On January 11th, 2013 the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Pillar Breakfast took place at The Alexander Hotel featuring Former City of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz as the keynote speaker. Pillar Trustee Board Chairman David Sacks introduced the former mayor, who began his speech by addressing why American politics have to change, which is the inspiration for his book, Miami Transformed. Diaz said, “No matter what side of the island we are on, none of us are really happy with the way things are going.”
Mayor Diaz touched on the environment in Washington, “What do we see out of DC today—no relationships. They simply don’t like each other. They don’t talk to each other. They stopped negotiating.” He continued, “We go from crisis to crisis without any long term solutions. Common sense and pragmatism have been replaced by extremism and partisanship.”
“By contrast, cities are very different and I offer today as I do in the book, three reasons why I think that’s the case.” The theme of his book centers on the premise that in order to rebuild America, there must be a rebuild of cities and that is accomplished one neighborhood at a time. “We need to make investments in the people and places that make us great and make us who we are. Think about this, metro areas drive our national economy, accounting for 92% of our nation’s economic growth and almost 90% of all jobs, income and gross domestic product, so what that tells me is that mayors are getting things done every day.”
Mayor Diaz made his second point that cities are America’s laboratories and the need for big ideas. He went on to say, “We need our ‘go to the moon’ moment in America today. How about we put aside our differences and all work together to restore America’s financial health. This is what leaders do. You dream big then you lead others to your idea because grand ideas inspire grand action.”
Mayor Diaz addressed ‘grand’ ideas that they had in Miami while he was Mayor. Some of his goals included making Miami a cleaner city, improving education, changing the perception that Miami was devoid of culture, reducing the crime rate and making Miami greener. He met his goals and brought the average school grade from a “D” to an “A,” shed light on the arts and culture in Miami and increased green building. Diaz said, “We went from no plan to Miami 21. Those are all ideas that people can rally around.”
Mayor Diaz went on to address investment and spending. “There is a fundamental difference between investing and spending. Investments have a clear aim, accountability measures and expected returns. Mere spending has none of these. We need a return to making strategic and targeted investments that will produce measurable returns.”
“I believe that education should no longer be seen as a social imperative, but as a business and economic imperative. How can we prepare our children for the future, especially in this world of amazing technology, rapidly developing technology, where the jobs of tomorrow don’t even exist today?”
“Our lack of comprehensive public transit leaves us to spend over 4 billion hours a year stuck in traffic. Think of the opportunity costs.”
He then touched on the topic of immigration, “If you normalize the status of the 11 million estimated illegal immigrants in America today that would generate $1.5 trillion in cumulative GDP and $5 billion in federal tax revenue.”
In terms of the development of the Adrienne Arsht center, which broke ground when he was elected, he emphasized that an extended effect was Midtown, Wynwood, and the Design District. He explained that these all cost a lot of money, but the return was greater.
Diaz came to this country when he was 6 years old with his mother on a freedom flight, “fleeing a place where the government denies its people the freedoms and the opportunities that all of us share and we saw this country as so many others still do, as a beacon of hope and a land of boundless opportunities.” His parents worked three jobs, but were able to provide their son with a good and healthy life.
“At every turn in my life, especially during my youth, I benefitted from a partnership because government invested in me I had been able to give back and I think the return that that investment has generated has been a good return for my government.”
Diaz concluded his speech with the question “Is America still willing to invest in its people and does a six year old child in America today have the same access to opportunities that I did or that all of you I’m sure did?”
Following his speech, Former Mayor Diaz answered questions on topics ranging from political gridlock and special interest to challenges and opportunities in the Miami Beach community. Former City of Miami Mayor Diaz’s speech served as a reminder of the genuine change and development that he oversaw in the City of Miami, and the broadreaching effects it has in Miami Beach as well as across the bay in the Greater Miami-Dade region.