J Pat Carter/AP
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez. J Pat Carter/AP
While the successful recall of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez Tuesday is enough to make many local officials around the nation shudder, perhaps the most important take-away lesson of Florida is that in the current political climate, they'd better be prepared for a voter backlash if they continue to operate in business-as-usual mode.
Alvarez, a Republican and a former head of the Miami-Dade police, entered office in 2004 as a reformer.
But his leadership style and administration lost its reformist luster after a series of missteps.
A Miami Herald piece laid out some of the reasons why 88 percent of the Miami-Dade voters who voted Tuesday cast ballots against Alvarez.
In 2007 Alvarez launched a successful petition drive in which voters granted him strong-mayor powers, giving him direct control of the county bureaucracy. He was given the increased authority in large part after arguing that only an empowered executive could tame a massive government plagued by scandal and mismanagement.
But voters grew disenchanted as reforms were slow in coming and Alvarez himself continued to spark voter ire.
In March 2009 Alvarez successfully pushed through a controversial deal to use hundreds of millions of dollars in public money to build a new ballpark for the Florida Marlins. Then in August 2009 The Miami Herald disclosed that as Alvarez was calling for shared sacrifice amid the searing economic downturn he handed large raises to close aides, including Chief of Staff Dennis Morales, whose 11 percent pay hike put his yearly salary at $206,783.
In December the newspaper reported that Morales was working in Panama as a private consultant on taxpayer time. Alvarez, demoted his longtime confidant but troubles continued. By spring 2010 Alvarez was tagged in a controversy involving longtime ally Frank Vecin, a county police division chief who used a $5 million fund meant to crack down on polluters to buy flat-screen TVs, SUVs and assault rifles. Vecin stepped down last year amid allegations of mixing private consulting with his government work.
There were other examples of behavior that don't seem like the actions of a politician sensitive to the mood of this particular moment in the long sweep of American politics.
The Herald also mentions Alvarez shopping for a new BMW partially financed by his official $800-a-month car allowance. And this while he already had two official vehicles.
This would be problematic for many big city mayors. But in a county like Miami-Dade and a state like Florida, among the hardest hit by the foreclosure and economic crisis, this seems like political suicide.
And so it was.
Alvarez's recall was one of many such efforts around the country which are being tracked by Joshua Spivak, a lawyer, on The Recall Elections Blog. Spivack wrote his master's thesis on recall elections.