Adding to voter antagonism was that which accompanied the rise in taxes: pay increases and the unfreezing of certain benefits for unionized public sector employees, along with substantial raises for members of Mr. Alvarez’s inner circle. The Mayor’s chief of staff, Denis Morales received an 11% pay raise to over $200,000 dollars per year, and director of policy Vicki Mallette got a 15% pay raise, to over $120,000 dollars per year. Alvarez defended the raises, claiming those granted to union workers constituted part of a three-year collective bargaining agreement which had also included previous pay cuts, while those for his staff were the result of a heavier workload created by the increased powers voters gave him in 2007.
As late as Wednesday afternoon the Mayor remained defiant, telling a Spanish radio station that, if he had an opportunity to go back and do it again, he would have approved the same budget. ”I knew the decision was not going to be popular,” Alvarez told WURN-Actualidad 1020 AM. ”If I had done what Mr. Braman wanted me to do…I would be facing a recall by the other people whose funding for arts and social services was cut,” he added.
There was also a relatively minor controversy, but one which undoubtedly reinforced the notion of Alvarez’s opponents contention that the mayor was politically tone-deaf. Last May, Alvarez purchased a BMW 550i Grand Turismo sedan subsidized by an $800-a-month car allowance, despite already having two Chevy Suburbans to use for official business. Despite a salary and benefits package which paid him over $325,000, he refused to kill the car allowance, claiming such a gesture was nothing more than “symbolic.”
Voters didn’t buy any of it. ”It’s a farce what he has done,” said Luis Diaz, a 56-year-old airport worker and former Alvarez supporter. “He needed to raise taxes to keep the county running, but he also had to give raises to his friends. ”Let him leave office tomorrow (Wednesday).”
That’s precisely what Mr. Alvarez will do, despite spending over $1 million on a blitz of speeches, radio and television appearances and paid advertisements in a futile attempt to save his job. On Friday that job will end when the election is certified by the county’s three-member canvassing board. After that, the county commission has 30 days to make a choice between appointing a new mayor or scheduling another special election.
Tuesday’s recall election is the second largest in the nation, topped only by California’s recall of Governor Gray Davis. And despite being held in the month of March in an off year, voter turnout was reportedly as large as the election in November. Recall organizer Norman Braman summed up the prevailing mood. “County voters have demonstrated by their ballot that they are tired of unaccountable officials, of being ignored, and of being over-taxed in this very difficult recessionary time,’’ the auto dealer said Tuesday night. “We’ve empowered the people of this county to take back the government and ask the government to be responsive to the people.”
In a week of cataclysmic events it is understandable that the recall of a city Mayor and a County Commissioner might generate far less light and heat than normal. But one suspects the kind of discontent which generated almost nine-out-of-ten voters to oust politicians they had previously supported–more than once–is not limited to the Sunshine State. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll, Americans’ confidence in government has dropped to a thirty-five year low. Such a survey is misleading. Do Americans lack confidence in the system itself, or the people who inhabit it? If the vote in Miami is any indication, the system is working quite well. Politicians running for election or re-election in 2012 would be well-advised to pay attention to something far more important that seems to be in serious decline: voter apathy.
Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.com.
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