In his first speech as Miami’s mayor, Francis Suarez laid out plans to pursue an array of public works projects and pledged to push during his first 12 months in office to dramatically expand his powers and become the focal point of city government.
Suarez, who was sworn into office Wednesday after winning more than 85 percent of the vote during the Nov. 7 election, said he’ll quickly launch a petition drive and seek the consent of city commissioners to get a strong mayor referendum onto the November 2018 ballot. If approved by voters, the proposal would turn what is largely a figurehead position into an administrative post that controls the city’s $1 billion budget — and can be recalled by the public.
“It’s time Miami had one person held accountable,” he said. “The city of Miami can’t afford to continue experiencing the level of instability it has seen over the last eight years.”
The announcement was one of many made by the 40-year-old attorney in a rain-soaked half-hour speech, during which he also pledged to pursue the construction of a tunnel underneath the Miami River to alleviate Brickell Avenue traffic, push for a citywide traffic plan, and use some 30 acres of county and city land in the “urban core” to build affordable housing.
Framing his hopes for his first of two potential four-year terms, Suarez said he’ll tackle homelessness, try to help elevate the city’s start-up hubs, and use technology to tamp down crime. He also said he’ll pay attention to the city’s bedroom communities by strengthening zoning laws and making regular appearances in neighborhoods to meet with residents, starting Dec. 2 at Duharte Park in Allapattah.
“During this campaign, as well as my last three campaigns, I freely gave my cellphone number to anyone who asked for it,” he said. “I’m not sure anyone in the audience doesn’t have it, but just in case, it’s 305-992-3342.”
Suarez, first elected as commissioner in 2009, also wants to help pursue big-picture urban plans to convert an old abandoned railway and the Rickenbacker Causeway into linear parks, and quickly begin moving on some $400 million in projects authorized by voters this month when they approved now-former mayor Tomás Regalado’s Miami Forever general obligation bond.
The bond initiative gives him nearly $200 million for sea-rise, and he said he’ll push for a climate-change master plan “in order to avoid mistakes made by some other cities in allocating resources on the issue.” He’ll also push quickly to create an oversight board to begin managing the money, which includes $100 million for housing and economic incentives. Suarez said he’ll honor Regalado’s pledge to push $10 million in the bond for cultural facilities into renovations at the county’s historic and shuttered Coconut Grove Playhouse.
Afterward, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez — who embraced Suarez before he gave his commencement speech in a clear sign that the icy relations between the two governments during Regalado’s tenure have quickly thawed — said he has high hopes for working with the new mayor.
“I hope to work a lot closer with him than I did the previous mayor,” said Gimenez, who has the strong-mayor powers at the county that Suarez covets for the city. “We’ll be just fine.”
But perhaps the most consequential of Suarez’s plans involves himself. He’s talked for years about empowering the city’s mayor to become its chief administrator, a job currently handled by an appointed manager. He said he’ll move in his first 100 days to get the initiative going.
But he also knows things can go sideways, proven by nature Wednesday when a rain storm interrupted his speech, which he’d specially planned outdoors on a stage overlooking Dinner Key.
“Today is a reminder,” he said, “that things won’t always go smoothly.”