Attorney and county commissioner
Villanova University (B.A. Mechanical engineering, Presidential scholarship and summa cum laude)
Harvard Law School (J.D), John F. Kennedy School of Government (M.A., Public Policy)
Current District 7 County Commissioner, elected in 2011.
Mayor of the City of Miami in 1985 and subsequently re-elected in 1987 and 1989.
Why are you running?
There’s a lot of work to be completed. We made progress on a couple of areas — a summer job program for youth at where we enrolled 1,300 kids was fantastic and on our affordable housing initiatives of which there are three, one of them is my initiative, although it was supported by the commission as whole. We’ve also made strides in transportation.
Why are you best qualified?
I have put forth more initiatives in more areas than many people do in a lifetime. I have the energy to make my district and the county as a whole into a great community with great transportation, affordable housing, job creation, and protection of the environment. If I haven’t proven that in the last five years, well then, I guess I have three weeks left.
What are the biggest challenges Miami is facing?
Transportation, budgeting reform, economic development
How do you propose solving them?
Transportation: Getting agreement and consensus on the SMART plan and the main corridors. We need something that didn’t exist four years ago, but the funding is still nebulous. We have three new appointments to the Citizen’s Independent Transportation Trust, and one is by yours truly because my appointee moved from where he lived so he was no longer in the district. My son Francis has an appointment. A third appointment was supposed to be made by the mayor and he’s taken too long and we’re scheduling that for discussion as a whole and hope to put someone amenable. People might be surprised to see that we’re going to go fight the good fight on the issue. People’s Transportation Plan funding is taking as much as $110 million every year.
Budgeting reform: I want to start streamlining the county as a whole. It’s still very much an ongoing effort. As a member of the commission I can bring that about. I thought because I already had the City of Miami budget memorized, within weeks of being elected I could figure out the county budget but it’s so complicated and convoluted. It’s taken me the better part of the time I’ve been there. We have so many different millage rates and taxing differences. There are enterprises and departments treated as half enterprise and half public agencies. It would take a while to clean up by anyone. I want to be more proactive in the setting of the budget. I don’t know if you’ve heard some criticism by Commissioner Juan Zapata that the commission doesn’t get involved in budgets. But it would will take a lot of leadership skills to bring that about. To do some real budgeting reform and simplifying the entire system. There’s way too much bureaucracy and division of labor. It’s not needed. I think we can bring that about.
Economic development: Of course you have the spectacular economic development efforts, but only $15 million that were earmarked as targeted urban areas have been used. I don’t think a single penny has been applied yet. There are a few projects in principle, and some are probably going to reach implementation soon. We have to derail at least one of them that made no sense for us to put money into — the Skyrise. That is unfair. But it’s a fact of life.
We also did work in West Grove with the Gibson Plaza. We’re primed for an explosion of public works with the Marine Stadium and the Coconut Grove Playhouse, even though it took a few years.
Throughout the county we’ve begun decentralizing Jackson Health System. I was was honored and pleased and glad to support the bond issue of $800 million. It totally changed the direction for Jackson, including a West End [Kendall] facility and one in Miami Gardens. I pushed that through with Commissioner Barbara Jordan.
Making it accessible to the public has begun in earnest. The chairman of the committee oversaw the re-financing of the Frost Museum and the Liberty Square project, so it’s not been without accomplishments. Now… if i could only change the parking meters.
What makes Miami so damn cool?
I’m a sand in my shoes person. I love walking barefoot on the beach — it doesn’t get any better than that. I also love swimming in the ocean and try to challenge myself, I’ve set a record of 50 strokes without breathing.
What can Miami-Dade do to prepare for sea level rise and protect our natural environment?
I don’t know if you’ve seen my report, it’s the most conclusive analysis of sea level rise initiatives, which was overseen by me and my staff. One of our solutions is to fund a resiliency department, which we now have. We also wanted to negotiate and eliminate the cooling canals at FPL and use a wastewater stream to cool the plant.
Why is the rent so high?
The main reason is that we haven’t built affordable housing. We are doing 1,500 units a year and should be doing 10,000. The other reason is that we’re attracting different people from other parts of the world in the last couple of years. We have enormous demographic growth, both legal and undocumented, and have factors that add to demand more so than other parts of the country.
Is there anything that can be done to fix our transit system and get traffic under control?
Adoption and agreement of the SMART plan and to get back the money that was supposed to be used from the half-cent sales tax into the People’s Transportation Plan.
How do you feel about the county’s campaign finance system?
I don’t have strong opposition to reforms but I think it’s about concentrating on the wrong things. For example, there’s a lot of the lobbying and money that is received by officials running for re-election. Our system is off-kilter because most deals are come about with a negotiated bid, which is totally subjective. It gives a lot of weight to bureaucrats which means a lot of money. Then, lobbyists give enormous amount of money to consultants.
Right now, we have approved $4 billion worth of improvements, mostly done by negotiated bidding. That’s a recipe for influencing and lobbying. We should be doing most of that consulting in-house. Part of the issue is improving our procurement, simplifying systems and doing more in-house.
If you had a $100 budget to spend on the county, how would you spend it?
*Suarez specified the $25 he allocated for real estate development should go towards affordable housing.