Miami voters defeat attempt to abolish city
September 4, 1997
Web posted at: 10:35 p.m. EDT (0235 GMT)
MIAMI (CNN) -- Voters in Miami Thursday turned down a proposal to abolish their city and merge its government with that of surrounding Dade County.
Vote returns showed the measure going down to defeat by a margin of more than 5-to-1. Voter turnout was light, projected at just 24 percent.
Pre-election polls had shown the proposal to abolish the 100-year-old city would fail, and even backers of the proposal conceded in the final days that they would not win.
The drive to eliminate Miami's city government and turn over operation of basic municipal services to the Metro-Dade County was begun by angry voters in January after revelations that the city was $68 million in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy.
The city manager and an elected city commissioner were facing corruption charges that eventually landed them in federal prison.
Miami, a city of just 375,000 people in a county with 2.1 million residents, may sit in the middle of prosperous South Florida, but statistics show it is the fourth-poorest city in the United States.
The city's troubles have been compared to those of fiscally-strapped Washington, D.C., where the federal government recently took control of most city operations.
"In both cases, you have these islands of trouble surrounded by seas of prosperity," said Tom Fiedler, a political writer for the Miami Herald. "The only way for either city, I think, to be pulled out of its problems is to be able to tap into the energy around it."
But voters were apparently swayed by the argument that Miami is on its way back. The city has worked out a five-year plan to solve its financial problems under the supervision of a state oversight board.
"Miami is on solid financial ground," said Mayor Joe Carollo. "In fact, I would say to you that we're in the best financial situation (that) Miami has ever been."
Ethnic politics also played a role in the debate over abolishing the city.
Miami is about two-thirds Hispanic, one-fourth black and the rest non-Hispanic white. The Cuban-American community has controlled government in recent years and came to view the abolition proposal as an attack on their power.
While conceding defeat Thursday, the point man for abolition forces predicted consolidation of city and county governments will happen.
"Eventually people are going to realize that their pocketbook and quality of life will be more important than ethnic politics," said Gene Stearns. "Over the long term, the merger of these regional governments is inevitable."
"It just pains me frankly that the 33 square miles that are in the center of this great and successful region are not doing so well and would resist the opportunity to make it better."
Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.