Sunday, November 08, 2009

Mayor Manny Diaz and Opportunity Wasted: Taking issue with "Diaz helped change Miami for the better" ... by gimleteye

Myriam Marquez' editorial in The Herald predicts that history will be kind to outgoing Mayor Manny Diaz. The viewpoint is a gloss of reality that fits the pages of The Herald. By just about any measure, under Diaz Miami remained a second or third tier American city-- except as a depository for capital seeking flight. Leaving aside the advertising pages of Ocean Drive, Miami is poor, has no industry other than pass through tourism, and depends on the kindness of strangers. Without a strong Euro we would be truly screwed. "We're cheap, we're ready, and we're wide open for business": that's the legacy of Manny Diaz and his slavish attention to the building boom now in cinders.

What could he have done differently? Mayor Diaz had the opportunity, under his watch, to make the Miami River the centerpiece of a city that had already turned its back on public access to Biscayne Bay; our neglected crown jewel. But the influence at city hall; lobbyists like Greenberg Traurig, Jorge Perez and other developers fixed public access to the river but good. Other small and mid-sized American cities have used their riverfronts to boost tourism, business, the arts, and to differentiate their cities from the run-of-the-mill. Not Miami. It is shameful how economic opportunity of the Miami River for the good of Miami was shut down and squandered in pursuit of exclusionary zoning for high rise condos built right to the river's edge that are mostly empty. The opportunity wasted of the Miami River -- not even mentioned by Marquez-- is the emblem of the Diaz years.

There are other glaring omissions: the international embarrassment of the 2003 Miami FTAA and Diaz' failure to stand up for the Constitutional rights of ordinary citizens peacefully protesting. It was horrendous. (Columnist Jim Defede has a great view, and it is too bad it was also a victim of the Diaz years.)

I could go on, but I'll leave off with my own quirky' send-off: Marquez compliments Diaz for "Coral Gables-like landscaped street circles in Miami's blue-collar neighborhoods." Now I have a very specific and particular beef with these traffic circles, and I've written about it before. Those little greened traffic circles are how the city justified the overdevelopment of Miami. They are built from money paid out by developers as "mitigation" for the extra traffic their high rises cause. They don't make me calm; they make me just a little bit nuts, because the idea that traffic circles somehow compensate for the costs of rampant overdevelopment is insane.

But on the last point, I agree with Marquez: as of next week we won't have Manny Diaz to kick around any more. Let's see if Regalado can do better.

November, 2008, Jim Defede wrote on his web column:

"Fred Frost, the South Florida head of the AFL-CIO is not thrilled with the prospect of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz being considered for a cabinet position in the Obama Administration.

"We're not happy," Frost told me Friday morning. "If anyone from the Obama campaign were to ask, we'd tell them not to expect a ringing endorsement from us. He has shown poor judgment when it comes to trade agreements and stood back and did nothing while union workers were being brutalized during the FTAA."

Downtown Miami was turned into a virtual police state during the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas summit, with police accused of indiscriminately assaulting protesters, including retired union workers who had traveled to Miami from around the country to speak out against the trade agreement.

The city's Civilian Investigative Panel condemned the police conduct during the summit saying the police reacted with an "unrestrained and disproportionate use of force" and that "civil rights were trampled." The city was been forced to settle numerous lawsuits with individuals hurt or wrongly arrested by police.

"Manny Diaz has never apologized, never addressed what happened during the FTAA," Frost said. "He refused to meet with us to talk about it."

Last year, the AFL-CIO and the Florida Alliance of Retired Americans, filed a lawsuit against the City of Miami. That lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial early next year. Which means if Diaz is named to the cabinet he would be going through confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate around the same time he would be required to appear in court to defend himself against the union's claims he violated their First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth amendment rights.

Frost also complained that Diaz has failed to pay workers in the city fairly. "We passed a living wage ordinance but the city never enforced it," he said. "We had to take it to a lawsuit to get the city to do what was right. That kind of stuff bothers me. I have a problem with that."

Frost's troubling comments come at a time when Diaz is under serious consideration for a high level cabinet post.

Two senior Democratic sources advising the Obama transition team tell CBS4 News that Diaz is one of the leading candidates for the Housing and Urban Development job and is also under consideration to be Transportation Secretary.

"Is it real? Yes it is," one of the senior Democrats told me, adding he believed the HUD job was more likely to happen. "I think he has a lot to offer."

