As recall wave builds, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez first to go

The recall Tuesday of Carlos Alvarez, the Miami-Dade mayor who raised pay and unfroze benefits for public-sector employees, offers a first hint of voter mood amid a massive recall campaign building in Wisconsin.

J Pat Carter/AP/File
In a Feb. 8 file photo, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez attends ground breaking ceremonies in Miami, for the new Children's Courthouse. Norman Braman has led the campaign to oust Mayor Carlos Alvarez in his second term after a property tax increase and pay raises for many county employees.

Two years after winning in a landslide, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, the chief of some 2.5 million people in south Florida, lost his seat Tuesday in a recall vote after raising taxes and boosting the pay of public-sector union employees.

Mr. Alvarez, a Republican, acknowledged the results Tuesday and said Miami is ready for "reconciliation." But he also claimed he was the victim of a vendetta by a wealthy businessman who spent $1 million of his own money to lobby for the recall, which became the largest municipal one in US history.

To be sure, south Florida politics have a character all their own, but the recall does offer the first hint of the voting public's mood on unions and taxes as Wisconsin voters organize "the mother of all recalls." There, Democrats are targeting Republicans for their vote against collective bargaining, and Republicans are targeting Democrats who left the state to stop the vote.

According to a Miami Herald poll, 67 percent of residents wanted Alvarez out, mainly because he raised property taxes for two-fifths of the county's homeowners by 13 percent, while increasing pay and unfreezing some benefits for public-sector employees. The unemployment rate in Miami-Dade County is 12 percent.

With such sky-high unemployment, as well as crashing tax revenues, "Miami is a microcosm of what may also be the continuing national mood of anger that the economy and high unemployment reverberated," Fernand Amandi, a Miami political analyst, told the Financial Times.

As in Wisconsin, labor leaders in Florida see a broader "democracy for sale" conspiracy behind Alvarez's recall. The Miami-Dade effort was largely orchestrated by former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman and supported by Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, a tea party favorite. In Wisconsin, critics say billionaire Republicans exerted pressure on Republican Gov. Scott Walker to attack the unions.

Governor Walker has said his bill, signed last week, is a step toward making the state budget solvent, but critics say it's an attack on Democrats, who count unions as a major constituency.

As both parties test the recall mechanism to steer policy, the vote on Alvarez could be a harbinger for the tea party, writes Phil Kammer on the StumpReport blog.

What Wisconsin union activists "are not taking into consideration is that even though there may, or may not, be some momentum in the state of Wisconsin for a Republican recall ... the national momentum for political recalls is overwhelming in the favor of tea party and the GOP," writes Mr. Kammer.

Whether the recall movement will be effective beyond offering a vent for public dissatisfaction is another question.

“Recall elections tend to be less about the policies taken up by the ‘offending’ official and more about voter anger and frustration,” Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist at the University of Miami, told Bloomberg. Alvarez “pursued policies that could not be avoided given the financial crises the city, state, and nation are in.”

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