When voters get pissed off enough about what their local politicians are doing, they can try to oust them. It happened in March 2011 when then-Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez was removed from office following a high-profile campaign bankrolled by billionaire car dealer Norman Braman. A whopping 88 percent of voters chose to remove Alvarez over the Marlins Park fiasco and for proposing a budget that increased property taxes and gave county staffers raises during a time of economic crisis. One of the county commissioners who approved the budget, Natacha Seijas, was recalled in the same breath.
There have also been failed bids to recall Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and officials in Doral, Miami Gardens, and Sweetwater. Now Hialeah could be next: Critics tell New Times they’ve begun working on a recall petition to remove Mayor Carlos Hernandez from office.
“We came to the conclusion that we have to get rid of the mayor because of the lack of responsibility and the mismanagement of city funds,” says Eduardo Macaya, a Hialeah resident and council candidate for Group 3 who lost in the November 5 election.
Hernandez has not yet responded to requests for comment from New Times.
Macaya and another losing council candidate, Fernando Godo, are leading the charge to toss Hernandez from office after eight years as mayor. Macaya and Godo plan to formally announce the launch of the recall petition during a news conference tomorrow morning at Chico’s Restaurant in Hialeah.
Florida statute says recall petitions require a 200-word statement of grounds for removal of an elected official. Lorenzo Palomares, the attorney representing the recall committee, provided New Times with the recall petition filed with the city clerk’s office. The petition alleges Hernandez failed to maintain the best interest of the city by “placing his personal interest, and that of his friends and associates, over that of the residents of the City of Hialeah.”
Critics have long accused Hernandez of selling out the city and intimidating rivals. Eric Johnson, president of the Hialeah firefighters’ union, filed suit against the mayor and the city earlier this year, claiming retaliation for reporting misconduct within the city government. Hernandez has also been investigated for extorting businesses and for siccing former political operative Glenn Rice on detractors. (No criminal charges were ever filed.) In 2015, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust fined Hernandez $4,000 for lying about high-interest payments he received from a loan he gave to a convicted Ponzi schemer. The mayor paid up in the ultimate “F-you” way — with boxes of pennies and nickels.
The new recall petition accuses the mayor of shaking down businesses and charging for fraudulent temporary business permits, in violation of a federal agreement between the county and the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection, which requires repairs of the county’s sewer system to the tune of $1.6 billion over the course of 15 years.
Univision’s Erika Carrillo first reported about the businesses that were at risk of closing because of the temporary license issue. The Miami Herald has also reported that the City of Hialeah collected tens of thousands of dollars by issuing temporary permits to businesses in violation of county regulations on sewage flows.
“There was an outcry all over town about that,” Macaya says.
Now critics will have to see if that anger is enough to gather the required number of signatures. They’ll have 30 days to secure signatures from 5 percent of Hialeah’s approximately 104,000 registered voters, which is about 5,200 people.
“We’re going to work to get double that,” Godo says.
According to Godo, the committee has dozens of volunteers who have agreed to fan out across the city at shopping centers, churches, grocery stores, and libraries to collect signatures. They plan to start tomorrow after the news conference.
If the committee collects enough signatures, the signed petitions would be turned over to the city clerk, who would then submit the forms to the county supervisor of elections to have the signatures verified. If the elections office determines the committee didn’t gather enough verified signatures, however, the recall campaign would die.
Previous recall campaigns launched on shoestring budgets have failed. Palomares, the recall committee’s attorney, says several political action committees have committed to financially backing Hernandez’s ouster.
Macaya says that, for now, the goal is to collect as many signatures as possible.
“We’re gonna walk this town up and down until we get them,” he says.