Hialeah, FL is the fifth largest city in the Sunshine State. It is also the fourth worst driving city in the United States. But on the grimmer side, it also is the city with the highest unemployment rate in South Florida, the city with the highest-paid lobbyists in Miami-Dade County and, according to many locals, the most corrupt city in the country.
Voters across the city will have a chance to change the local Establishment's hold on power this November 5 and the Miami-Dade Libertarian Examiner recommends a change in the power balance once and for all.
The office of Mayor of Hialeah is a very powerful one. In this mostly-Cuban city, the government is under a strong mayor form, meaning the head of the executive does not a voice in the Council's decisions, but acts as a manager for the city's projects. This is in contrast with most other municipalities that have a contracted City Manager independent from the elected position of mayor.
In Hialeah, however, the official powers are far from the reality. Mayor Carlos Hernandez, in power since 2011 and heir of former mayor Julio Robaina -who is now being charged of loan sharking,- not only has a strong influence inside of City Hall. He is the only one allowed to appoint a councilman (or rather, rubber stamps the candidacy of any ally).
Under the mayor's leadership, property values have gone down dramatically, while the tax base witnessed its seventh year of consecutive decline in 2013. The zoning code is a mess, with a large number of burdening regulations for both homeowners and businesses. The police force remains rampant with scandals and bribery. And transparency is inexistent in Hialeah.
Even worse, there are virtually no competitive bids awarded for city projects. Almost every single construction and purchases made by Hialeah in the past two years has been done with a waiver of competition, allowing Mayor Hernandez to give numerous contracts to his allies. A case in point is the recent Milander Auditorium, which cost taxpayers over $1 million, awarded to one of Hernandez's main campaign contributors.
Running against Carlos Hernandez is former Julio Martinez. Martinez is a Vietnam War veteran with a colorful history in the City of Progress. A mayor in the 1990s as a substitute for jailed Raul Martinez, Julio was a strong vocal opponent of his predecessor's iron hand in the city.
He was opposed to then-Police Chief Rolando Bolanos, who was accused of nepotism and corruption more than once. Yet, both Raul Martinez and Bolanos support his candidacy in 2013. Many see this as a sign that former opponents can come together to defeat a corrupt, yet powerful foe. Indeed, Martinez has pledged to fight corruption in Hialeah and is responsible for the recent discovery of a Sunshine Law violation made by the city council last month.
Finally, Juan Santana is also running for the highest office in town. Santana is himself a colorful character, known for being harassed by Mayor Hernandez's employees. A registered independent, he has had only a fraction of the campaign contributions given to both Hernandez and Martinez and claims that as Mayor, he "will work for nobody".
Santana might have only small chances to win this year but his platform is probably the most interesting of the three candidates. Clearly, he wants to bring an end to the current Establishment by bringing in transparency, organize a clearer way to deal with the budget, and get out of the gambling business. He also wants to restrain the zoning code in Hialeah to make it easier for businesses to expand.
It is clear that with a pending investigation for violating Sunshine Laws and loan sharking, Mayor Carlos Hernandez will not have a strong chance at getting re-elected this November. But Julio Martinez himself has questionable allies, such as former Mayor Raul Martinez, which might cost him victory as well. This is why the Examiner recommends Juan Santana for Mayor of Hialeah.
FOR COUNCIL GROUP 5
The City Council's Group 5 seat opposes incumbent Luis Gonzalez to young Democratic activist Julio Rodriguez. Both candidates have dubious platforms. And both candidates offer interesting proposals.
But Luis Gonzalez is not only an incumbent, he is now running for his last term as Mayor Carlos Hernandez's council vice-president. Councilman Gonzalez has not voted against the mayor's wishes once in his career and the only time he dared to show a little independence as an elected official was a few weeks ago when, in front of the Miami Herald's editorial board, he claimed he would oppose the renewal of a contract with a controversial baseball academy that locks up a public park for the entire year despite state laws. His position changed again a week after his statement.
Julio Rodriguez is running on a platform centered around transparency and accountability. Among other ideas, he wants to broadcast all council meetings on TV and online. He also wants to fight against voter fraud in Hialeah, and supports stronger unions.
His position concerning city employees and gambling are certainly controversial. Not only does he want to ban slot machines, which bring a lot of revenues to small businesses, but he also wants to fix the zoning code and transform Hialeah into a real Miami-Dade County city. These positions are probably not the most libertarian ones.
But the issue of transparency and the fight against corruption are more important than any other detailed platform. The reality is that to even get to the point of being able to debate an issue inside City Hall, we first need to get rid of today's incumbents. This is why we recommend Julio Rodriguez for Hialeah City Council, Group 5.
FOR COUNCIL GROUP 6
The race for the Group 6 seat of the city council is probably the hottest race in this electoral cycle. It opposes another incumbent, Paul "Pablito" Hernandez to a young, 19 year-old Marcos Miralles.
Pablito Hernandez is a former board member of the Hialeah Housing Authority, appointed back in 2010 at the young age of 22. Less than a year later, he was appointed by Mayor Hernandez at the City Council and won a special election later the same year with 60% of the vote.
In the past two years, Pablito Hernandez has proven to be the opposite of a leader. He has never voted against the wishes of the Mayor, speaks only when authorized by Carlos Hernandez, and has abstained from voting over 40 times because of his employer, lobbyist Felix Lasarte.
He has amounted a campaign treasure chest of over $40,000, mostly from the construction business. His campaign signs are only visible underneath the mayor's. And his fate is considered the most shaky after the November election.
Marcos Miralles is very young. Too young according to many voters. But he already has a strong campaign team, made of a media director, two campaign consultants, a campaign manager, and an army of volunteers across the city.
Nicknamed "New Blood" by the local media, Miralles brings his popularity by not being part of any political clan. He has a very libertarian platform, running mainly against corruption and for transparency. In the latter, his main beef is not for televising council meetings but rather to expose all public records in an online database. According to him, the cost of any citizen investigation into the city's financial past can cost up to hundreds of dollars, even though public records are being stored by taxpayer funds.
Marcos Miralles has been a strong opponent of the local budget proceedings, blaming the council for looking at ways to cut crucial city services in this time of declining revenues instead of focusing on the roots of the problem.
"Terrible corruption, tyrannical regulations, an authoritarian police force and high taxes are among the leading causes of our declining revenues. You have to talk about these problems before you tackle anything else," he says. "As councilman, we will fight to include measures into budget talks to deal with our city's basic problems that make property values go down."
The Examiner thus recommends Marcos Miralles for the Hialeah City Council, Group 6.