Politically, appointing Diaz would serve two very pressing desires of the Obama team – the need to name a high profile Hispanic to the cabinet and the desire to reward Florida with a cabinet position.

"I think it is important for Florida to be represented in the cabinet," the Democratic source said. "And I don't see another Florida Democrat that qualifies."

The dearth of Florida Democrats comes from the fact that most of the well-known individuals who could be called on to take a cabinet post are members of Congress and are unlikely to want to give up their seats.

It is the need to appoint a Hispanic to the cabinet, however, that is really driving Diaz's name within the Obama camp. The Hispanic vote was critical to Obama's election and he has pledged to create a cabinet as diverse as the people who elected him.

"Manny is just lucky he is a Hispanic Democrat with a high profile," said the second Democrat advising the transition.

Ten days ago, Diaz's name was mentioned in connection with a new post Obama is planning to create, the White House Office of Urban Policy. With Diaz's background as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, such a job would seem a good fit for Diaz.

But with Hillary Clinton now in line to be Secretary of State, beating out New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson for the post, Diaz's name was suddenly elevated to cabinet consideration (Further complicating matters, late Friday the Washington Post reported Richardson may be named Commerce Secretary.)

"This is all happening very fast," said the second Democrat. "And what is really happening here is that Manny is promoting himself, through the U.S. Conference of Mayors, trying to get an appointment."

This Florida Democrat, as well as others I have spoken to, expressed concern with Diaz, calling Diaz "a Johnny-come-lately" to the Obama campaign. During the primary, Diaz supported Hillary Clinton. And even after Obama won the nomination, Diaz held back his endorsement for a long time. In fact, Diaz was one of the few – if not the only – speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Denver who did not endorse the Democratic nominee during his speech to the convention delegates.

Diaz waited until the closing weeks of the campaign to endorse Obama.

"Manny is going to have a tough time making it through the vetting process," the second Democrat said.

The vetting process for all cabinet appointees is extensive. In addition to a 60-page questionnaire, which delves into all of the nominee's financial dealings and business relationships, it also involves a background check by the FBI, including FBI agents interviewing friends, associates, and even neighbors of the nominee.

Diaz has faced questions about his ethics in recent years. His decision to own a restaurant housed on city land raised one set of concerns, but that was nothing compared to the revelation back in 2004 that the mayor's restaurant was behind almost $200,000 in rent payments to the city, that it owed the county nearly $100,000 in delinquent property taxes and that it had stiffed the state almost $250,000 in sales tax payments.

It was only after I reported those problems four years ago that the mayor sold his stake in the restaurant.

The mayor's relationship with city hall lobbyist Steve Marin will also be an area for the feds to review. Marin, a close friend of Diaz, received several no-bid contracts from the city.

Then of course there is the debacle surrounding the city's efforts to settle the infamous Fire Rescue Fee case, in which Manny Diaz and then city manager Joe Arriola were either duped into paying a handful of people $7 million or were complicit in the outrageous deal. Either way the case does not reflect well on Diaz's judgment or ability.

There will be other issues, as well, including his decision to enter into a multi-million dollar land deal with then city manager Arriola and Johnny Winton, who was a city commissioner at the time. The three waited months to disclose their private business dealings, and in the meantime, Arriola and Winton engineered a $53,000 pay raise for the mayor, ramming it through the city commission without any advance notice or allowing the public to speak on it.

In 2007, Diaz was charged with violating the conflict-of-interest provisions of the County's Ethics Ordinance because of the land deal with Winton and Arriola. He pleaded "no contest" and was found guilty by the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. Diaz was fined $250 and given a letter of reprimand.

But ultimately, it could be Diaz's problems with organized labor that may cause him the most trouble. Frost was on the phone today with national union officials discussing what to do about Diaz's name being mentioned for a cabinet position.

When the local AFL-CIO filed its lawsuit against the city, it was the union's national leadership that gave it the green light.

Frost asked the question: Can Obama really appoint someone to the cabinet that the largest labor union in the country is actively suing for beating, tear gassing and brutalizing its retired workers?

It was Diaz, after all, who hailed the police response during the summit a success and gave it the name, "The Miami Model." That term, the Miami Model, is now a source of scorn within the labor movement and was derided on editorial pages around the country. The Miami Model earned Diaz a special place in labor's memory. It now all depends on how long a memory they have.

