November 14, 2019
In Miami, city and county mayors fight over Bahamas relief ‘photo ops’
By Douglas Hanks

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez had planned to summon the press to PortMiami on Thursday and tout the city’s pending shipment of relief supplies on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, but then the county’s mayor made a call and scratched that media event.

Carlos Gimenez, Miami-Dade’s mayor and a Suarez political rival, confirmed Friday he contacted Norwegian Cruise Lines to get the company to cancel the city event at the county-owned port. “This is not about doing photo ops,” Gimenez said of the Hurricane Dorian relief effort. “This is not about press time.” 

Gimenez said he had a phone conversation with Frank Del Rio, president of parent company NCL Holdings, about the planned city press conference and told Del Rio that the event shouldn’t be held at the county port.

In an interview, Suarez confirmed the timeline of events Gimenez described. An NCL spokeswoman confirmed the planned Thursday media event was scratched Wednesday night. “There was going to be a press conference,” said NCL’s Stephanie Cardelle. “Then it was canceled.” She had no further comment. 

Suarez’s office arranged the NCL press conference because the cruise line was donating space in the cargo hold on a ship to deliver relief supplies collected at city fire stations. It was to be the second Suarez media event on Dorian that day, with a morning press conference also scheduled for city hall. Suarez ended up folding it into one.

At the morning press conference, Suarez announced Miami would be sending paramedics and firefighters to the Bahamas, as is Miami-Dade’s Fire and Rescue Department. Both teams left Friday morning on a ferry out of Port Everglades. Gimenez announced the county’s participation during his remarks at a 5 p.m. budget hearing on Thursday, with no advance notice to the media. No television cameras were there. 

A draft press release by Suarez’s office had NCL President Andy Stuart participating in the event alongside Suarez. “This action is a key component to the City of Miami’s #BAHAMASTRONG initiative,” the press release said. 

In an interview Friday, Suarez said he would have been happy to have Gimenez join him during the NCL event. 

The Miami mayor said he had been contacted by NCL board members about using a ship to rush relief to the Bahamas. He said he wanted the port event to shine a spotlight on the cruise line’s good work and to show Miami that the donated supplies were on their way.

“I think it’s important for residents to know that the supplies are going to people who are suffering,” Suarez said. “The fact the mayor doesn’t think that’s important is, frankly, childish...I don’t know why he feels the need to tell me how to do my job.” 

Gimenez, a former Miami city manager and fire chief, is a top Suarez foe. The county mayor led the 2018 campaign that defeated a city referendum that would have expanded the Miami mayor’s powers. Gimenez has said privately he’s considering a run against Suarez in 2021 after county rules force Gimenez to leave office in 2020. Suarez’s father, County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, is running to succeed Gimenez. 

Also Friday, Gimenez and four county commissioners were preparing to fly by private helicopter to the Bahamas to survey the Dorian damage. The mayor and commissioners Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Audrey Edmonson, Barbara Jordan, and Dennis Moss were planning to fly out on a helicopter provided by Air Medical Response, a county vendor. 

Commissioners voted Thursday night to waive ethics rules that bar free trips from county contractors, with the restriction that the free travel must be to the Bahamas and relief-related.

“We want to asses the damage and see what we need to bring in,” said Edmonson, chairwoman of the commission. 

County photographers were at the private terminal near Miami International Airport to capture images before the delegation departed, joined by a Miami Herald reporter. 

With Miami-Dade paying to send a rescue squad to the Bahamas on Friday morning, Gimenez said the timing made sense. Gimenez also said he thought it was a good idea for elected officials to see the damage firsthand, given Miami-Dade’s strong ties to the Bahamas.

“Images never really quite tell the story,” he said.