Messy Politics

Sara Smith, Liberty Square Residents Council
By John Dorschner
    As many insiders expected, the remaking of Liberty Square has turned into a political football game featuring the two developers most closely connected with county commissioners.
    To recap: On Monday, this blog announced that the recommended winner of the Liberty Square bidding was expected to be announced this week.
    After that story went on the web, Michael Hernandez, spokesman for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, sent me an e-mail: "Yes. We anticipate a recommendation this week or next. The information becomes public record once Mayor Gimenez signs the recommendation. That may come later this month."
    I then revised this story to say that the "announcement may made be made in late December."
    On Wednesday, the Miami Times and The Miami Herald reported that selection committee had picked Atlantic Pacific as the winning bidder, but there was a controversy about the preference of Sara Smith, the president of Liberty Square's residents council who is on the selection committee.
    The Miami Times story is available HERE. The Herald's is HERE.
    Smith preferred Atlantic Pacific by a wide margin, the Herald reported. It named no sources, but said the rest of the panel preferred RUDG, a wing of the powerful Related Group.

                         "Community Activists Worried"

     The Miami Times reported: "Community activists are worried that, if the recommended company is not the one selected, then the vote of Liberty Square resident Sara Smith would be worthless."
    The Miami Herald story, which had several negative comments on Smith without citing sources, put it this way: "Take her scores out, and Related Urban Development Group is the clear winner. Dismiss Smith, and the county risks disenfranchising the residents of Liberty Square and the black community, and possibly generate bid protests or lawsuits."

       The Times reported it had obtained its information because the county, even while operating under a "cone of silence," had filled on Nov. 24 a public records request by Richard P. Dunn II, a pastor, about the bids made on the Liberty Square project. The Herald didn't list the source of its information.
        The Herald has two stories online about Liberty Square on Thursday morning, but an article didn't appear in the  home-delivered print edition until Friday. 

                            Top Competitors 
        On July 23, this blog did a detailed analysis of the six bidders -- and noted that two of them had strong political connections:
     RUDG, the affordable housing unit of Related Group,  a big, experienced developer led by Jorge M. Perez, one of the most powerful figures in Miami-Dade politics. RUDG was slammed for its political connections by Miami New Times earlier this year. 
    Atlantic Pacific Communities, a two-year-old subsidiary that includes former executives and assets of the Carlisle Development Group. Its owner, Matt Greer, pleaded guilty this summer to profiting from secret kickbacks in tax-credit-funded affordable housing. None of the Carlisle executives who moved over to Atlantic Pacific were charged in the case.
     The county commission allowed the transfer of the county-backed projects to Atlantic Pacific with minimal discussion on the urging of Commissioner Audrey Edmonson,
Audrey Edmonson
whom the Herald has described as the biggest benefactor of Carlisle political donations. She has been a strong supporter of Carlisle projects, many of which are in her district.
    On Nov. 19, this blog reported:  "Around county hall, there's been a vague buzz wondering why only six of the 24 qualified developers entered the competition to rebuild Liberty Square. The whispered assumption is that some developers have such an inside track that others need not bother." 

      In July, I quoted Andres Duany, an internationally respected urban planner and architect, blaming politics for the lack of development in Liberty City.
     "Basically there are handlers of the government subsidies and they don't want anyone interfering," he said. "It's disgusting."
      He said a "huge mafia" works to control the government funds that finance considerable housing in Liberty City and don't want outside developers or urban planners like Duany interfering in their business.

     My discussion on the messy politics of Liberty Square and the larger concerns about the role of public housing is available by clicking the tab on the right -- Housing Story So Far. 
     The over-riding issue is whether the proposed remakes of Liberty Square will do anything to address the intense poverty, unemployment, crime and segregation that have plagued the area for decades. 

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