Politics & Government

Miami has new mayor, but indictments empty city commission

MIAMI — Sudden vacancies at the top are nothing new at Miami City Hall, where some mayors, commissioners and city managers have made a virtual civic tradition of getting evicted from their posts by scandal, indictment or political score-settling.

But these latest events may top it all.

In the space of a few days, a new mayor was sworn in, a nationally recognized police chief stepped down and two commissioners -- Angel Gonzalez and Michelle Spence-Jones -- were forced out by corruption charges.

Though not entirely unexpected -- rumors of the criminal charges had circulated for weeks -- the events turned City Hall upside down as the new mayor, veteran commissioner Tomás Regalado, steps into the official suite at Dinner Key.

But the political vacuum may be a lucky break for Regalado, allowing him the rare chance to influence -- if not determine outright -- the choices to fill two vacancies simultaneously on the five-seat commission.

Tracking the changes, and the potential fallout, almost requires a spreadsheet.

Regalado, who during former Mayor Manny Diaz's eight years in office was often on the losing side of 4-1 votes, now appears poised to secure a solid commission majority. Both Gonzalez and Spence-Jones were staunch allies of Diaz, Regalado's political nemesis.

That puts Regalado and his chief lieutenant, newly anointed Commission Chair Marc Sarnoff, firmly in the driver's seat at City Hall.

"Regalado has a gigantic opportunity to shape the commission,'' said Florida International University politics professor Kevin Hill. ``He could really shape what he wants to do for the next year or two.''

In fact, Regalado could enjoy the rare political fortune of a commission composed entirely of allies.

In Tuesday's runoff for the District 4 vacancy created by Regalado's election, both candidates, Francis Suarez and Manolo Reyes, have been sending out fliers with the new mayor's picture on it, even though Regalado has stayed out of the race.

Newly elected Commissioner Frank Carollo, meanwhile, has been glued to Regalado's side since the election. Regalado has taken to calling Carollo "Frankie.''

Carollo -- a former cop and brother of former Miami Mayor Joe Carollo -- replaced another Diaz ally on the commission, Joe Sanchez, who was crushed by Regalado in the mayoral race.

"I really think that we are going to have a very friendly commission,'' Regalado said in an interview. "Remember, the three Manny Diaz votes are gone.''

Only once has there been a worse political vacuum at Miami City Hall: In 1938, voters recalled Mayor Robert Williams and two commissioners -- a majority of the commission, since the mayor sat on the panel then -- amid allegations of bribe solicitation. All three, members of what The Miami News dubbed the "termite'' administration, were charged but later acquitted.

Read the full story at MiamiHerald.com

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