NEWS: After big win, Miami-Dade mayor eyes ‘bold’ transit expansion
As Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez revs up for a second four-year term, transportation appears at the top of his agenda. He’s contemplating announcing at least one transit project by year’s end, the first installment of the six-corridor “SMART Plan” that was a centerpiece of his campaign.
“We want to be bold. We want to press ahead. We don’t want to plan these things to death,” Gimenez told reporters outside his 29th floor offices Wednesday morning, fresh off a commanding reelection win against challenger Raquel Regalado. “ I’m sure we’re going to be able to do that in the next couple of months.”
Gimenez emphasized a multi-front agenda that included economic development and reducing youth violence, and said he did not want one goal to be seen as trumping the others. But he also said that a major announcement on the closely watched transit plan could come soon, and that he wants to take advantage of whatever momentum his 12-point victory provides.
“I received more votes than any other Miami-Dade County mayor,” Gimenez said.
“WE WANT TO BE BOLD. WE WANT TO PRESS AHEAD. WE DON’T WANT TO PLAN THESE THINGS TO DEATH.” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez
Final results showed him taking 56 percent of the vote to 44 percent for Regalado, a two-term member of the school board. Gimenez received more than 475,000 votes, and Regalado just under 376,000. The last mayor before Gimenez to win reelection was Carlos Alvarez in 2008; he won just 116,181 votes in the August primary that ended the race that year.
Gimenez first took office in 2011, winning a special election to replace Alvarez, who was recalled with one year remaining in his term. Gimenez won easy reelection in 2012 against Joe Martinez, then the chairman of the County Commission, during the August mayoral primaries. A primary win requires crossing 50 percent of the vote total, and he fell two points short in the August contest with Regalado and five other challengers.
The map of his runoff victory Tuesday showed Gimenez sweeping almost all of Miami-Dade, winning about 85 percent of the 762 precincts that reported votes in the mayoral contest. His margins also reflect a strategy of running up the score in affluent, non-Hispanic-white precincts, posting decent wins in African-American precincts, then fighting it out on the Hispanic vote with Regalado.
The all-but-final results available Wednesday showed the mayor’s widest margin came in Pinecrest, where he took 69 percent of the vote. Miami Gardens, the largest majority-black city in Florida, was closer: He took 56 percent. Gimenez held a whisker of a lead in Hialeah, the top Hispanic-heavy battleground in Miami-Dade. There, Gimenez took 50.4 percent of the vote, with a lead of 536 ballots out of more than 60,000 cast.
Regalado won in two small cities: Sweetwater and Medley. Gimenez also beat Regalado by six points in Miami, where her father, Tomás Regalado, serves as mayor.
Fernand Amandi, partner in the Bendixen Amandi polling firm in Coconut Grove, which had Gimenez the heavy favorite going into the race, said the results prove the mayor’s staying power with county voters.
“This is the third time he’s gone before voters in three very different environments. He’s been able to put together a coalition that held during all three of those cycles,” Amandi said. “It’s very difficult to hold onto power for that long.”
Gimenez said Wednesday that he saw the 2016 race as far more personal than his other campaigns. The scrapping reached a peak in the final weeks of the campaign when Regalado unsuccessfully sued to disqualify Gimenez from the ballot. Gimenez said Regalado did not call him on Election Night, a tradition that’s common for the losing candidate. Regalado was not immediately available for comment.
Term limits restrict Gimenez to another four years. He said he’s going to focus on efforts to diversify Miami-Dade’s economy, grow his Employ Miami-Dade job-training program, and explore ways to reduce youth gun violence, including the expansion of a pilot program that places police with families of at-risk children.
By any measure, the SMART transit effort presents the biggest mix of steep challenges and high expectations. Gimenez and other leaders debuted the plan in April, and the initiative starred in the mayor’s campaign materials and message. It was designed to address backlash over a failed promise by Miami-Dade leaders to expand rail across Miami-Dade in exchange for voters adopting a half-percent sales tax dedicated to transit.
Only a few miles of rail to Miami International Airport were built in the 14 years since, and the SMART plan involves a reset of planning for six corridors that roughly match the 2012 blueprint. A single rail line could cost billions, but cheaper options are possible, including a bus-rapid-transit system that uses dedicated lanes and rail-like boardings to increase speeds from stop to stop.
The plan itself drew plaudits from county commissioners and other officials eager to show progress on commuting gridlock. But it also drew criticism from Regalado and others, who saw it as a vehicle for promising a major expansion without having to choose one route over another or identify how Miami-Dade might pay for the massive infrastructure projects.
On Wednesday, Gimenez didn’t say which of the corridors are likely to go first, but the 20-mile South Dade Transitway is considered a top candidate because Miami-Dade already owns the stretch of highway reserved for buses and could use it to lay tracks for light rail. Other corridors would require land acquisition or significant road alterations to make way for rail. Gimenez could announce one or more that are first on the SMART plan list.
“I plan on moving forward with some initiatives fairly soon,” he said when asked about the SMART plan. “Some of these will be done a lot quicker than others.”