Volsky on “Our April 12 Election: Slesnick’s Recall?”

GEORGE VOLSKY

OUR  APRIL 12 ELECTION: SLESNICK’S RECALL?

“We’ll do the same next month,” an excited friend almost shouted on the phone Tuesday night when the Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez’ and Commissioner Natasha Seijas’ recall votes were almost tabulated.  “I am sure that Slesnick, thinking about April 12, will not sleep well tonight, afraid that we’ll regard that election as his recall.”

Mayor Don Slesnick can always swallow a couple of  sleeping pills, or console himself with several “stiff ones.” But it is almost certain that he wasn’t a very happy camper seeing the huge percentage of recall votes which proved without a shred of doubt the county’s unprecedented, unexpected and unquestionable rejection of Alvarez and Seijas, motivated principally by the residents’ ire over the tax increase they had approved.

Also without doubt, Slesnick confronts the Alvarez tax problem.  In the last several months he has been trying to muddle that issue – as well as the fiscal disaster of his and David Brown misrule – by telling our residents that he’s been a good mayor because, among other reasons, he was given a Taiwan medal. But truth be told, he has voted for a tax increase four times during his 10 years in office.  Moreover, in each year of his City Hall decade the actual amount of taxes paid by Coral Gables property owners was progressively higher.

Early on Tuesday, speaking to a friend I predicted – not very convincingly – that Alvarez might lose by 70 percent of the vote.   It had never entered my mind that the astonishing 90 percent out of 204,000 voters would tell the county mayor that “enough is enough.” (Seijas was ousted by the same percentage in her district.)

The Tuesday election has proved that the dissatisfaction with and the distrust of elected officials is deep and widespread, and that the Coral Gables voters are not different from those of Miami-Dade at large.

The election not only demonstrated that the residents were up in arms against high taxes. As one astute observer said they  simply “want the bums out,” especially the officials who for many years have been closely associated with highly unsavory administrations, as Slesnick was cheek and jowl with the disgraced former city manager Brown.

Already analyzing last November’s midterm national vote, many local observers had concluded that what happened   throughout the country might be foreboding for Slesnick, who has just unexpectedly announced his decision to again run for office. Previously, he had been personally assuring anybody willing to listen that he was through with City Hall after 10 years as mayor.

Last November, Richard Namon, civic activist and businessman, today a candidate for commissioners, put it succinctly: “Almost everybody who has been in office for a long time is on a chopping block. In my long life I have never seen such a strong anti-incumbent sentiment. It is Herbert Hoover all over again.”

There is hardly a knowledgeable Coral Gables resident who would consider Selsnick’s tenure a success. Under the City Charter he has the same vote as the other four commissioners. But in practice, in league with Brown he was able to manipulate the city commission, counting on the virtually automatic support of Commissioner María Anderson (once reportedly a devote Catholic now about to become a Protestant preacher), and more often than not on the votes of the other three commissioners.

In 2001, when he arrived at City Hall, Slesnick had encountered the city pensions to be 100 percent funded. In 10 years that funding base has shrunk by almost half, with the accumulated obligation shortfall of close to $200 million.  During Slesnick’s tenure, the benefits that the city additionally pays employees (as well as the mayor and commissioners) increased from 35 percent of their salaries in 2001 to the economically unsustainable 70 percent today.

Slesnick is counting on his large propaganda chest, close to $150,000, as his winning card. He has some unions, notably the firemen, contributing heavily to his campaign, besides the big checks from a number of city contractors, lawyers and supporters outside Miami-Dade and Florida.  While subsidizing the Alvarez recall billionaire  businessman Norman Braman invested over $1 million of his own, the county mayor collected almost as much to counter that effort, and he even used county employees to disseminate his propaganda. (Seijas reportedly had ten times more funds to thwart her recall than a small group of residents who gathered sufficient signatures to put her name on the recall ballot.)

Neither Alvarez’ nor Seijas’ cash made any difference whatsoever. The Miami-Dade voters, including those in Coral Gables, unceremoniously booted them out. Unsurprisingly, then, Slesnick might well be very worried: he sees ominous writing on the wall.

About Stephen E. McGaughey
International consultant in economic development programs and projects

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