hashim-benford_web.jpgThe deal is done, and perhaps it was inevitable. 

City and county officials have committed hundreds of millions of public dollars to build a stadium for the Miami Marlins. But we all know this is a bad deal for the public. We put up the money from our budget to see no return. There will be short-term jobs that will dry up after construction, and seasonal, long-term jobs at best.

The bottom line is that our elected leaders handed over public money to private interests, again. It’s not new for the politicians of Miami to enable corporate greed.  Neither is it new for them to claim they are doing so in the name of low-income and working-class people.

From the construction of Interstate 95 right through the middle of the black community, to the corruption of the Miami-Dade Public Housing Agency, selling us out has become their job description.  In turn, the beneficiaries of public theft keep politicians in office by filling incumbents’ campaign chests and providing them with post-election careers.  Such is the state of democracy in Miami-Dade County. 

Our country is in recession, and Florida is at the epicenter as we deal with the triple threat of the foreclosure crisis, the housing and development bust, and slowdowns in our chief industry: tourism.

Yet, at this critical moment in our city’s history, we are wastefully dumping public dollars into flights of fancy that offer little benefit to the public, but present obvious risks, including the probability that a Marlins’ stadium will fail to attract any great number of fans, and that tourism will continue to lag in South Florida. 

For this deal to pass, black politicians and civic leaders had to throw their weight behind it; otherwise this clearly would have been seen as a purely immoral use of money.  The NAACP made the right demand for black businesses and job opportunities. But in the end, that fight failed in the office of the county attorney. This failure should have been the trigger for the NAACP, along with the black elected officials and community organizations, to unite against this deal.

In fact, the promise of black business opportunities and jobs were official objectives. Instead, the NAACP went along with the final deal, as did Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones at the city level and County Commissioners Dorrin Rolle, Dennis Moss, Barbara Jordan and Audrey Edmonson.

Along with promises to unions, the final deal only has soft, non-binding assurances of using “best efforts” to employ workers from Miami and black-owned businesses. In a $600 million deal, a non-binding agreement is as good as the words out of Miami-Dade politicians’ mouths.

Our elected officials, civic leaders and the union leadership are operating from a place of small expectations, and they are tying us to a scary future. Scared of the falling economy and rising unemployment rates, they went for the quick grab, a promise of a few jobs right now.

But this decision ties up funding that could have been used to create long-term jobs and build infrastructure in this city that is not only sorely needed but also could stimulate our tourist economy and improve local transportation. Yet thinking in this way would have required real leadership and real vision.  In Miami, that might be too much to expect.

For us, the angry, the frustrated, the disgruntled residents who have watched in horror as our leaders continue to bow down to outside interests, it is time to take action. It is time for us to demand better.  It is time for us to demand real leadership and to take on the responsibility of leadership ourselves. 

We need a vision of accountable government, racial equity and policies that serve the public. This fall offers an opportunity to make this vision real. Several seats will be contested in the city election. The election will be a referendum on the direction of Miami. While it is easy to be cynical and throw up our hands, this ultimately does not change where we are or where we are going. All of us must learn from this experience and engage in the civic process to create an agenda to which we can hold politicians accountable. 

It is right to be angry, not just with the Marlins’ deal, but also with governance in this county and with the nose dive in our economy. But this anger should lead to action. We must draw on long-standing traditions of collective action for justice for our community. We must remain principled and not compromise on that path, no matter what crumbs are offered today to stave the fear of hunger tomorrow.

Hashim Benford is an organizer for the Miami Workers Center, a grassroots strategy and action center that works for racial and economic justice in Miami and beyond.