Hurricane watch, DeSantis’ immigration czar’s connections, losing Antonacci

It’s Monday, Sept. 26, and Florida is bracing for Hurricane Ian. Although the path is still uncertain, the tropical storm got stronger Sunday night in the Caribbean and forecasters expect it to reach the Florida Big Bend area as a Category 1 hurricane by the end of the week.

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

On Sunday, the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore was reporting live from Clearwater Beach where he warned that most of the state will be pummeled by heavy rain and winds this week, but if Ian comes ashore sooner near the Tampa Bay area, as some models suggest, the storm could also be stronger.

Florida’s state of emergency: President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency to allow for federal assistance in advance of the storm and Gov. Ron DeSantis also declared a state of emergency, activated 2,500 National Guard troops and said the state was preparing more than 2 million meals. On Sunday, the governor and Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie warned residents from Tampa to Pensacola to get prepared.

The storm also forced Biden to postpone a trip to Florida on Tuesday. He was scheduled to deliver remarks in Fort Lauderdale about lowering healthcare costs and strengthening Medicare and Social Security as well as to campaign with Democrat Charlie Crist in Orlando.

Following 2017’s Hurricane Irma, Upper Keys residents met with Citizens Property Insurance Corp. staff in Key Largo to file claims. Citizens has once again surpassed 1 million policies statewide as of Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.
Following 2017’s Hurricane Irma, Upper Keys residents met with Citizens Property Insurance Corp. staff in Key Largo to file claims. Citizens has once again surpassed 1 million policies statewide as of Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.

Will insurance storm follow windstorm? Florida knows how to prepare for a hurricane, but is it prepared for the insurance fallout? It has been decades since the state faced a hurricane with as weak an insurance market as it has today.

The state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. last week reached 1.055 million policies — more than double the number two years ago. Private insurers continue to drop customers to try to curb financial losses, and the industry continues to struggle with the rising costs of critical reinsurance and large amounts of claims-related litigation.

Since February, five insurers have been declared insolvent and placed into receivership and tens of thousands of customers of those companies have turned to Citizens for coverage.

Migrants who were sent to Edgartown, Massachusetts, on Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.
Migrants who were sent to Edgartown, Massachusetts, on Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.

Migrant flights and ‘immigration czar’: We now know the governor’s plan to ship 48 migrants from the Texas border to Martha’s Vineyard was a carefully planned, taxpayer-funded operation. But why did the state pay an aviation firm that specializes in defense helicopter training to manage the project?

Larry Keefe, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida, is leading an effort to increase awareness and coordination of election security ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Larry Keefe, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida, is leading an effort to increase awareness and coordination of election security ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Vertol’s link to Keefe: The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times found that Vertol Systems Company not only has a private jet that could help with logistics, the company also has close ties to the governor’s immigration czar, Larry Keefe, who is responsible for carrying out the governor’s controversial anti-immigration programs..

For seven years as a trial lawyer based in Fort Walton Beach, Keefe represented Vertol Systems Company in a dozen lawsuits — from suing former employees and contractors to seeking damages from a lawn care provider who accidentally damaged one of the company’s helicopters.

The flights to San Antonio: A week before the flight to Martha’s Vineyard, the Vertol Company plane traveled from Destin to Tallahassee, stopped in Tampa, returned to Destin and then traveled to San Antonio where it stayed until Sept. 7.

The jet returned to San Antonio again on Sept. 16, two days after the flight to Martha Vineyard had been completed and three days before another planned trip to Delaware was scheduled. They were the only trips to San Antonio the plane made all summer.

Two charter flights from Kelly Field in San Antonio carried 48 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard last week. Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida had paid for the flights.
Two charter flights from Kelly Field in San Antonio carried 48 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard last week. Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida had paid for the flights.

Three trips planned? The two line-item budget transactions for Vertol Company in the state database provides tell-tale clues that the DeSantis administration has more flights planned. The first payment of $615,000 on Sept. 8 is identified as “Proj 1” while the second payment of $950,000 on Sept. 19 is labeled “Proj 2-3.”

