J.D., University of Florida
Currently – City of Miami Commissioner, District 4, Vice‐Chairman, Miami‐Dade Transportation Planning Organization; President, Miami-Dade County League of Cities. Previously – founded and ran a real estate firm
Editor’s note: Everyone is treating Francis Suarez as the presumed winner, including media outlets. The other candidates are not campaigning. We’re following suit and only interviewing him, although there are three other candidates on your ballot.
1. The City of Miami has tremendous income disparity. What are your plans for prioritizing inclusive development, particularly expanding the scope of affordable housing?
The piece of legislation I introduced [as a commissioner?] created 1,000 units of affordable housing. I worked as chairman of the city commission to bond out $60 million of funding for the CRA. Based on those two pieces of legislation, we’ve created 1,600 units.
I support waiving impact fees for affordable housing, eliminating permit fees for low-income housing. I voted in favor of a mixed income piece proffered by another commissioner. I think the city’s in a great place to be progressive on this issue. It is one of the biggest issues we’ve grappled with. It’s the second most expensive market by income in the nation. Expansion of the CRA could create hundreds of millions of dollars in affordable housing. Miami Forever could create another $100 million. We need a collaborative relationship with the county. The Overtown CRA and County has 30 acres of land, many of which can be developed for affordable housing.
I think we have to continue to find ways to get resources and also we have to deal with the scarcity of land issue, which is driving up housing costs.
What I tried to do as president of the League of Cities is support Barbara Jordan’s countywide legislation [on mandatory inclusionary zoning]. We got to a point that the League felt comfortable the legislation was tailored to different cities… unfortunately that didn’t pass. My perspective has been to continually incentivize these developments.
2. Do you think Miami is on the right track for addressing sea level rise? Are we taking drastic enough steps?
I think we’re on the right track. I think it begins with the recognition that we are a co-applicant with the county and Miami Beach for 100 Resilient Cities. We hired resilience officers and got a $2 million grant from the state to update the stormwater master plan, taking into account sea level rise.
We’ll be one of the first cities in the state, certainly, to take on the issue of sea level rise in the stormwater master plan. I want to work very closely with the Rockefeller Foundation to make sure when we update that plan that we have their support so we can become a poster child for how we deal with sea level rise. We’ve felt near-term shocks, like the hurricane, and we have to do a better job dealing with it.
Water is not an enemy as some cities treat it – they pump it out, elevate their roads. For me, water should be considered an asset. We should be able to harvest it, re-utilize it. That’s what cities like Copenhagen do. I think we need to be a trendsetter in that industry.
3. Where do you stand on the Miami Forever bond program?
I think we need the resources. I’m kind of in a strange place. I voted against putting it on the ballot this year because I didn’t think it was done properly. Our stormwater master plan hadn’t yet been updated. In terms of the way it was executed, I voted against it, but I do feel we need it and I feel we need the resources from it…. When you put a tax in front of the voters – a general obligation bond is a tax however you look at it – it has to be done very carefully. I don’t want the Miami Forever bond to be a Miami-for-never bond and fail.
I’m hopeful that our residents have enough faith in us, despite some of the flaws, to have those resources… I will do everything in my power to make sure those resources are spent on what they should be spent on and not something else.
4. What can we do to get people out of their cars? Particularly to make the city safer for cyclists and pedestrians?
Executing on the SMART Plan is one thing. Continuing to promote and support complete street developments is part of that. So is working with ride-sharing companies to integrate them better with our transit system. I think continuing to densify our corridors – like development along the Metrorail, Omni and Metromover – to change the culture of how we live and get around.
5. The SMART Plan is really struggling right now. Mayor Gimenez is proposing most of those rail routes be shifted to bus routes, and the whole system is facing cutbacks. But you’ve always been a big proponent of the SMART Plan. Do you still think it’s going to happen?
I think you have to be an optimist if you want to run for mayor of any major city. We just voted on a funding framework within the PPO… which is a combination of already allocated federal funds, county funds, and big funds we’ll be seeking. I think the framework is in place. Now it’s a matter of executing on the framework. I have to be an optimist. I don’t think I would have gotten this far if I said I don’t think it will happen or this is unrealistic.
6. How do you plan to bring in a diverse range of voices in your decisionmaking and to take concerns of unheard populations into account?
People talk a big game when it comes to this, but it really has to do more with a track record. I grew up watching someone, a mayor for eight years, make the city equitable and for everyone. For me, that’s how I’ve tried to lead my career. I’ve tried to go outside my district, in ways that would benefit people not necessarily in my district. Our city is stronger and better the more compassionate that we are, the better we are at creating a city where everyone has an opportunity to be successful. I think that’s what will really differentiate us and make us a city people want to emulate and live in.
7. People describe you as a big “ideas man,” like former Mayor Manny Diaz. So what are your big ideas for Miami?
The Brickell Tunnel is one – something that would connect Brickell to Biscayne in a way that would unclog the densest part of the city. So is executing on the SMART Plan. I think some of my ideas on reforming government and the strong mayor that I’ve been pushing for several years, they’re seen as wholesale reforms of how we live. Some of my ideas on public spaces and my investment in the Underline, emphasizing our public spaces, emphasizing some of my ideas on tech as a means for solving historical problems like crime and working to create coding programs that emphasize tech in our public schools so that children can compete in a modern-day economy.
8. What is one change you want to make that would improve YOUR life in Miami?
If I had to do one thing, I think it would be creating a mass transit system that works. I think that is the one thing that affects most people’s daily quality of life. We spent an average of 125 hours a year in our cars in Miami and that’s an incredible amount of time. It’s time that can be spent with families that to me would be the most significant thing that I think I can do.