Government, News, Politics

Pardo’s First 100 Days

The Spotlight’s Don Finefrock sat down recently with Miami Commissioner Damian Pardo to ask him about his first 100 days on the job. During the interview, Pardo explained why he thinks Mayor Francis Suarez and City Manager Art Noriega should resign, why City Attorney Victoria Méndez should be fired immediately, and why Commissioner Joe Carollo’s behavior constitutes a “cancer” in the city. The Miami City Commission meets Thursday April 11. Questions and answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

SPOTLIGHT:   Commissioner, thank you for your time today. Let’s get started. You were elected as a reform candidate who promised to clean up Miami City Hall, restore confidence, and put residents first. You’ve been in office a little over 100 days. How do you think you’ve done?

PARDO:   I think we are right on track. To start with, I think we’ve done an outstanding job of constituent representation. We have a rapid response team that is already up and running. We have been filling potholes, picking up illegal dumping, all of the things that people need done quickly. We are doing all of that, in house, and we’ve had a lot of success.

SPOTLIGHT:   You’ve had an inside view of City Hall for four months now. How has that changed your perspective on local government?

PARDO:   So much more positive. What I didn’t realize is the talent within the city of Miami, and the number of people who are very committed to their work. That has been lost in this narrative about, you know, all the scandals.

SPOTLIGHT:   Miami City Commission meetings are exhausting to watch. And the politics are toxic. How does it feel to be a part of something that, to outsiders, seems so dysfunctional?

PARDO:   It’s a necessary evil. Change doesn’t come easy. There’s no magic wand.

SPOTLIGHT:   What do you think about your colleagues on the dais?

PARDO:   First of all, I respect all of them, because you have to. That’s why you are elected. That’s our government. Civility and respect.

SPOTLIGHT:   Is there anybody you can’t work with?

PARDO:   No.

SPOTLIGHT:   Commissioner Miguel Gabela seems like a natural ally. He’s also a bit of a hothead. Your style is much more measured. Is that a deliberate strategy?

PARDO:   No, it’s kind of who I became in life. I’ve been an activist for 35 years. I’ve learned you are not going to get everything your way. And getting upset? Nobody listens when you scream.

SPOTLIGHT:   Let me ask you about something that happened at the March 14 meeting. You asked your fellow commissioners to censure Commissioner Carollo.

[In media appearances, Carollo has publicly questioned the source of $165,000 that Pardo loaned to his 2023 campaign. “A lot of people are saying that you didn’t put that money into your campaign,” Carollo said on March 14. He offered no proof of wrongdoing. Instead, he proposed legislation that would require candidates to document the source of campaign loans.]

Why did you feel it was important to confront Carollo over that issue?

PARDO:   Because it’s been a cancer in our city. It is a behavior that I have noticed before, it is a behavior that continues to repeat, and it is a behavior that is hurting our city and dividing our residents, for no good reason. It is weaponizing government.

SPOTLIGHT:   So, it’s not that Carollo talked trash about you [on television], but that he proposed an ordinance that spoke directly to the issue he was calling you out on.

PARDO:   He used that, in the media, he referred to it specifically. He said, “I’ve introduced this ordinance.” And it was incredibly disingenuous. He’s creating a false narrative, completely false.

SPOTLIGHT:   And the ordinance became his vehicle for doing that, and that’s why it was “weaponizing” government?

PARDO:   He was using government resources, taxpayer money, to promote his own version of a reality that was false. And when someone does that—someone who is already in hot water, being accused of the same thing—it has to be stopped. And that’s why I wanted a censure.

SPOTLIGHT:   So, given the outcome—the motion never came to a vote, and you put your fellow commissioners in an awkward spot, asking them to punish Carollo—do you think you made the right move?

PARDO:   Absolutely. Residents needed to hear and see what’s really happening. I decided to withdraw [the motion], but that doesn’t mean we are done with the topic. It will come back in the form of a “code of conduct” [for commissioners]. I want to make sure, others want to make sure, that commissioners aren’t out there, using the media and other platforms, for personal gain, to attack residents and other colleagues with false information.

SPOTLIGHT:   OK, another commission moment. The commission voted 3-2 on January 11 to give the City Attorney a five-month contract extension. The extension will allow her to remain on the job while the city searches for a replacement. You were on the losing end of that vote. Do you consider that a victory—Méndez will be gone, but not immediately—or a loss?

PARDO:   It’s a victory. Not the victory I wanted, but it is a victory, because she’s going to leave. At the end of the day, change is not going to happen unless she leaves.

SPOTLIGHT:   Let me ask you about the mayor. Back in December, shortly after taking office, you called on the mayor to resign after the Miami Herald raised additional questions about his business dealings. Others have called for the mayor to resign, but he is still in office. Did you make an enemy by speaking out, and will that hurt your agenda?

PARDO:   No, I don’t think so, because like I said before, I’m here to work with the mayor. For example, at his State of the City address, everything he said in terms of change and reform, I was 100% on board. My issue was, the conflicts of interest that are plaguing the city, it’s a dead weight around his neck. So, to do the best possible job for the City of Miami, can you even do that anymore? I don’t think so, being so compromised, on so many levels.

SPOTLIGHT:   So, another conflict of interest. Should City Manager Art Noriega resign for failing to promptly explain why the city awarded more than $200,000 in furniture contracts to a business where his wife works, and that is owned by his wife’s family?

PARDO:   That’s been an evolving issue and a difficult one for me to answer. He is a very competent city manager in many ways. However, the conflict and the way it has been managed, more so the way it has been managed, I would prefer to see him resign rather than to see him continue, because it is part of the page we need to turn. This is a serious matter that I don’t think has been treated with the severity that it should have been treated. You saw on the dais, three of us, myself, Commissioner Gabela, Commissioner Reyes, turn [to the manager] and say “We really think you should face the comments and address them,” and the reaction was insubordinate. That’s simply not acceptable. None of us has that luxury, whether you are appointed or elected. You have to be accountable.

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