Miami-Dade County School Board member, Attorney of counsel at local law firm
Miami-Dade College (A.A.)
Florida International University (B.A.)
St. Thomas University (J.D.)
Six years on the Miami-Dade County School Board
Member of the Chapman Partnership for seven years
Board member for the Adrienne Arsht Center
Chairwoman of the Miami Children's Initiative in Overtown
Why are you running?
At the school board, I really enjoyed the last six years as an attorney, not a teacher. I focused on being an advocate… and really bringing that funding back and changing laws.
No one is there doing that for the county. For two years I tried to get Gimenez to do it, but he has zero interest. He has no interest in that type of advocacy. He wants to be the head of procurement, he’s interested in who gets what contract.
We lost a lot of opportunities, particularly in transport, economic growth, money for our poor, and then finally the game-changers allocation happened and he allocated to more tourist traps and he went to Tallahassee and supported the mega mall. To have that be purchased under market value, I decided enough was enough. We needed a mayor with diff priorities.
The other point is I have an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old and one of the things I’ve seen at the district is we spend millions of dollars educating kids who are leaving [after college] because they don’t have any opportunities here. If we don’t dramatically change the economy, my kids are going to leave too. I’m middle class, I can’t buy them an apartment.
All we’re doing is educating children who cant live in Miami-Dade County. I’m a native Miamian, I love this place and I want my kids to be able to stay here.”
Why are you best qualified?
I’ve done it at the school board, the school board has faced the most dramatic cuts at the state level in its history. I lobbied for more federal money. We changed the dynamics of how the district works. We’re lowering taxes but giving teachers a 4.8 percent increase and that comes out of the money I’ve been able to cobble together the last few years… I did this work, I did it at the school board, which has 50,000 employees and $5 billion, and I can do it at the county, which has 25,000 employees and a budget of about $7 billion.
That’s why I wish this election we could have had real debates… [Gimenez] hasn’t really changed how the county works. He’s really maintained the status quo. We’ve radically changed the way we do business. The economy has changed, the dynamics at the state and federal level have changed. That’s why we’ve seen stagnation at the county.
When the county decided he would cut our funding for transportation (school buses). He was going to cut all our transportation money. I brought a five-year plan to the school district, we sold our old buses and bought new ones, audited our drivers. I put 5,000 kids on Metrorail, created flex stops. I said, “You said we were being inefficient, you were right, here’s our plan. Will you support us going forward?” The result has been an increase in funding for transportation in our district.
Just because the economic environment has changed at the state level, that doesn’t mean you have a decrease in funding, you have to show you can pivot and if you pivot, you can get the funding.
What are the biggest challenges Miami is facing?
The biggest issue is public safety. We really have to start with public safety. The primary purpose of government is to provide safety… if we’re not safe, everything else takes a backseat. I have the support of the police department, corrections, doctors and nurses at Jackson. There’s the work I have done for juvenile violence. I took on the NRA in Tallahassee after Sandy Hook, they wanted to put guns in schools. Last year I took a stand against open carry… I’ve taken a position against automatic weapons. We’ve had over 332 children die in Miami-Dade County [in gun violence] over the last few yeas. If you look at the numbers, we’re losing a child a week to juvenile gun violence. The beginning of this violence is when Carlos Gimenez eliminated the gang unit… without a countywide gang unit we really can’t do the work. One of the first things I’m doing as mayor is more police officers, reinstating the specialty unit… start cracking down on the little crimes that we know are the foundation of these gangs.
One of the reasons I think I will bring the necessary changes to Miami-Dade County is because I am the new majority. Part of the problem is our current mayor doesn’t understand that… he picks up his grandkids at 4 p.m. and he doesn’t understand no one can do that.
Most grandparents in Miami-Dade County are working… the rest of us are trying to make ends meet. We need more programming, more services from someone who really understands these are quality of life issues.
How do you propose solving them?
What makes Miami so damn cool?
We have the most amazing people, we really do. Part of the reason we have the problems we have is because we have such amazing people. Miami-Dade County has the most resilient residents. These are people who have remade their lives once and twice over. We have this survival instinct that really is fascinating, but at the same time it creates this situation where we have such a low bar for government. We really do think it doesn’t work because of Miami-Dade’s history. It’s just been one disaster after another. It’s wonderful to be a leader here because there’s such amazing people. But its difficult because there’s such a low bar… there are so many elected officials who don’t take responsibility.
Our government needs to look like our residents, which is a conversation that occurs everywhere. Ethnically, socioeconomically… is there representation? Is there diversity of representation? Obviously there’s a lack of women in decision-making positions. Even generationally if you look at it… specifically for women, that’s because women wait util their kids are older. Even on the school board most of the people there are much, much older. There are only two of us with kids in schools. You have older leaders and this understanding of the establishment that is a little different than other places.
What can Miami-Dade do to prepare for sea level rise and protect our natural environment?
There’s been all these conversations in Tallahassee about water rights, especially the Everglades… the county never made it a priority.
There’s also the Amendment 1 conversation and the lawsuit we know is coming there and what’s going to happen with that money, obviously the Everglades restoration is a part of that.
Miami-Dade County was the first county to be talking about this… but when Gimenez got there, we took a back seat. His response is he wants another committee.
We used to have a resiliency department that he completely defunded. Let’s start talking about changes to zoning, density, water flow, what’s going to happen in areas without connectivity to water and sewer. There are a lot of conversations happening in silos we need to add to the sea level rise paradigm.