Several years ago, I interviewed Richard Trumka, a former coal miner who had risen to through the ranks of labor to become the national Secretary and Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, a position he still holds today.

Trumka, one of the most powerful men in the labor movement, repeatedly singled out Manny Diaz for contempt when I spoke to him in December 2003. He was furious Diaz refused to meet with him and other members of organized labor after the FTAA debacle. He said Diaz "had an obligation" to hear from the workers who were abused. "[Diaz] had a chance to stand up for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and [he] took a pass," Trumka said.

He told me back then Diaz made "a big mistake" by rebuffing labor. And then he promised: "We're not going away."

Five years later, we'll see if that's true."

Type the rest of the post here


Harry Emilio Gottlieb said...

If the proof of a person’s worth and accomplishment is to leave a job or the world a better place, then the Miami Legacy of Manny Diaz is a dismal failure. The new Mayor is inheriting a broken city that will take many years to repair the mistakes and indulgences that have been perpetrated upon us. Disregard for the zoning code, doing real-estate deals with city manager and a commissioner, hiring a belligerent city manager, Fire-Fee Fiasco, not letting citizens vote on Marlin Stadium Subsidy, not letting citizens vote on Miami 21 untested urban zoning code, efforts to demolish through neglect the iconic Miami Marine Stadium, efforts to overdevelop Virginia Key with an unnecessary mega sports park, permitting the glut of condo housing that has diminished all of our property values, permitted the unregulated abuse of overtime hours of the police and fire departments, permitted a bad deal for salaries and pensions with unions, permitted destruction of the marine industry on the Miami River, and the shameless recent marketing of himself as the self-anointed Green Mayor, etc.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, were any of you here in the 80s and 90s?

Gimleteye said...


Anonymous said...

Manny took all the good work done by the oversight board and threw it out the window.
We went from a City that had good control and cash reserves to one that in the best of times squandered dollars that should have been saved for the coming lean times.
If Regalado wants to make a difference, he'll take close looks at Budget,Finance,CIP and Employee Relations,those are the areas that are the real black holes for squandered tax dollars.

Anonymous said...

This column just shows how out of touch Miami Herald columnist Miriam Marquez is with the concerns of citizenry. She should take some walking tours of the City of Miami and talk to residents about their real-life issues - getting a good job, paying their housing expenses, good and decent schools for their children, safe neighborhood parks. In short, the quality of life issues that make a great city - not the glitz and glamour and real estate developer spin of the Diaz administration. There was no trickle down during the Diaz administration for those quality of life issues.

Anonymous said...

Miami Herald columnist Miriam Marquez is new to Miami and she proves she is totally out of touch.

Manny Diaz demanded the taxpayers divert over $3 Bil to the privately owned Marlins getting almost nothing in return. In fact, the debt payments in later years will be $8 mil per month. Per month.

Diaz gave us the Fire Fee Fiasco, the loss of Bicentennial Park to two broke fake museums, $5 mil in fees and manhours wasted on a new faulty zoning code, massive overdevelopment of condos... Manny Diaz will be known for spending every penny in good times and leaving the City with little reserves or no reserves. Diaz will be known for allowing employees to be massively overpaid.

It appears everything Diaz touched turned to sh**. Except his pension. Diaz gets $100,000 per year from the taxpayers, increasing to $200,000 per year. Paid by the taxpayers who will be paying for all his bad decisions for the next 40-50 years.

Anonymous said...

As much as you complain about Manny, the Clark/Plummer years were 50 times worse. Diaz/Winton was breath of fresh air compaired to the good old boys.

Jaime said...

nuAlerts is connecting local residents who want to be the first to know directly with important community leaders who are "in the know" via social networks and more! Several Mayors and leading organizations are already using nuAlerts and anyone can start posting their important information at

Anonymous said...

Clark might have disappeared millions but Manny Diaz and Johnny Winton et al and the Marlins bailout will make Billions "disappear".

Better small timers losing a hundred thousand here and there than real idiots stealing billions.

The Miami Herald is so out of touch. No wonder its stock is down 90%.

Anonymous said...

