Miami, It’s a Whole ‘Nother Country

Is it okay for a real estate developer to hire the Mayor to help get a city waiver for a major building project?
Mayor Suarez stands along with law enforcement from Miami-Dade County as City of Miami Police Chief Manuel A. Morales gives his remarks. On Monday, June 12, 2023, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez held a press conference r... Mayor Suarez stands along with law enforcement from Miami-Dade County as City of Miami Police Chief Manuel A. Morales gives his remarks. On Monday, June 12, 2023, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez held a press conference regarding City preparations, security measures and traffic impacts in anticipation of former President Donald Trumpâs presence in the city of Miami on Tuesday. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Now that Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez has filed paperwork to seek the Republican presidential nomination, I’m finally going to write about something that’s been bugging me and making me laugh for a few weeks. Just to keep up on things, I subscribe to a number of papers in swing or swingish states around the country. One of those is the Miami Herald. For several weeks the Herald has been advancing a story about Mayor Suarez and his relationship with one of the city’s rising real estate developers, Rishi Kapoor. In these cases “relationship” usually means a shadowy and uncertain series of ties. But in this case it’s not shadowy: the mayor is literally on Kapoor’s payroll. It’s started with people raising questions about the fact that Kapoor had been working to get a series of accommodations from the city for a major development project and had also been paying Suarez $10,000 a month for vaguely defined consulting services.

I was instantly interested because I didn’t realize you needed to raise questions about a big real estate developer literally having the mayor on his payroll. Bribery is usually a pretty straightforward issue. What’s the question exactly? It’s probably against the law to do that. But this is Miami, so who knows, maybe it’s not that clear cut. And it turns out it’s not.

Suarez and Kapoor initially said Suarez was helping Kapoor find investors for one of his projects, not make the red tape for the big project in Coconut Grove disappear. But then the Herald broke the story that the company’s records made very clear that they were paying the mayor to do just that. Notes from a meeting last summer, in which Kapoor tried reassure skittish investors that the zoning issues would be resolved, read: “Mayor Suarez to assist in pushing this along.”

Now many small towns have part-time mayors who have other jobs on the side. But Miami is a pretty big city and I’m told real estate is a big thing there. It’s also true that Miami does have a “weak” mayoral system. The mayor and the city council appoint a city manager who runs the city government on a day-to-day basis. So Suarez doesn’t have the kind of command and control power over the city bureaucracy that many big city mayors have. But all this being said, it really doesn’t seem like a stretch to say that it’s not okay for the mayor to work as a “consultant” to real estate developers whose whole business depends on getting stuff handled at city hall.

Over the weekend came news that the FBI is now investigating the payments to the Mayor (which totaled at least $170,000) and the SEC is investigating the real estate developer’s company. So now we’re presumably off to the races.

So with everything going great in Miami, Suarez decided it’s time to seek a big promotion to president. My best guess is that given recent events Suarez thinks that an impending indictment will make him a bigger contender for the nomination than he might otherwise be. And who can say he’s wrong?

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