Broward Sen. Ring for CFO candidate

Update included below:


Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Parkland Democrat and former founding partner of Yahoo, said he expects to decide within a week to 10 days about whether to run for CFO this year.

Ring says that state party leaders have encouraged him to run now that CFO Jeff Atwater is interviewing for the FAU presidency. (Ring applied for the FAU job too but did not get an interview.)

Ring said he won’t have to resign his state senate seat to run. (Hat tip to @fineout for pointing out under Florida law Ring can't qualify to run for more than one office.)

He had hoped to hold that seat until 2016 and then run for CFO in 2018 but the news about Atwater has potentially sped up his plans.

“I have to determine if the timing is right,” Ring said.

The benefit of running now would be competing in a campaign that would last less than a year. But Ring said that he also has to consider the impact on his four children, ages 7 to 13.

Ring is an attractive candidate to the Democratic Party because of his business experience at Yahoo and personal wealth -- he listed his net worth at about $14 million as of the end of 2012. Ring hinted that he would invest some of his own fortune in the race.

“If I was getting in it I’d get in it to win,” he said. “I’ve done that before.”

Ring has made nearly $900,000 in campaign contributions over the past decade -- a good portion of that loans to his own campaigns, according to state campaign finance records.

Broward hasn’t had much success in fronting statewide candidates in recent years. Former sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, is running a longshot race for governor. State Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, has raised about $21,000 in his race for Attorney General while incumbent Republican Pam Bondi has raised more than a half million.

In addition to dealing with financial matters, the CFO gets a vote on Florida’s four-person Cabinet which deals with hot topics including restoring the rights of felons to vote after their release from prison. Ring said that he supported former Gov. Charlie Crist’s efforts to make it easier for felons to regain that right to vote -- a move that was reversed under Gov. Rick Scott.

“For the most part I believe if you serve your time you should be able to move on in society,” he said.

Read more about the other potential CFO candidates here.



Leadership Broward CEO applies for Broward school board


Laurie Sallarulo, CEO of Leadership Broward, has applied for an appointment to the Broward School Board. Sallarulo, who is Hispanic, lives in Fort Lauderdale and is a registered Republican.

Gov. Rick Scott has not announced any timeline to replace board member Katie Leach who left her post in December due to her husband getting a job in California. 

Previous applicants include Bayview elementary PTA president Heather Brinkworth, retired principal Wanda Ross (wife of Judge Dale Ross) and surgeon Harry Moon, past chair of the business group the Broward Workshop. Alexis Yarbrough, former general counsel to the state Department of Transportation and wife of Shane Strum, a former Gov. Charlie Crist chief of staff, has not applied so far but is considering it.

TaxWatch identifies top-performing school leaders

Miami-Dade County is home to five of the six most effective principals in the state, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the non-profit Florida TaxWatch and the Florida State University Learning Systems Institute.

The analysis was based on student achievement gains in math and reading. It considered data from more than 3,000 schools serving high percentages of English Language Learners and students from low-income families. 

"Nobody applied or was nominated for this award," TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro said. "It was: Don't ask us. We'll call you."

Five of the six top-performing principals came from Miami-Dade: Tangela Goa, of Van E. Blanton Elementary; Linda Amica-Roberts, of Coconut Palm K-8 Academy; Anna Hernandez, of M.A. Milam K-8 Center; Guillermo Munoz, of Westland Hialeah Senior High; and Verena Cabrera, of Hialeah High.

The sixth, Yvonne Reins, works at Rodney B. Cox Elementary School in Pasco County.

Each will be honored with at least $5,000 at a ceremony in Tallahassee on Jan. 23. 

The Elite Principals Awards are part of a larger initiative to improve student achievement at high-risk schools, Calabro said. The six principals will participate in a four-year study to identify the traits, habits and practices of top-performing school leaders.

Calabro hopes the study will inform future education policy and principal preparation programs.

"What we're really trying to learn is how they beat the odds," he said. "By replicating these behaviors, we believe we will improve student achievement across the state.

Reins, the principal of Cox Elementary, gave the credit to her staff.

"The teachers are very dedicated and they have a lot of tenacity to work with these students," she said. "They truly care about them."

Florida inmate awaiting execution for murder of Miami cop dies on Death Row


STARKE — Robert Patten, whose murder of rookie Miami police officer Nathaniel Broom in September 1981 landed him on Death Row, has died in prison of natural causes.

The 56-year-old had been at the Florida State Prison awaiting execution for the murder since 1989. Patten had been at the prison’s infirmary with an undisclosed ailment before he died Monday, according to a corrections spokeswoman.

“Although Patten will not be put to death for the murder of Officer Broom, he will now have to answer to a higher authority,” Miami Police Maj. Delrish Moss, a department spokesman, said on Tuesday. “This closes a bitter chapter in our city’s history and we can all sleep better knowing this killer will never again walk out streets.”

Broom, 24, was an Army veteran who was raised in Overtown and had wanted to be a police officer since he was a child. After his death, the department named Broom officer of the year.

The death of an African-American officer at the hands of a white armed robber came at a sensitive time in Miami, which had just experienced race riots the year before following the acquittals of officers accused of fatally beating a black motorist.

More here.