Does a 2.2-point margin of victory and a 16.5 percent voter turnout add up to a mandate for new Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez?
The county commissioner hopes so, as he takes on the county's persistent fiscal shortfalls and a prevailing sense of corruption that brought down the administration of Carlos Alvarez.
Miamians weary of political bickering got more of it during a prolonged, three-stage campaign this year. First, voters threw out Alvarez in a recall election. Next, they winnowed the field of would-be successors in an 11-way race. Then, on Tuesday, they narrowly selected Gimenez over former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina.
None of the three elections drew more than a 17 percent voter turnout.
"It was a poor reflection on the civic engagement in Miami-Dade, despite this important position that needed to be filled," said Sean Foreman, political science professor at Barry University in Miami Shores.
In a couple of ways, the result may fortify Florida Democrats, whose candidates won mayorships in Tampa and Jacksonville during the past four months.
Though no Democrat finished higher than fourth place in the initial round of Miami's voting, Democrats can argue that Gimenez and Robaina, both Republicans, failed to energize the electorate the way Bob Buckhorn and Alvin Brown did in Tampa and Jacksonville, respectively.
Progressives also point to Gimenez's more socially liberal agenda as a winning ticket heading into 2012. Miami's homosexual community particularly claimed credit for the commissioner's victory.
"Both guys got key endorsements from leading GOP figures. But to the extent that party mattered, Gimenez is more moderate and that helped him to gain support from Democrats and independents," Foreman said.
Endorsements and favorable late polling by Miami's liberal media -- preceded by almost daily doses of news articles attacking Robaina -- also pushed voters toward Gimenez.
"There is an awful lot of mistrust of government in Miami-Dade andsuspicion of politicians," Foreman noted."Gimenez convinced voters that he has more integrity than Robaina."
Foreman added that "questions swirling around aboutRobaina's business dealings did not help him with voters.AlthoughGimenez had been a county commissioner, the stink of corruption did not rub off on him."
Still, conservatives remain wary of Gimenez. Some suspect he is one of those dreaded RINOs -- Republican in Name Only.
The Christian Family Coalition, which endorsed Robaina, on Thursday called for the commissioner to move to the middle.
"Carlos Gimenez barely won last Tuesday's mayoral election. Now he must win the confidence and trust of the vast majority of Miami-Dade residents rightly alarmed by his disconcerting links to a couple of fringe hate groups operating locally," CFC leader Anthony Verdugo said, referring to gay-rights organizations.
"The new mayor's election by only 4,375 votes compels him to prove his ability to truly represent all Miami-Dade residents, including Christians and people of faith, whose moral values and ethical principles are unjustly attacked by the extremist hate groups Gimenez irresponsibly cavorted with during the campaign," Verdugo said in a statement.
Others, including South Florida auto magnate and recall organizer Norman Braman, say the new mayor's biggest challenge is to control government spending and to reform the political system in Miami-Dade.
Gimenez, in a post-election thank-you to supporters, declared:
"As we begin the difficult work of governing, I will continue to need your support. In the short term, my team and I will prepare a budget that deals with a shortfall of some $400 million -- and yes, we must roll back the Alvarez tax increase."
Citing "a host of problems that require immediate attention," Gimenez said, "There is one task that towers above all the rest: restoring confidence and trust in local government. This will not be accomplished by words; it will be accomplished by actions.
"My actions in the months ahead will be guided by one simple principle: Be the mayor for all of Miami-Dade County."
In the end, Foreman said Gimenez, a lifelong government official, "was seen as boring and unexciting."
"At this point, that's probably what is needed in Miami."
Reach Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341.