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MIAMI HERALD: In CARES Act fight, candidates for Miami-Dade mayor side with cities over Gimenez

Candidates running to succeed Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez are united in criticizing him for ongoing friction with city mayors during the coronavirus crisis, including the latest flare up over municipal help from federal CARES Act money.

Gimenez this week cut about $100 million from a planned $135 million allocation to cities out of the $474 million that Miami-Dade received in federal COVID relief, prompting municipal mayors to threaten legal action in pursuit of more money.

Candidates running to succeed Gimenez insist they could manage the crisis with cities by their side if they take charge in November, and say they want the county to turn over more CARES money to city governments.

“We would have sat down with the city mayors the moment we knew the federal money was coming … We would have collaborated from the get-go,” Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said Wednesday at a candidates forum held online by the Miami-Dade League of Cities. She said Gimenez had “reneged” on his administration’s prior CARES plan by dropping the city allocation to $30 million. “It’s extremely disrespectful.”

AUG. 18 PRIMARY TO ELECT MIAMI-DADE’S NEXT MAYOR

Levine Cava is one of three sitting countycommissioners running to succeed Gimenez in a non-partisan primary Aug. 18. Each has voted for CARES-funded county relief programs available to residents and businesses in and out of city limits. Those emergency allocations top $200 million.

The Gimenez administration says those allocations have left Miami-Dade with too little for what cities want from CARES, given the more than $200 million earmarked for county COVID expenses and costs tied to future coronavirus spreads and business assistance.

Gimenez said the fight over CARES money ignores the reality that Miami-Dade’s allocations for rent relief, restaurant grants, taxi driver assistance, seniors meal delivery, charity subsidies and other programs are available to all county residents.

“This money is meant to go to the people of Miami-Dade County,” Gimenez said at a press conference Thursday. “It’s not meant to go to the governments.”

Now running for Congress in the Republican primary for Florida’s 26th District, Gimenez is staying neutral in the contest to replace him. That leaves city mayors to play a larger role in the election, especially with the father of Miami’s mayor on the ballot.

Commissioner Xavier Suarez, father of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, said at the League of Cities forum that it “was just awful” that Miami-Dade’s mayors were so at odds with County Hall during the coronavirus crisis.

“The lack of rapport, the lack of linkages and consultation,” Suarez, a former Miami mayor himself, said at the forum moderated by NBC 6’s Willard Shepard. “The idea that the cities might take too long to allocate the money…is ridiculous. The county is the one that takes forever to do anything.”

A FIGHT OVER MIAMI-DADE’S CARES ACT MONEY FOR COVID

Ludmilla Domond, one of two first-time candidates on the ballot for county mayor, said this was no time for “egos” to affect COVID relief. “We are seeing a lack of unity in our community,” she said. “The people are who we should be thinking about.”

Monique Nicole Barley, the other first-time candidate on the ballot, said resolving the conflict requires “communication and great leadership … I would work hard and carefully with the city mayors.”

Carlos de Armas, the lone candidate who filed as a write-in option for the race, said: “We need to be really responsible in the way we use this money… I think listening is the key to success in this moment.”

Esteban “Steve” Bovo, the third county commissioner running for mayor, has criticized the commission for rushing to spend CARES money without justifying the amounts connected to programs. On Monday, he only received support from Suarez when he tried to pass a resolution freezing CARES allocations until Gimenez could negotiate an agreement with cities for distributing the dollars.

“I’ve had commissioners serving with me who have used CARES money as if they were drunken sailors,” Bovo said. “Creating every program imaginable and funding those programs without any facts or research. I think that’s hurt the cities in the long run.”

Even so, Bovo joined Levine Cava and Suarez on Monday in voting for $20 million in new CARES funding, with half going to arts charities and half going to help taxicab drivers.

Alex Penelas, the former county mayor running again in 2020, remains well ahead in mayor endorsements, with backing from 11 of the 15 that are backing candidates. Penelas said he always had city mayors behind him when facing crises as mayor, including hurricanes and the 1997 search for the murderer of Gianni Versace in South Beach.

He said Gimenez and county commissioners failed by not getting cities involved early in how to spend federal dollars and then how to recover from COVID. “They needed to start listening months ago,” said Penelas, who left the mayor’s office in 2004 after serving two terms. “Look where we’re at [now]…It’s really, unfortunately, the lack of leadership and lack of planning.”

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