There were few signs of activity at Kelly Field in San Antonio on Tuesday morning, despite reports of a plane of migrants scheduled to take off from there and fly to Delaware.
There were few signs of activity at Kelly Field in San Antonio on Tuesday morning, despite reports of a plane of migrants scheduled to take off from there and fly to Delaware.

Second flight aborted? Flight records showed a plane was scheduled to travel from San Antonio to Delaware on Sept. 20. The flight path bore all the hallmarks of DeSantis’ efforts to move migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. Recruiters linked to DeSantis promised Texas migrants a flight to Delaware. But the charter fell through, stranding them in San Antonio. It’s not clear what happened and DeSantis’ office didn’t respond to questions. Nonetheless, Vertol has been paid.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar briefs the news media at the scene where an 18-wheeler was searched on the 2000 block of South General McMullen in San Antonio, Friday, July 1, 2022. A deputy constable was flagged down on Friday afternoon by a concerned citizen, who saw people getting out of a semi-truck near an apartment complex and was worried about a “possible smuggling incident,” Salazar said. Officials on the scene concluded that it was a misunderstanding and the 14 people jumping out of the truck were part of a work crew for a demolition cleanup company based in California. (Sam Owens/The San Antonio Express-News via AP)
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar briefs the news media at the scene where an 18-wheeler was searched on the 2000 block of South General McMullen in San Antonio, Friday, July 1, 2022. A deputy constable was flagged down on Friday afternoon by a concerned citizen, who saw people getting out of a semi-truck near an apartment complex and was worried about a “possible smuggling incident,” Salazar said. Officials on the scene concluded that it was a misunderstanding and the 14 people jumping out of the truck were part of a work crew for a demolition cleanup company based in California. (Sam Owens/The San Antonio Express-News via AP)

Investigations and lawsuits: In Texas, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced he had opened a criminal investigation into whether the migrants were the victims of a crime, saying they were “lured under false pretenses.” Many migrants said they agreed to fly from San Antonio to the Massachusetts island after being promised jobs. But there was no work waiting.

Also last week, three of the 48 migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard are suing DeSantis and other state officials, alleging they were duped into traveling as part of a scheme to benefit the governor’s political career. The organization Alianza Americas, and the Lawyers for Civil Rights. filed a federal class-action suit on behalf of the migrants, alleging that they were deceptively offered both material assistance and flights to Boston or Washington, D.C.

Democrats pounce: DeSantis may have reignited the national debate on immigration, but his decision to use Florida taxpayer money to fly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard also gave Democrats an opening just weeks before the midterm elections. They are using the episode to attack GOP opponents over their treatment of families fleeing authoritarian countries.

Charlie Crist, Democratic Candidate for Florida Governor, speaks during the “Politico Palooza” rally, organized by the grassroots group RiseUp Florida which highlighting general election candidates at the Coral Gables Congregational Church, on Friday September 2, 2022.
Charlie Crist, Democratic Candidate for Florida Governor, speaks during the “Politico Palooza” rally, organized by the grassroots group RiseUp Florida which highlighting general election candidates at the Coral Gables Congregational Church, on Friday September 2, 2022.

‘War on Hispanics:’ Charlie Crist said the exercise was intended to deflect attention from other issues unpopular with voters, including Florida’s new 15-week abortion ban.

“It’s a war on Hispanics by his administration. It’s a war on women. It’s a disaster. It’s inhumane,’’ Crist told reporters. “This is not the act of a sincere, dedicated, compassionate public servant. This is the act of a raw political animal.”

President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said on Fox News that African Americans just don’t want to be successful.
President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said on Fox News that African Americans just don’t want to be successful.

Kushner criticizes: Former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, told Fox News the use of undocumented immigrants as “political pawns” was “troubling.”

Americans divided: But a poll from The Economist/YouGov fielded shortly after the Martha’s Vineyard flights found that Americans were evenly divided over whether or not they approved of Texas and Florida sending undocumented immigrants to Democrat-leaning cities without giving those cities notice. According to FiveThirtyEight, Americans agree the U.S. border policy is in crisis, but they don’t agree on the solutions.

