Miami Herald (Sunday)
Miami’s Francis Suarez thinks he’s above ethics laws. Pay up or disclose, Mr. Mayor | Opinion
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez — elected and reelected by a super majority of voters and a man with his eye on the White
House — has been partying it up with the rich and famous like it’s nobody’s business.
But for someone who holds as powerful and influential an elected position as his, it is the public’s business.
Surely, elected officials attend events around town all the time and they’re either escorted in to make an appearance or given a comped ticket.
But Suarez, so often absent these days from community events typical for a mayor, doesn’t seem to miss the luxurious ones, the sporting ones and the party scene.
And he won’t answer a basic question: Who paid the bill?
The outrageously costly freebies people may be lavishing on him, especially lobbyists and vendors with a lot to gain from access to City Hall, pose a huge conflict of interest for the mayor.
Miami Herald investigative reporter Sarah Blaskey, who has been tracking his outings, assessed the worth of his Formula 1 weekend of privileged fun at $30,000.
That’s a lot of dough to keep secret.
The highlights of his partying circuit: He was given $14,000 passes to Formula 1’s most luxurious viewing suite. He attended after-parties packed with stars like the Estefans that were hosted by people tied to local lobbyists who waived the hefty cover charges for elected officials. He schmoozed with the hospitality group Gr8 Experience at a Once Upon a Kitchen $6,000-perperson dinner.
And, he brought along his wife, Gloria, to some of those Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix star-lit events.
PRICEY & CONTROVERSIAL
It’s way more than only bad optics, though there’s that.
Racing sounds fun, but it’s controversial. Nobody wants it in their back yard, which raises concerns about influence-peddling.
Formula 1 operators have a history of being savvy operators.
The international group vying to bring that form of auto racing to MiamiDade, and trying at first to run races at PortMiami facilities when Carlos Gimenez was mayor, had his lobbyist son, C.J, on its payroll.
After poshy downtown Miami residents loudly rejected the additional crazy in their area, Formula 1 went shopping in Miami Gardens. As much as people who can afford it now seem to be enjoying the races, many residents of the predominantly Black, working- and middle-class Miami Gardens opposed it and are still annoyed.
They fought against having the noise, the traffic, the crowds in their back yards — and lost.
They can’t afford luxury ticket prices, but here’s Mayor Suarez hamming it up... for free?
Is he charging it to his City Hall expense account? If he does, he would have blown his expense stipend of about $33,000 in one weekend.
Is he paying with the City Hall salary he converts from $97,000 a year to $96,000 in Bitcoin?
Or, did his law firm pay? “America’s crypto mayor” refuses to tell the media — or the public.
He must, at least, file the proper disclosures. He hasn’t filed any, as is required by law of any public official receiving free tickets or comped admission from anyone outside of immediate family.
A corporate lawyer, Suarez also didn’t disclose his freebies during his Formula One experience last year. Similar highprofile race, pricey parties and events.
Not only are his lack of disclosures possible violations of Florida ethics laws, but he owes the Miami voters who placed their confidence on him to be a better leader that information.
ANOTHER CONFLICT OF INTEREST FOR SUAREZ
The experience of fellow Republicans should have taught him that he’s not above the law.
Taking his wife out on the town on somebody else’s luxurious dime isn’t the only conflict the mayor is staying mum about.
As a lawsuit against a developer reveals, report the Herald’s Joey Flechas and Jay Weaver, Suarez also has conflicts of interest between his private and public jobs.
Suarez quietly worked as a consultant for a Coconut Grove luxury condo developer, who has business before City Hall.
He was paid $10,000 a month for at least eight months from August 2022 to March 2023 for the undisclosed job for an affiliate of Location Ventures, now being sued.
Non-disclosure is a bad habit of his.
During his two terms as mayor, he has refused to tell the public who his private clients are. Worse, he doesn’t think he needs to explain himself.
NO COMMENT SUAREZ
I sent Suarez a text to his cell phone asking him to weigh in on both Herald reports.
“Mr. Mayor, I’m writing a column about the conflict of interests between your job as a consultant and your political post — and the expensive outings without an explanation about who is funding them,” I wrote, inviting him to talk with me, or at least comment.
He didn’t respond, once a rarity (for me, at least).
He used to be an accessible mayor eager to discuss thorny issues, whether it was to make his case for the soccer stadium or plug his new police chief. He’s a great communicator when he wants to be.
A statement sent by his office to the Herald said the fancy outings come with the job title.
No, it’s not as if the friendly owner of his neighborhood bar bought him a beer — and Suarez knows it.
Fabiola Santiago: 305-376-3469, @fabiolasantiago