CBS4’s Jim DeFede quizzes candidates at forum

Moderator Jim DeFede (left) queries Miami-Dade mayoral candidates (l-r) Farid Khavari, Carlos Gimenez, Dennis Wood and Helen Williams during July 16 KFHA forum.

Sharp-questioning CBS4 newsman Jim DeFede moderated three panels involving four Kendall area Miami-Dade Commission candidates along with Mayor Carlos Gimenez and three of his opponents in front of a boisterous crowd during a second Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations (KFHA) preprimary forum on July 16.

Spontaneous cheers from a crowd of more than 100 welcomed incumbent District 9 Commissioner Dennis Moss and Gimenez before their introductory remarks, followed by DeFede’s pointblank inquiries to several candidates during a 90-minute session at the Winston Park Clubhouse.

The ex-Miami Herald newsman, who recently began hosting a CBS4 Sunday series exploring local issues, has made a reputation for pulling no punches when questioning public figures on and off camera.

In the first of three groups, Moss defended Zoo Miami expansion and the South Miami-Dade Cultural Center in Cutler Ridge against charges by opponent Alice Pena that county government overspends instead of cutting taxes.

DeFede’s point-blank query “Will Norman Braman’s money influence you?” drew a quick “absolutely not” from Pena who said she had no relationship with the automotive dealer’s campaign to finance unseating Moss and three other commissioners who voted to build the Marlins’ stadium.

Asked for priorities if elected, Moss said he would continue to create needed jobs through new civic and tourist developments in South Dade. Pena countered that such capital spending will only dig deeper taxpayer holes.

Former State Rep. Juan Zapata and Javier Munoz mostly agreed on county reforms needed should either replace a notably absent District 11 Commissioner Joe A. Martinez who will be giving up his commission seat to run for mayor. While Zapata emphasized security and maintaining infrastructure as key county goals, Munoz said he would focus on eliminating inefficient management “without Draconian measures” that cost county jobs.

It was Gimenez who won the heaviest applause while recounting “how I kept my promises to reduce taxes and streamline county government” following recall of Mayor Carlos Alvarez two years ago.

Also appearing were economist Farid Khavari, disabled spokesperson Dennis Wood and ex-teacher Helen Barbary Williams whose combined votes, along with no-shows Edna Diaz and Gary Delano Johnson, will likely cause a runoff in the mayoral election between Martinez and Gimenez.

How to spur economic development was a key issue posed by DeFede with Khavari pushing for his five-year plan to create jobs in growth industries while helping stabilize the real estate market with tax cuts.

Williams warned that “people should pay better attention to who is running,” citing broken promises by previous mayors on use of the half-cent sales tax increase to fund deficits rather than fund new bus routes for working people.

Wood emphasized creation of new jobs through increased tourism efforts, including county preference for the disabled, which he helped initiate through state legislation in Tallahassee.

Gimenez recited his record of cutting property taxes by nearly $4 million over two fiscal years, eliminating 1,400 positions (600 of which were existing vacancies), reducing county departments from 42 to 25 while effecting budget savings of 14 percent.

Saying county jobs have “taken the pill” on job reduction, Gimenez forecast improvements through both Miami International Airport and Seaport expansion and trimming both county and school district budgets by planned landsharing for new schools and county parks.

Latecomer Eddie Lewis appeared as the forum concluded to make an informal pitch for the Commission District 3 seat while KFHA members adjourned to review recommendations for endorsements as a Political Action Committee.

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