Venezuelan migrant Irwign Gutierrez, 28, turned down the chance to get on a flight to Delaware organized by operatives working for Gov. Ron DeSantis. Instead, Gutierrez spent the day landscaping in dress shoes, jeans and a-once-white t-shirt. He has decided to stay in San Antonio to build a new life while working as a day laborer.
Venezuelan migrant Irwign Gutierrez, 28, turned down the chance to get on a flight to Delaware organized by operatives working for Gov. Ron DeSantis. Instead, Gutierrez spent the day landscaping in dress shoes, jeans and a-once-white t-shirt. He has decided to stay in San Antonio to build a new life while working as a day laborer.

Who are these migrants? Migrant encounters with Border Patrol at the U.S. southern border topped two million in the past year, setting a new record, according to data provided by U.S Customs and Border Patrol. Here’s the surprise: the number of migrants from Mexico and northern Central America, including the Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador,, dropped by 43% since August 2021. Conversely, migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua comprised over a third of August encounters, a 175% increase from one year ago.

WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT

View of “La Rivera Street” flooded caused by Hurricane Fiona’s heavy rain that flooded the Miñi Miñi neighborhood in the town of Loíza on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico as the hurricane passed by the island on Monday September 18, on Wednesday, September 21, 2022.
View of “La Rivera Street” flooded caused by Hurricane Fiona’s heavy rain that flooded the Miñi Miñi neighborhood in the town of Loíza on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico as the hurricane passed by the island on Monday September 18, on Wednesday, September 21, 2022.

Puerto Rico still dark: Five years after Hurricane Maria devasted Puerto Rico, the island faced another devastating hit from Hurricane Fiona. Millions of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans remained in the dark or surrounded by floodwater last week as Hurricane Fiona raked through the islands, taking homes, piers, a bridge and power lines down with it and killing at least four people. And for some still recovering from Hurricane Maria five years ago, it’s already a new measuring stick for the ravages a hurricane can bring to island nations.

Another Cat One storm: Hurricane Fiona left two people dead, damaged 2,614 homes and displaced at least 13,070 people in the Dominican Republic, officials at the Caribbean nation said as they continued relief efforts. The hurricane that slammed the Dominican Republic with 90-mph winds and heavy rains, also left 406,539 people without power and damaged 79 water mains, affecting water service to 1.43 million people, the country’s Center of Emergency Operations reported.

Broward County Supervisor of Elections Peter Antonacci is seen at the Broward Voter Equipment Center in Lauderhill as the supervisor of elections office prepares to mail approximately 240,000 Vote-By-Mail ballots ahead of upcoming elections, Thursday, July 9, 2020.
Broward County Supervisor of Elections Peter Antonacci is seen at the Broward Voter Equipment Center in Lauderhill as the supervisor of elections office prepares to mail approximately 240,000 Vote-By-Mail ballots ahead of upcoming elections, Thursday, July 9, 2020.

Antonacci dies suddenly: Pete Antonacci, whose decades-long career in Florida politics and government led to his appointment this year leading DeSantis’ controversial elections security force, died on Friday of a heart attrack at age 74. Antonacci had an unparalleled career in state government and politics, having been appointed to various positions by five different governors from both sides of the aisle since the 1980s.

Warren’s reinstatement trial: A federal judge hearing the case of Hillsborough County’s ousted state attorney appears to favor a speedy trial over immediately reinstating Andrew Warren to decide the issue “once and for all.” The twice-elected state attorney was escorted from his downtown Tampa offices Aug. 4 by an armed sheriff’s deputy. The governor accused him of refusing to enforce laws involving abortion and transgender healthcare, and of not prosecuting certain low-level, non-violent crimes.

In addition to announcing a tax-relief proposal in an upcoming legislative session, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took questions from reporters about flights of migrants from Florida to Martha’s Vinyard at a press conference in Bradenton.
In addition to announcing a tax-relief proposal in an upcoming legislative session, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took questions from reporters about flights of migrants from Florida to Martha’s Vinyard at a press conference in Bradenton.

