Miami-Dade County Mayor Recalled

In Miami-Dade County, the voters have spoken. Mayor Carlos Alvarez was recalled Tuesday in a special election. A whopping 88 percent of Miami-Dade voters wanted Alvarez out. Robert Siegel speaks with Joy-Ann Reid, Miami Herald political columnist, about the Miami-Dade mayor recall.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Miami-Dade County, the voters have spoken. Mayor Carlos Alvarez was recalled yesterday in a special election. A whopping 88 percent of Miami-Dade voters voted Alvarez out.

Joy-Ann Reid is a political columnist for the Miami Herald, and she joins me now. Welcome.

Ms. JOY-ANN REID (Political Columnist, Miami Herald): Great to be here.

SIEGEL: And what happened? Why was Alvarez so unpopular?

Ms. REID: Well, you know, Carlos Alvarez exists at a time when voters are feeling really their power. I think around the country, you're seeing a lot of voter discontent with the way they're being led and feeling that politicians are taking them for granted.

And Carlos Alvarez did a couple of things that made people mad. One, he approved of a stadium for the Florida Marlins baseball team that essentially puts taxpayers on the hook for the cost of it at the same time that county services were threatening to be cut and at the same time that he pushed through a budget that raised property taxes.

And at the same time that he was doing that, Carlos Alvarez was calling for a five percent across-the-board cut in pay for most county workers but a 15 percent increase in the salaries of his own staff. So he did a lot of things to make people mad.

SIEGEL: And I gather there were wheels involved here, as well.

Ms. REID: Oh, absolutely. There's a gentleman named Norman Braman who has been an opponent of the stadium from the time that it was proposed and also of several other projects, including building an arts center in downtown Miami with what he felt should be dollars devoted to reversing urban blight.

So, Norman Braman unsuccessful tried to stop the stadium, but instead, he wound up mounting a petition effort to oust the guy who approved the stadium.

SIEGEL: Yeah, I was thinking of other wheels, actually, the one that the mayor was driving. I gather that was also a problem.

Ms. REID: Yes, he also is a guy who - you know, boys love their toys. And he was driving around some luxury vehicles and just really sort of - he's a brash character. He's a former police officer. He doesn't really have the light touch a lot of politicians need to have.

So a lot of the things that Alvarez did sort of rubbed up against a public that is really reeling from, you know, service cuts and from tax increases and from feeling like the little guy is always getting the short end of the stick while the privileged are getting off scot-free in this recession.

SIEGEL: And he was getting a big lease, I gather, for a fancy car. A few years ago, when the Democratic governor of California was recalled, that was very rare, but California's a state with a huge tradition of referenda and questions, ballot questions that people vote on. Florida, is this very unusual to have a recall petition?

Ms. REID: It's highly unusual. Florida is a state with I think 92 percent incumbency retention rates when it comes to elections. It's a very gerrymandered state. So this really is unprecedented.

But it comes at a time when you've just seen scandal after scandal in government. So I think that Miami-Dade voters just finally had enough.

SIEGEL: So who's the mayor of Miami-Dade now, or who's going to be the mayor?

Ms. REID: A little person called nobody at the moment. A lot of Carlos Alvarez' duties would have gone to the county manager, George Burgess. But he also resigned today. And so, a lot of the duties of the mayor will devolve either to the commission or to this interim manager.

Once the defeat of Alvarez is certified on Friday, the county commission will then have 30 days to decide if they're going to appoint someone, which would probably send people into the street - so I doubt they're going to do that - or hold a special election.

Once they decide that, in that 30-day period, they have 45 days to decide to create a special election. The interesting thing about that is, whether someone is appointed or whether they win a special election, that position will be up either in the primary race in 2012 or in tandem with the big presidential election in November of 2012. So this is setting up to be a very big jump-ball.

SIEGEL: Well, Joy-Ann Reid, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. REID: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Joy-Ann Reid is a political columnist for the Miami Herald. And the ousted mayor, Carlos Alvarez, sounded resigned today. At a news conference, he said it's very clear where the voters stand on the issues.

Former Mayor CARLOS ALVAREZ (Miami-Dade, Florida): They certainly want smaller government, and that's what they'll get. But they'll get it at a price.

SIEGEL: And the Miami-Dade mayor leaves at least one legacy, the new baseball stadium that he supported. The Marlins ballpark is scheduled to open for the 2012 season.

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