The City of Miami has plans to install traffic circles in our little south Coconut Grove neighborhood. This is the neighborhhood between Douglas Road and Main Highway. The private schools in our area have parents that love to use our little streets to whisk their dear children to class. We have been asking for stop signs for years, but they have refused, citing a traffic study with skewed numbers that indicated that there was not a need for the stop sign. But there is a need for traffic circles? They are accommodating the traffic, not deterring it. Now, what costs more: a stop sign or a traffic circle? Sounds like our tax dollars are being misused again.

Anyone that would like to make comments to Marc Sarnoff and "the Office of Capital Improvements Programs" may attend the "South Grove Traffic Calming Meeting" on Dec. 3rd. It will be held at Plymouth Church in Davis Hall. The taxpayer may then question why stop signs have been rejected and traffic circles are a good idea. It sounds to me that city officials have been rejecting our stop signs, waiting to make some money off these useless traffic circles. If the city really wants to help our neighborhood, there would be stop signs and one-way streets. If they want to accommodate the traffic that speeds through our streets each day, they can put in our circles. Funny, but most of these people are not even City of Miami taxpayers, and we, the locals, must pay to accommodate them!

BTW, it has been a very vocal supporter of Marc Sarnoff that has been telling the South Grove people about these circles coming to our neighborhood since Sarnoff has been elected. Is he really going to ruin the ambiance of our little neighborhood to appease this woman? Hard to believe.

Think the traffic circles are going away? Not if Sarnoff has his way.

Anonymous said...

And you all think that old man will do better? Hahaha, not a chance. Regalado is a puppet for the unions. The city is in for real bad times.

Anonymous said...

"that old man" is Miami's Mayor. Show a little respect.

Anonymous said...

No respect for a man who has shown the community he supposedly "cares" about no respect for more than a decade by staying in office and NEVER DOING ANYTHING. Inaction is as damaging as any bad decision. The old man can't even name one of his own accomplishments.

Anonymous said...

Ummm, the Marlins stadium is only costing the city $25M, the rest of the county is picking up the difference. And those $25M couldn't have been spent on any other project, they were in a special fund. So the city has gotten a great deal, as usual the county commission are the idiots.

Anonymous said...

Marlins stadium parking garage cost soars.

Miami commissioners are being asked to vote Thursday to issue bonds for $134 million, much more than the original $94 million cost of a parking garage at the new Marlins ballpark.

Still, the final figure is coming as sticker shock to some.

City Manager Pete Hernandez said the $41 million beyond the projected $94 million includes $15 million in reserves and millions more for design surveys, construction management and environmental consultants.

Paying for the garage is the city's prime contribution to the $620 million plan, with Miami-Dade bearing the brunt of the costs at $341 million and the Marlins pitching in $126 million and repaying the county another $35 million a year in rent. The city and county will pitch in another $24 million for infrastructure costs.

``This is exactly what we feared,'' said Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who voted against the stadium plan earlier this year. ``Even with soft costs, you can maybe stretch it to $110 million.''

Commissioner Tomás Regalado, who voted against the stadium, said he wouldn't support the garage vote Thursday. ``This is voodoo economics,'' said Regalado, who is running for mayor.

Once again Regalado's NO VOTE has been proven to be the right vote.

Anonymous said...

Four years from now, is when I want to read your comments!!! All of you would wish to have had Manny Diaz four more years. When that negative, bitter old man is done with our city, there won't be anything left. I show no respect for him, becuase he has shown 0 for our current Mayor.

Anonymous said...

He showed plenty of respect when THAT old man got him into office!
At least Regalado gave Manny a chance. So you should give him a chance as well. The guy has not even got into office yet. We are all in this together.

Anonymous said...

Manny Diaz's scheme to bailout the Marlins will cost the taxpayers well over $3 bil. That is $3 Billion. Payments in later years from the taxpayers will exceed $100 million. That is $100 mil a year.

Manny Diaz and his low IQ partner Carlos Alvarez aided and abetted one of the largest transfers of wealth from the taxpayers to the private sector in history.

By the way, we are all taxpayers of Miami-Dade County.

Anonymous said...

What's the deal with the traffic circles? My fellow constituent Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wants to stick 24 traffic cicles in Cutler Bay at $100,000 a piece thats not including lifetime maintenace "tax" fees.

Anonymous said...

The children from the afterschool program at Shenandoah park were happy to sacrifice their Halloween party this year so that the money for the party could go to a better cause like the construction of more traffic circles in district 4.The children understand that unlike four way stop signs traffic circle are much more memorable because they cost more and they require a life time of maintenance.