The newest member of the U.S. Congress, searching for a new superintendent and coping with cars taking back the streets
The newest member of Congress comes from South Florida. Finding a new Miami-Dade County Public Schools superintendent is happening fast — too fast for some. And Miami Beach's Ocean Drive will open up again soon for cars.
Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick was elected earlier this week to represent Florida's 20th Congressional district. The seat, covering parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, was held by the late Alcee Hastings, who died last April 6.
Cherfilus-McCormick said one of her top priorities is the "people's prosperity plan, in which we're looking for a more equitable way for people to recover from COVID 19."
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Cherfilus-McCormick said many people in the district, especially seniors, are having a lot of trouble paying for housing.
She said an additional stimulus check of $1,000 would be a huge help to those seniors, as well as younger people who can't work because they are sick.
"We need to find some kind of way to help our district and the nation recover from COVID while we're just waiting for everything to balance out. And while we're waiting for the Build Back Better plan to pass," she said.
She also advocates for a universal basic income, a $1,000 monthly payment to everyone making less than $75,000 a year. She said that would help people pay their utility bills, and buy food.
Cherfilus-McCormick said she plans on joining the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
"I believe in progressive policies, and I believe that the Progressive Caucus is putting forth policies that really meet the needs of the people, especially right now. And when we look at working people, what they're suffering, it's imperative that we have a true champion and a voice. I also look forward to joining other caucuses, such as the Congressional Black Caucus. So I'm looking forward to working with many different caucuses, but every member in Congress so we can get the people's work done."
Cherfilus-McCormick said she expects to be sworn into office this Tuesday, Jan. 18.
Fast-tracking Miami-Dade's next superintendent of schools
Alberto Carvalho is leaving Miami-Dade for Los Angeles on Feb. 3. Candidates to replace him as head of the nation's fourth-largest school district had seven days to turn in their credentials — a much faster process than Broward County, which has had an interim superintendent since August and is still searching for the person who will permanently fill the position.
Dr. Steve Gallon, vice chair of the Miami-Dade County Public School Board, said he fully supported the district's timeline.
"I think we are very clear as it relates to the sense of urgency that we have around this particular replacement. But more importantly, I think it's lost that this is not a new conversation for the board. The board has had extensive discussions, quite frankly, relative to succession management over the past four years," Gallon said. "So this is not something that was done in isolation. This was not something that was done in a very episodic way. This has been a part of formal discussions about the board, formal public discussions regarding succession management."
Carvalho's recommendation had been for the deputy superintendent to step in. But the board instead voted 6-3 to call for applications.
Gallon said that was not a vote of no confidence in the deputy superintendent, and that the board's actions have been mischaracterized as hiring a new superintendent in seven days. He said he did not know whether a new superintendent would be chosen before Carvalho leaves Feb. 3.
"We're in the process right now of simply receiving the letters of interest, the resumes and the supporting documentation," Gallon said. "We have a meeting scheduled this coming Tuesday [Jan. 18] to discuss the materials in the applicant that we've received and potentially to discuss next steps, so we've not made a determination as it relates to when a vote will be taken."
Some community groups, including League of Women Voters and the South Dade NAACP sent the board a memo asking them to slow down the process. Gallon said their voices are being heard, even if the board doesn't agree to the slowdown.
"We have open meetings. We had an opportunity at that meeting, in fact, to hear through the community, to have them share their perspectives relative to the process and the criteria. And that communication is ongoing. We actually have a subsequent meeting coming up where, again, the community can render their support. So that process is ongoing. But at the end of the day, let's be honest, the ultimate authority in the decision making does come to the board.
Gallon said, despite having been a superintendent and risen through the ranks at Miami-Dade Public Schools, he has no interest in becoming superintendent — right now.
"I'm going to honor the commitment that I made to the voters in District one who elected me most recently in 2020, and I'm looking forward to completing my term," he said.
Mina Hosseini, executive director of education nonprofit P.S. 305, said she still has concerns about the transparency and impartiality of the board's approach to choosing the next superintendent.
"There's no reason why we should be spending seven days looking for a candidate that's going to fill the seat to replace Alberto Carvalho," she said. "We want to see a process where community input is valued. We want folks who are involved and engaged in education to be able to uplift their issues, their concerns."
James Lopez, executive director of Power U, a nonprofit youth leadership development group, said this is a difficult time to select a new superintendent and the person who takes the job will have a challenging time. But he said the process feels rushed.
"The way it has been rolled out and communicated, in some ways, is tone-deaf, given the political climate that we are all living in and the politicized nature of public education," he said. "And so naturally, calls of lack of transparency are going to come up. And I don't think that the school board took that into consideration enough."
Holding public meetings at 10 a.m. on a weekday, when many people are working, doesn't help parents or students get involved in the process, he said.
Cars are taking back the streets
The pandemic gave some power to pedestrians, bicyclists, even restaurants, moving tables out into streets that had been closed to cars and trucks during the worst of COVID 19. Now, some of those roads are welcoming traffic back, but not everyone wants that to happen.
Ocean Drive on Miami Beach is scheduled to re-open to southbound traffic Jan. 24. The city is also planning a redesign to make the Art Deco district more pedestrian friendly.
Bernard Zyscovich is working with the city to help plan and develop the re-design, starting with Lummus Park.
"Our concept is that the park, which is a famous park, should actually, in its essence, begin to extend all the way into the city, down the side streets and all the way to Collins and to Washington Avenue. Because our idea of pedestrian and bike mobility, which is key, is really a district wide situation, not just one street," he said.
Sarah Holder recently wrote about the re-opening of Ocean Drive for CityLab.
"The restaurants were able to expand their outdoor dining offerings, and I think that that was a boon for their business that allowed more people than otherwise might be able to eat there. I think some hoteliers were a bit concerned with the fact that guests weren't able to bring their luggage right up to the lobby doors without cars or taxis being able to drop them off," she said. "But resort tax returns, according to city data, were actually quite strong, especially in the first few months of this year and the last few months of last year. So it doesn't seem to have had a real detrimental impact. But there were still some concern just about accessibility."
Richard Florida, visiting fellow at Florida International University, is a well-known urbanist. He said there are many advantages to keeping streets closed to cars.
"If you really think about it, using a street in general to move cars around — not a very effective use of that street. I mean, it moves traffic, but that's valuable real estate. You can have restaurant seating, you can have outdoor seating," he said. "You can have bicycling, you can have pedestrian activity. You have excitement, you have energy."
Communities in the U.S. and Europe discovered the advantages of more outdoor activities during the pandemic, he said.
"Ventilation is the proven COVID killer. You know, if you want to avoid viral diseases, ventilation is the number one go to. So being outside is very safe," he said.
The epic fame and endurance of the (not-quite) Southernmost Point
This week's show closed with a Letter from Key West about the recent vandalism of Key West's Southernmost Point. You can read more about that in the latest edition of The Tieline, WLRN's Keys reporter Nancy Klingener's twice-monthly newsletter.