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Miami-Dade Voters May Oust Mayor in Largest Municipal Recall

Miami-Dade County voters are poised to oust Republican Mayor Carlos Alvarez today after he raised property taxes to help close a deficit. Florida’s most-populous county would become the largest U.S. municipality to recall a top official.

Voters in the county, home to the city of Miami, favor a recall by 67 percent, according to a poll commissioned by the Miami Herald dated March 5. They may also remove Commissioner Natacha Seijas, the survey showed. The newspaper said the poll reflected “discontent crossing all political and demographic lines.” Forty-one percent cited the tax increase as their reason for favoring a recall.

Alvarez, 58, angered residents with the tax increase as property values fell 22 percent in three years, according to the appraisers’ office. Omaha, Nebraska, voters sought to expel Democratic Mayor Jim Shuttle in January for raising taxes, an effort he survived. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s curbs on union rights led to recall petitions against state legislators there this month.

“Recall elections tend to be less about the policies taken up by the ‘offending’ official and more about voter anger and frustration,” said Joseph Uscinski, who teaches politics at the University of Miami in Coral Gables. Alvarez “pursued policies that could not be avoided given the financial crises the city, state and nation are in.”

‘Unfair Light’

Miami-Dade, with about 2.5 million residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, would be the largest local government to recall a top official, said Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in New York City. Californians removed Democratic Governor Gray Davis in 2003.

Alvarez’s $7.6 billion fiscal 2011 budget, which began Oct. 1, used the tax increase, plus $186.7 million of spending cuts, including union wage concessions, to help close a $440 million revenue gap. It was adopted by the 13-member County Commission in September.

In the poll, 41 percent cited the tax increase as their reason for favoring a recall. The second most-cited reason, ineffectiveness, was picked by 15 percent.

Focusing on the tax increase “casts the budget in an unfair light,” said Victoria Mallette, Alvarez’s spokeswoman.

“We saved taxpayers $225 million with the collective- bargaining agreement,” she said in an interview. “The mayor has no regrets about his budget. He wanted to maintain services.”

The recall drive was led by Norman Braman, a local car dealer and former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles National Football League team. He criticized the mayor for giving high- ranking county officials raises while lifting taxes. He also opposed the county’s $347 million contribution toward a new ballpark for the Florida Marlins, a Major League Baseball team.

Elected in 2004

Alvarez, a native of Cuba, became mayor in 2004 and was re- elected in 2008. County commissioners would have 30 days to appoint a new mayor or call a special election to complete Alvarez’s term, which ends in November 2012.

Miami-Dade is Florida’s largest municipal borrower after the state, with $17.8 billion of debt outstanding, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings have negative outlooks on Miami-Dade, partly because of revenue declines. S&P rates its general-obligation bonds AA-, the fourth-highest grade. Moody’s and Fitch rate them third- highest, at Aa2 and AA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jerry Hart in Miami at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at

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