In Miami, one vote on the City Commission can make a difference in your daily life.
One vote can affect the price you pay to park in front of a restaurant in Allapattah, a gallery in the Design District, or a bodega in Little Haiti. One vote can change your property tax bill, decide the size of the new building going up on your street, and determine the hours your local public pool is open — and whether that pool is open at all.
One vote can also shape the future of large-scale, controversial issues, from a proposed massive redevelopment of the city’s only golf course into a commercial and soccer stadium complex to an annual music festival that wants to make the downtown waterfront its home, over neighbors’ objections.
Five commissioners representing different districts make decisions on these matters, and one of them is a City Hall newbie with more than a decade of political experience in Tallahassee. Former state senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla was recently elected to represent District 1, which includes Allapattah, Grapeland Heights, Flagami and the Health District around Jackson Memorial Hospital. He could hold a powerful deciding vote on a bevy of high-profile issues.
Diaz de la Portilla was officially sworn in Wednesday in a brief gathering of family and friends at City Hall. The city clerk’s office usually swears in newly elected commissioners at the soonest opportunity to ensure smooth transitions in district offices. A larger ceremony for Diaz de la Portilla will be held in early December to mark the occasion. His first commission meeting is Dec. 12. Outgoing commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort, attended his last meeting Nov. 21.
Gort said he planned to meet with Diaz de la Portilla after Thanksgiving to discuss handing off district projects that started under Gort’s watch. After hitting the gavel to end the final commission meeting of his political career, he complimented the other commissioners while emphasizing that Miami’s biggest challenge is addressing the wide disparity between the city’s haves and have-nots.
“I think this city has a long way to go because of the differences in income we have,” he said.
After taking the oath of office Wednesday, Diaz de la Portilla told the Miami Herald that he’d met with multiple commissioners, Mayor Francis Suarez and City Manager Emilio Gonzalez to discuss the state of the city. He said one of his priorities is to lobby for state dollars to flow to City Hall — an objective he said he’ll personally pursue during a planned trip to Tallahassee during the Legislature’s final week of committee meetings in December. Citing a friendship with Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, Diaz de la Portilla said he’s in a good position to vouch for Miami.
“Between the city and the state, we need to bridge that gap,” he said.
Galvano is expected to travel to Miami for Diaz de la Portilla’s ceremonial swearing-in at 1 p.m. on Dec. 7.
Diaz de la Portilla is taking office at a time when the city’s finances are on an upswing and big-ticket projects loom on the horizon. Major problems with housing affordability and the expected impact of climate change pose existential threats to Miami.
Among the many other issues the commision will weigh in the near future is Miami Freedom Park.
Inter Miami is scheduled to begin playing in March 2020 at an 18,000-seat soccer stadium abutting its training facility in Fort Lauderdale, but the owners of the Major League Soccer franchise are pursuing construction of Miami Freedom Park, a complex that includes a 25,000-seat stadium that would host home games, retail and dining center, office park, hotel and 58-acre public park in Miami. The proposed site is city-owned Melreese golf course, next to Miami International Airport, the only golf course within Miami city limits.
It’s been 16 months since retired soccer star David Beckham appeared before Miami commissioners to make a case for letting voters decide on whether the city should negotiate a no-bid deal with Beckham’s local ownership partner, MasTec chairman Jorge Mas, to lease the public land to develop Miami Freedom Park.
Lease negotiations are underway, though it does not appear they will be complete before the holidays. Commissioners might not see a lease proposal until January.
Gort was a vocal critic of the plan and could have cast a deciding vote against the project if he’d had a chance — Commissioner Manolo Reyes has said he’s a staunch no vote, and the lease requires approval from four of five commissioners. Diaz de la Portilla has said he would have preferred an open bid for such a redevelopment, but he won’t opine until he sees a final lease proposal.
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