Republican Mayor Francis Suarez

Mayor Francis Suarez’s “Sports Capital” Pitch: Just Another Miami Scam

If you saw the news that Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was a speaker at a trade summit financed by Saudi Arabia in Miami and thought to yourself, Didn’t this guy just get in trouble for working as an unregistered foreign agent for that same theocratic dictatorship that murders journalists and dissidents? — you are not alone.

The FII conference is currently under a Congressional investigation due to its influence in U.S. domestic politics. Suarez was named in the investigation due to public relations work he did to help launder the Saudis’ bloody human rights reputation, which includes dismembering Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi with a bone saw and funding a brutal civil war in Yemen.

Suarez is the same guy who went on Fox News in 2021 to call on Biden to airstrike Havana to remove the Cuban government from power. His work for the Saudis would suggest that his selective outrage when it comes to human rights abuses to wag his finger at is mostly motivated by who can pay him a large fee to retain his services.

So what is the topic of Suarez’s speech at this summit? You would have found him at a midday session titled, “How Miami is Becoming the World’s Next Capital of Sports.”

If you hear that and again think to yourself: “Huh – didn’t Francis Suarez use to speak pretty often on topics that were on very similarly named panels, except they would focus on how Miami is becoming the world’s next capital of tech?

You’re not wrong. You’re not crazy. You do remember that it was just as recently as a year ago.

The problem for Suarez is that his boasts of Miami becoming the capital of tech have not panned out. The shift is detailed in a recent Wall Street Journal article, which covers how startups who migrated to Miami in 2020 from San Francisco at the behest of venture capitalist and Suarez cheerleader Keith Rabois are relocating or opening offices elsewhere to better attract engineering talent. Rabois himself is busy renovating a house in San Francisco and working for a new employer based there, after being pushed out of his old venture firm Founders Fund.

It’s easy to find headlines such as “global tech company to move headquarters from Miami-Dade to the Northeast,” through a Google search of something like “tech companies leaving Miami.”

Is it any wonder that companies would not want to stay in a city that has its mayor under an FBI bribery investigation, a commissioner ordered to pay $63.5 million for weaponizing city agencies against political opponents, a recent former commissioner ousted after being arrested for illegal campaign contributions and criminal conspiracy, another former commissioner being investigated for remuneration of services, and the city attorney on track to be terminated due to her involvement on a house-flipping scheme?

Who would feel secure conducting business under a municipal government that resembles a criminal syndicate?

The reality is that the expertise and infrastructure were never in place to create a tech hub in Miami. We don’t have a responsible government in place that could have created real incentives to truly attract that workforce while also protecting residents from the cost of living crisis plaguing the housing and rental markets. Miami even had its own publicly subsidized slush fund promoted by Suarez in Venture Miami, which funneled tax dollars into the failed endeavor of making Miami into a tech hub. This was just another vanity project for Suarez to promote himself and a bunch of irresponsible venture capitalists to make a quick buck out of.

Unfortunately for Suarez, he’s left holding the bag as criminal investigations target him for numerous pay-to-play practices, including accepting $170,000 in secret payments to fast track luxury projects for a now-disgraced developer. So naturally the new public relations grift is Miami being the capital of sports.

You can see Suarez regularly claiming he single-handedly brought Lionel Messi to Miami, nevermind that he’s playing in a stadium in an entirely different county in Broward. Nevermind that Suarez helped commit one of the largest real estate boondoggles in Miami history with the 99-year lease of Melreese Park, the largest piece of publicly-owned land in the City of Miami, to the billionaire owner of InterMiami at below market value and with no other bids considered, to build a soccer stadium that will probably never get built. Nevermind that the Marlins stadium has sat regularly empty since its taxpayer-subsidized construction was completed in 2012.

If Miami is going to become the capital of anything, it’s not going to be under a mayor currently targeted by five different investigations on his alleged misuse of public office for his personal benefit. We don’t need politicians who levy these lofty promises of global prominence in a city that already benefits from international attention. We have enough problems for residents struggling with unaffordable housing, chronic flooding, incessant traffic congestion, no viable public transportation options, and way too many low-wage jobs — all against a backdrop of nonstop public corruption scandals.

Thomas Kennedy is a writer, advocate, and former elected Democratic National Committee member from Florida. You can find him on Twitter and Threads at @tomaskenn.

David Quiñones is a communications executive based in Miami. Along with Kennedy he hosts the podcast Why Are We Like This?

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