Tax break promise: Last week, DeSantis told a crowd in Bradenton that if he is re-elected he will ask the Florida Legislature to permanently remove the sales tax from some items and impose a one-year exemption for other consumer products, saving Floridians an estimated $1.1 billion next year. The permanent exemption would apply to some baby and toddler necessities, cribs and strollers, some medical equipment and over-the-counter pet medications, such as tick and flea prevention for cats and dogs.

Rewriting history: During the same event, DeSantis launched into an unusual reframing of American history and slavery and the remarks have come under intense fire from historians and Black activists. “Nobody had questioned it [slavery] before we decided as Americans that we are endowed by our creator with inalienable rights and that we are all created equal. Then that birthed abolition movements,’’ DeSantis said, and later posted on Twitter.

Newsweek asked four historians to comment. Johns Hopkins University history professor Sarah Pearsall said DeSantis was “completely incorrect....Plenty of people had questioned slavery before the American Revolution,’’ she said.

“You know who questioned it?” asked CNN’s Van Jones. “The enslaved people.”

DeSantis TV blitz: The governor has so much money in his election coffers that he outspent Charlie Crist in television ads 15 to 1 for the first two weeks of September, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. That is “by far the biggest discrepancy among statewide 2022 races with significant TV ad volume,’’ the group reported last week.

Portofino Tower General Manager Damaris Cabrera, pictured above, implements creative strategies to build loyalty among her staff at her condominium. “I share this is a learning opportunity,” Cabrera said. “People give more. All of these other challenges, like the traffic and high cost of living, become background noise. They are more engaged, because they have a long-term goal.”
Portofino Tower General Manager Damaris Cabrera, pictured above, implements creative strategies to build loyalty among her staff at her condominium. “I share this is a learning opportunity,” Cabrera said. “People give more. All of these other challenges, like the traffic and high cost of living, become background noise. They are more engaged, because they have a long-term goal.”

Cost of living worker shortage: Miami Beach faces the same business challenge as other increasingly unaffordable neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County: the runaway cost of living has hit local businesses so hard, they are scrambling to find workers. The culprit: the city’s skyrocketing apartment rents and lack of affordable housing, prompting many workers to exit the area to move to more affordable places.

How much does it cost to live in Miami-Dade right now? Miami-Dade’s median sale price was $551,250 for a single-family home in August, down from $570,000 the prior month, according to the monthly sales reportby the Miami Association of Realtors. Condominium prices also dropped to a $375,000 midpoint from $380,000 in July.

Freedom Park in Miami was initially dogged by the city’s history of sports venues that left taxpayers on the hook for subsidizing them.
Freedom Park in Miami was initially dogged by the city’s history of sports venues that left taxpayers on the hook for subsidizing them.

Can Freedom Park free housing burdens? For 99 years, Miami stands to receive at least $4.3 million in annual rent from the developers of Miami Freedom Park, the $1 billion commercial and Major League Soccer stadium complex that will host home games for Inter Miami. Commissioners now are considering ways to spend half of the new revenue. The new dollars could flow entirely into the city’s general fund but Commission Chairwoman Christine King has a different idea: diverting 25% of the rent — at least $1 million — for anti-poverty projects. Another proposal from Mayor Francis Suarez and Commissioner Joe Carollo would steer 25% toward a new affordable housing trust fund.

Florida International University Interim President Kenneth A. Jessell speaks during a graduation ceremony inside FIU’s Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, April 30, 2022.
Florida International University Interim President Kenneth A. Jessell speaks during a graduation ceremony inside FIU’s Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, April 30, 2022.

FIU’s presidential search: After months of searching, Florida International University announced Wednesday it has only one candidate for its presidency: Kenneth Jessell, who has been serving as interim president since late January and had previously said he wouldn’t become the university’s sixth president. Roger Tovar, the chair of the university’s presidential search committee and the vice chair of the FIU Board of Trustees, said in an email to the FIU community that the committee screened about 70 candidates, interviewed a dozen and selected some names to advance to the Board of Trustees, although he didn’t say how many.

Thank you for reading. Miami Herald Capitol Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas curates the Politics and Policy in the Sunshine State newsletter. We appreciate our readers and if you have any ideas or suggestions, please drop me a note at meklas@miamiherald.com.

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