I’m not a fan of the pumps. It’s not going well in Miami Beach. We need to find solutions that are viable and be honest about outcomes with people. There’s a lot that can be done and people are doing great work, but the county has separated itself from those folks. The first thing I would do is put together an action plan… what can we do and how can we help people prepare? It’s not going to be an easy conversation in some low-lying areas… but we can’t pretend another two years of meeting is going to solve the problems.
If [the resiliency officer] doesn’t get to participate in the conversation about water and sewer and the conversation about density, what’s the purpose? You’re just saying you did it to do it. We need to bring back the resiliency department and have the resiliency officer weigh in on these things and actually give an opinion. Look at the mega mall. Talk about a density issue. If you have a true resiliency officer, he says this is what I think you should do.
Why is the rent so high?
There’s a few factors. Obviously the numbers are staggering. 40 percent of people in Miami-Dade County spend more than 50 percent of what they earn in a month on rent or mortgage. That makes us the most expensive place to live in the U.S. The issue is for 10 yrs, we have not changed our economic paradigm. We continue perpetuating 1980 models in terms of economic development, which is why one of the things I’ve asked for is the elimination of the Beacon Council. The Beacon Council was created 30 years ago, it’s a dinosaur, it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do and its never been what it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to bring industry here and it’s supposed to elevate the pay. But instead the Beacon Council gets $7 million from the small business tax and it works as a glorified chamber of commerce. I want to eliminate the Beacon Council and create a new economic model that looks at four factors. Workforce training, housing, transportation, and childcare. All economic development decisions and allocations of money in Miami-Dade County, whether state or local, should consider those four factors. Instead of using the $7 million to glorify the brick and mortar, can you attract industry by using these four factors?
When you pitch for an industry, instead of putting them in downtown or Doral, can you put them in a part of Miami-Dade County where they’re aligned with workforce, where there’s housing, where there’s affordable childcare.
That is the new economic model and that’s what we need to do. We can’t continue with the circa 1980 “I’m going to give money to tourist traps that creates minimum wage jobs.” We don’t need minimum wage jobs. We have plenty of those. We have too many of those. Nothing against the tourism industry, I’m very supportive, I just don’t think they should get our tax dollars. That’s why I sued on Skyrise, that and because they lies. Skyrise is a perfect example of what not to be. Why would you give $9 million to a tourist trap to create low-wage jobs in one of the most expensive pieces of land in the city of Miami? That’s the opposite of economic development. The point of economic development is to entice someone to come to an area that is not enticing and have them create higher paying jobs. Not the “here’s the icing on your cake.”
Is there anything that can be done to fix our transit system and get traffic under control?
Carlos Gimenez is the architect of our traffic nightmare. When he was elected he decided to use half-penny tax to close the budget deficit, defunding a lot of projects in the pipeline for a long time. For five years he didn’t apply for federal funding. Recently he applied for federal funding for buses. I don’t think buses are the answer, they’re stuck in traffic like the rest of us. We should be pursuing the SMART plan.
What we need to do is go back to the half penny and the promises made, put that money back, and start compliance. The issue with our transit is that we’re not compliant. Carlos Gimenez joined transit and public works, which now makes it harder for us to get federal funding. We need to have long term and short term promises. Stop using the half penny for nonsense and start using the half penny for transit.
The app is for popel to pay for trnaist on their smartphones”
I have no idea what people are going to be using in 11 years. Why are you using $33 million for an app? Editor’s note: For clarification on that expense, read here. Here you have a transit system that goes nowhere and you’re concerned about an app when most of your ridership doesn’t even have a smartphone and yet you’re going to make this commitment for 11 years? That’s one example of the nonsense we spend our transit money on. Can you imagine how far $33 million would go toward synchronizing our lights or for a match for federal money? Reallocate the $70 million spent on gamechangers to transit. I would put it back on the ballot. Can you imagine how far $70 million would go? You could have gone to Washington for a match.
You have to finish the Metrorail. It needs to go to Broward. It needs to go south, it needs to go west. Bus rapid transit is a good temporary solution to a long term problem. I think we can do it, I think we can do it relatively quickly, but I don’t think you say bus rapid transit is the be all and end all. You need to have several modalities. You can’t just say bus rapid transit is going to solve your longterm problem. Obviously you have to synchronize the lights, you have to ensue the buses will get there on time. You’re not going yo get professionals to ride buses if they’re not on time.
How do you feel about the county’s campaign finance system?
I’m a big supporters. One of the reasons I’m running is Carlos Gimenez shakes down everyone who does business with the county. I made the decision not to take money from people who take business with the school board.
If you had a $100 budget to spend on the city, how would you spend it?
Public safety: That’s our biggest issue. There are police issues but we also have the Zika thing. Public safety is the one that most impacts our econ development. If its not safe then epeople wont invest, people won’t come.
Transportation: We were just talking about how we have to invest in transit.
Health and human services: There’s a lot of issued in Miami-Dade County that we’re not talking about: HIV, the rise in heroin use. I’ve seen it at the school district, but really it’s the country that needs to do that work. There are a lot of issues with the increase in poverty. A lot of people are under the line. That has to be at some point a priority for the county.
Environment and climate change: Obviously this is huge. We know this is an issue we need to put resources in. We have to come up with a plan.
Parks and recreation: This is near and dear to my heart. It’s so important in order to reduce crime. It really does have such an impact on quality of life.
The last two, neighborhoods and infrastructure and real estate development, are really bonds stuff. Real estate development really takes care of itself.