Voters In Miami-Dade To Vote On Mayor Recall

Voters in Florida's largest county, Miami-Dade, go to the polls Tuesday to choose whether to recall their mayor. The effort is being led by a deep-pocketed local businessman who disagreed with the mayor's budget. The effort is another reflection of an angry electorate.

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Voters in Florida's largest county, Miami-Dade, go to the polls tomorrow to decide the fate of their mayor who is facing a recall. A local businessman with deep pockets is leading the recall effort. His chief complaint with the mayor is his budget.

Phil Latzman reports from member station WLRN that voters struggling with high unemployment and rampant foreclosures appeared to be in a recall state of mind.

PHIL LATZMAN: From Al Capone's bribes to voting by the dead, this area has a checkered political past. But it's not because of corruption or scandal that Miami-Dade's mayor finds himself in such big trouble. It's a budget.

Mayor CARLOS ALVAREZ (Miami-Dade County, Florida): I knew that recommending the budget was not very popular. As soon as I recommended the budget, there is a billionaire in this community that said I'm going to recall you.

LATZMAN: That's Carlos Alvarez, twice-elected mayor of Miami-Dade who now finds himself fighting to finish his final 18 months in office. The aggressive recall campaign is being laid in finance by billionaire businessman Norman Braman.

Mr. NORMAN BRAMAN (Businessman): I believe removing Mayor Alvarez will demand meaningful change in the way business is done here.

LATZMAN: Braman, who owns a chain of car dealerships nationwide based in Miami, lost a court battle two years ago to prevent local politicians from using hotel tax to build a Florida Marlins new baseball stadium. Last year, the mayor recommended a budget that included a property tax hike and raises for county employees.

That spurred Norman Braman into action again, bankrolling an effort to collect and verify nearly 100,000 signatures to force the election. He's now spent nearly one million of his own money to push the recall.

(Soundbite of recall campaign ad)

Unidentified Woman: Mayor Alvarez has asked for a shared sacrifice, but he raised taxes, 178 million, while giving huge pay raises to top county government workers. And this is just one of 20 reasons why we need to vote yes to recall Mayor Alvarez.

LATZMAN: That message seems to be resonating with early voters like Cynthia Bello(ph) and Natalie Dela Rosa.

Ms. CYNTHIA BELLO: I voted to have him recalled. I don't think he's done anything good for the city. My taxes went up, way up.

Ms. NATALIE DELA ROSA: I voted to recall the mayor. He's playing abuse of power constantly, and I'm getting tired of it.

LATZMAN: A recent poll found two-thirds of registered voters in favor of removing the mayor. Fernand Amandi is with Miami-based public opinion research firm Bendixen & Amandi, which conducted the survey.

Mr. FERNAND AMANDI (Vice President, Bendixen & Amandi): I think what you're seeing here in Florida is a vehicle to which the voters can kind of express their pent-up anger over a series of missteps, in this case, by the local officeholders, and I think they're going to set a tremendous precedent.

LATZMAN: Miami is still recovering from the depths of the recession, with official unemployment at 12 percent and home foreclosure rates among the highest in the nation. Some, though, feel Mayor Alvarez is being scapegoated.

Longtime Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm.

Mr. FRED GRIMM (Columnist, Miami Herald): Look, we've had kickback scandals, voting scandals, robbery scandals, dummying scandals, sex scandals, drug scandals, gambling scandals. Somehow, things are slightly out of proportion and a little weird for this particular county to go Tunisian and toss out a mayor who's known as an honest man.

LATZMAN: Norman Braman acknowledges the mayor has committed no crime, but argues he should still be recalled.

Mr. BRAMAN: I say get out there and vote yes for recall, yes for an opportunity to change the direction of this community. It's time to stop complaining and do something about it.

LATZMAN: If the recall effort succeeds, county commissioners could either call for a special election or appoint someone to serve for the next 18 months.

For NPR News, I'm Phil Latzman in Miami.

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