It has become apparent that Mayor Manny Diaz is a divisive figure in Miami politics. Many argue that his services have been invaluable and there are those that consider his activities to be tantamount to criminal. So what’s the truth? Will time tell? Are the answers before us? I had an interesting interchange with a reader, Manuel Rodriguez, who had some thought provoking claims concerning scandals involving Manny Diaz. Here is the quote of his comment:
…’unless a scandal ensues’… Did you miss the fire fee scandal? Did you miss the Hammes contract scandal? Did you miss the Johnny Winton “Let’s give my partner Manny Diaz a $58,000 raise in the middle of the night scandal”? Did you miss the Steve Marin no-bid contract scandal? The Johnny Winton arrested at MIA scandal? to name a few…We are told there are 40,000 condos for sale on the MLS. We are told there are 31,000 condos under construction… We are told usually Miami absorbs 8,000 units a year. Real estate taxes have never been so painful. Sound like oversupply to you? Sure tax revenues are going up. Tax revenues are what pay the overpaid government workers. Tax revenues are what pays workers who live in Broward County. Tax revenues going up are what are used to pay for the no bid contracts, the cost overruns, the change orders… Where is the money for the residents? Where are the renovated parks? The increased services? We do not think Manny Diaz will be viewed in a positive light.”
Manuel symbolizes those that are skeptical of Manny Diaz’s contributions. I must admit, I am not altogether 100% up to date on Miami’s political activities nor do I claim to be. I, like many, am rather exhausted of the constant rumblings of fraudulent activity emanating from city hall. The question is: has corruption been reduced since Manny Diaz took the helm? The answer is not so clear.
The mayor’s activities, at times, have been suspect. For one, he, former city commissioner Winton, and city manager Arriola were involved in a questionable real estate transaction in Coconut Grove. I agree that having three city officials dabbling in flipping a multi-million dollar house is not altogether palatable, but worse things have happened. This is not a major scandal.
Johnny Winton’s alcoholism and MIA arrest debacle should not reflect directly on the character or track record of Manny Diaz, so I have to consider that irrelevant to the debate.
The Fire Fee scandal is a bit more damaging to Manny Diaz’s reputation. It is hard to believe that he had no clue that the $7 million dollar settlement was only distributed to the seven plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit. However, Arriola masterminded the ridiculous settlement not Manny Diaz.
The no-bid scandal again falls under the realm of Mr. Arriola. The mayor is his boss, but the scandal is directly related to Mr. Arriola and indirectly related to Manny Diaz by association.
I am not trying to absolve Manny Diaz of his accountability in the context of these scandals. I’ve simply yet to see a major scandal directly affect Manny Diaz. The Mayor continues to receive awards all over the nation for his achievements and rise to eminence from humble immigrant beginnings.
Regarding the MLS listings, the lack of promised increased services, and money for residents, I have to defer to a Bob claim: Miami’s unprecedented development boom is a phenomenon that transcends city hall. When there is so much money being concentrated into construction in one metropolitan area, so many international investment interests, a city literally changing before everyone’s eyes, and all of it with no local precedent, problems will arise. It is easy to blame the head honcho, but the reality is that this whole situation is historic, massive in scope, hard to predict, and even more difficult to control. There has to be some level of empathy when considering the mayor’s performance. The market has slowed but not gone bust. Government development data has been questionable, cancelled projects are rumored to be under reported, and reported construction costs inaccurate, but this is all part of adjusting to this urban development phenomenon.
Manny Diaz won his second term in a landslide with 65% of the votes and has held the top spot during Miami’s greatest real estate boom. The crime rate has gone down. Miami’s international perception continues to become increasingly lustrous. I am simply not convinced that there has been any scandal large enough to taint this mayor’s legacy.
Post Script: Diaz remains a partner in the legal practice of Diaz & O’Naghten, L.L.P. Mayor Diaz is also an advisory board member for both the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Civic Innovation, the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Urban Research and the Mayors’ Institute on City Design. In 2004 he was named Urban Innovator of the Year by the Manhattan Institute. Diaz is a member of the Executive Committee and Board of Trustees for the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM). He serves as Chair of the Arts, Parks, Entertainment and Sports Committee, Co-Chair of the Faith-Based and Community Task Force for the USCM. He is also an advisory board member for both the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Civic Innovation, the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Urban Research and the Mayors’ Institute on City Design.