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Fate of Miami-Dade mayor on line in recall vote

The Associated Press

Mayor Carlos Alvarez could be ousted Tuesday by voters angry over property tax increases and a simultaneous raise for county employees.

The recall effort, led by billionaire car dealer Norman Braman, comes as the county struggles to recover from the recession, with unemployment in January at 12 percent and a foreclosure rate that has been one of the nation's highest. If it succeeds, Miami-Dade would be the most populous area ever to recall a local official.

Nearly 59,000 voters have already cast early ballots and about another 68,000 filed by absentee in the weeks before the polls opened Tuesday.

Francisco Rodriguez, 58, a bus driver, said his property taxes increased by about $600 this year, leading him to cancel his health insurance. He voted to remove Alvarez.

"It's time for him to go," Rodriguez said. "We want a change."

Alvarez is in the third year of his second four-year term. If he is recalled, the county commission would schedule a special election to fill the remainder of his term.

There have been numerous recalls of state officials in recent years, but not any of a local government official in an area as big as Miami-Dade County, which has 2.5 million residents, said Joshua Spivak, a recall expert and senior fellow at Wagner College in New York. The Los Angeles mayor was recalled in 1938, but Spivak said the population at that time was smaller.

Alvarez, a former county police chief, has said he has no regrets over his recommended budget, and that it was necessary in order to maintain vital services like fire and police. He also says Braman is angry over losing an effort to block the county from funding a new $600 million stadium for the Florida Marlins baseball team.

At Alvarez's urging, the county commission approved it.

"The defining issue really is the type of government that the citizens of this community are looking for," Braman said. "It's about empowering the people of this community to take it back from the politicians who have been running it, and running it in a way that I think endangers the fiscal future of our community."

A recent poll by firm Bendixen & Amandi, in partnership with The Miami Herald, found that 67 percent of likely voters planned to recall Alvarez from office. Only 18 percent said he should stay.

Fernand Amandi, the firm's managing partner, said disenchantment with the county government and elected officials has been accentuated by the poor economic environment.

"This has been building," Amandi said.

Braman, a former Philadelphia Eagles owner, gathered twice the 51,000 signatures needed to recall the mayor. County Commissioner Natacha Seijas is also on the recall ballot.

Voters were trickling into polling sites on Tuesday morning. At one site downtown, volunteers awaited voters, but just six had arrived within the first four hours of voting.

Yolanda Soler, 47, said she voted to recall the mayor.

"I think it's important that politicians know when the people are not with them," she said. "What he did didn't make any fiscal sense. I'm disappointed because I did trust him to do a better job."