Politicizing Florida International University’s expansion that displaces Miami-Dade’s Youth Fair never should have happened. That conclusion was supported by Eduardo “Eddie” Hondai, vice president of the FIU Alumni Association’s executive board, and Jay Baum, senior vice president of Miami-Dade County Fair & Expo, which puts on the annual Youth Fair, in a head-tohead panel discussion on Oct. 9.
“The debate greatly outweighs what should be a peaceful settlement,” observed Michael Rosenberg, president of Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations, after a 45-minute discussion by Hondai and Baum at a pre-election forum.
Both have become cast as opposing spokespersons about the issue ever since county commissioners left expansion to be decided by voters in a Nov. 4 referendum, rather than exploring a non-partisan method to reach agreement about a move.
Both Hondai and Baum agreed their organizations could sit down at a table and work out the matter, rather than appearing in political roles.
If the FIU question passes, Florida’s second largest state unversity will receive a waiver to expand onto the current Youth Fair grounds at Tamiami Park, leaving the county obligated to find a new fairground site with FIU paying any moving costs, estimated at $50 million.
Hondai assured the forum audience that “there will be no cost to voters, nor a raise in tuition at FIU,” adding a wetland site was available for the move.
Baum noted a three-month search of 26 potential new Youth Fair sites had been narrowed down to three, including the wetlands, all proving unacceptable.
“Ideally, the exposition should be relocated in the central part of Miami-Dade County,” he added without pinpointing any preferred site.
Baum declared the referendum was premature, occurring without having a plan for a new home for the Expo, while Hondai said FIU already has agreed to provide three years (until 2017) for relocation, prior to any construction start on the 64 acres adjacent to Tamiami Park at Coral Way and SW 107th Avenue.
A campaign flyer distributed by the Expo said that Youth Fair funds have paid out nearly $7 million in improvements to Tamiami Park, ironically including the initial $3.1 million to build FIU’s first football stadium.
Hondai pointed, out among other arguments, that an FIU student body of 53,000 is served on 584 acres, compared to the University of Central Florida with the state’s highest enrollment at 60,000 on a 1,768-acre campus, three times the size of FIU.
PEDRO J. GARCIA GETS SURPRISE ‘OPPONENT’
In a second forum panel, Property Appraiser candidate Pedro J. Garcia nearly had the platform to himself except for the jarring appearance of a primary loser Carlos Gobel in support of Garcia’s opponent, Eddy Gonzalez.
“Eddy will ensure accountability and transparency,” Gobel declared, criticizing Garcia’s “failure” to reduce the number of appeals before the Value Adjustment Board when he previously held the same office.
A popular visitor for years among Kendall crowds, Garcia reiterated his pledges to “remain independent of the mayor or county commission” while providing “fair and accurate appraisal decisions.”
The appraiser post opened this past January when Carlos Lopez-Cantera resigned to become lieutenant governor in Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, creating a five-man primary in August that left top vote-getters Garcia and Gonzalez in a runoff on Nov. 4, while eliminating Gobel and two others.
FIRST TIMERS SEEK ELECTION IN FOUR LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS
The forum ended with four Democratic candidates, all seeking office for the first time and pledging to “end the Republicans stranglehold” on the legislature in Tallahassee.
District 118 candidate Omar Rivero, championing a minimum wage hike, is running against GOP incumbent Frank Artiles, unable to appear due to a “conflict.”
Milagro S. Ruiz, taking on incumbent District 119 Rep. Jeanette Nunez (also not present due to a conflict), appealed for a unified Miami-Dade delegation to overturn GOP majorities.
Kristopher Decossard, pushing for Medicaid expansion, had resigned his post in the Miami-Dade Elections Division to run for the District 115 seat, opposing Michael Bileca, also absent due to conflict.
Juan Carlos Cuba, articulating a similar list of Democratic priorities (minimum wage increase, better distribution of school funds) seeks to overturn Jose Felix Diaz for the District 116 seat. Diaz gave no excuse for his absence.