Tampa City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
This is Tampa's week to shine. Now that the storm has passed, the sun is out, and the Republican National Convention is in full swing. With 300,000 residents on a beachhead on Tampa Bay, the city boasts professional sports teams, the seventh largest port in the country and a colorful history that includes cigars and shrimp. While Republicans inside the convention center make speeches on immigration and fiscal policy, the people of Tampa are living those issues.
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood has welcomed immigrants from Cuba and Latin America, while the city's elected leaders confront the same budget challenges facing many of the nation's midsize cities. To give us a window into life in Tampa and what the convention means for the city, we turn to native son and longtime City Councilmember Charlie Miranda. He is chairman of the Tampa City Council. Charlie Miranda, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. CHARLIE MIRANDA
Thank you, Kojo. It's my pleasure to be with you here this afternoon.
You've been elected to the Tampa City Council six times, starting in 1974. How has Tampa changed since your first term on the city council?
Well, things happen for a reason. I think that when you look at the city back from '74 and before then, it's become a much more productive community. I've always called it the vegetable soup of society. If it is true that how goes Hillsborough County goes Florida, and how goes Florida goes the nation, then you have to look at it as a funnel effect, and it all started here in Tampa. How goes Tampa goes the nation...
Please go ahead.
...because we have a mixture of tall, small, short, fat, skinny, white, black, not -- mulatto, different colored people. We all get together. It was like that way when I was a little boy in Ybor City, and that's what life is really about, the opportunity to reach across and work out solutions of a problem citywide. And when you work them out citywide, you, in essence, do it countrywide.
If you have questions or comments about how Tampa is run and how it has evolved, now is the time to call us, 800-433-8850. Are you from Tampa and may now be living somewhere else and would like to trade your own memories of how the city developed? You can also send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet, @kojoshow, the number again, 800-433-8850.
What does it mean for Tampa to host this Republican National Convention? How do you think the convention will help to boost the city's national profile and help strengthen the local business community?
In my words, in my view, it means one thing: opportunity. If it wasn't here, you'd have no opportunity. So the Republican Convention being here, to me, means the opportunity to showcase what we're all about, how we live our daily lives, how we perform our duties at work, how the government is run and how efficient things are or efficient things are not. And when the news came to us that the Republican Convention was coming, we were all elated -- in the government I'm talking about -- because it gave us the opportunity to show off, I may say.
And what it means is, if you apply for a job and you're never chosen, guess what, you're never given the opportunity to show what you can do. So this is Tampa's opportunity to show what it can do and what it has done. I know and realize there's another day or two days of convention left, and anything can happen. But, so far, it's been a wonderful convention for both the Republicans and for the citizens of city of Tampa.
In May, the city council created -- decided to create a designated area for protesters during the convention. Do you feel that plan has been working well so far?
I think it's worked well. It's a very difficult task for this city or any other city to have a convention of this size -- and no matter if it's Republican, Democrat or independent -- and satisfy all parties. We did the best we could, and it's working so far. And it's because of the planning of the mayor and the staff and Chief Police Castor. And we've done -- the rights of all people have to be protected, and that's utmost, the most important. And I think that has been accomplished.
Mitt Romney and the Republicans have said we need to be tough on illegal immigration. How is that message well -- how is that message received in the Tampa area?
In my opinion, it's not received too well because if you look at my heritage, which -- as you well know, my father came here in 1911. And was he legal, illegal? I really don't know. I think you know...
He was 11 years old at the time.
Eleven years old. And so if that's the case, then I would never be here today, talking to you, and I never would have had an opportunity to seek office. And I think that when you do these kind of things and you blanket anything, you just can't throw a blanket and cover the bed sheets. You have to understand that there are feelings, that there's a lot more human need than anything else going on, and you have to realize that all cases are handled individually, not blanket-wise.
Tell us about the history of Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood. It's been a longtime home for immigrants from Cuba, from Mexico, as well as people from elsewhere in the world.
You're absolutely correct. Way back, it was the hub of the cigar capital of the world. You had about 12,000 cigar makers back when I was a little boy in Tampa, in Ybor City. And you had workers from Cuba, from Spain, from Italy, from Africa, from the Jewish community. A lot of buildings, if you look in Ybor City, people don't realize, but they have the name of the Jewish people who bought them and built them.
It's fascinating just walking to the city and looking at the buildings and just reading the signs on them because a lot of them clearly go back a very long time.
They go back some hundred years. I don't know how much more than a hundred, but I know 130, 140 years, and they are in great shape. The people took care of each other. We started two things in Ybor City. One not liked so much called bolita, which is now the lottery. Everybody plays the lottery. But when we had it, it was illegal because the government wasn't collecting their taxes or their fair share. And the other was a mutual society aide, which is now the HMO.
It all started right here in Ybor City where the immigrants came. They did their hard work -- and let me tell you what -- about hard work. They worked seven days a week building what we -- and I now have the opportunity to say, OK, let's go on with the rest of the show. But it was them that came and did this. Those mutual societies had their own hospitals, their own clinics, the doctors who would come to your house if you were sick. And that's what we started back. The city of Tampa started that.
I proposed that to the city some time back, and through Iorio and her staff, it was started. And there's two clinics now for the retired city employees and the city employees to go to lower our insurance cost by over $1 million a year.
You grew up in Ybor city, so those are things that you personally remember and some of them you'd like to see maintained.
I, you know, things change, and I understand that. But what I gather the most is the value that you were raised with. I remember my father once giving me a dime when it was a dime to make a phone call out in the payphone and asked him, what's the dime for? He says, when you get in trouble, call somebody else. So I never forgot that. And I hoped I had saved the dime, but I didn't.
We're talking with Charlie Miranda. He is the chairman of the Tampa City Council. He is a native of Tampa, Fla., born and raised in Ybor City. Let's go to the phones. Here is Alex in Bowie, Md. Alex, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
Yes. I was raised in Tampa. I spent a lot of time in Ybor City. I'm in the military. I've been away for almost 30 years. I'm going to retire in a few years. What are the jobs prospects when I retire, you know, in about three or four years? And what -- how does it look, I mean, for someone coming back home and like to contribute to the city?
What are the job prospects, Alex wants to know, when he retires from the military if he comes back here to Tampa?
Well, it all depends, Alex. I'll be very sincere with you. I don't know what your age is. And at my age -- I'm going to be 72, so my job prospects would be very slim if I was 72 and I'm thinking of retirement. I don't want to retire 'cause I think if you retire, in my opinion, you're just creating no time to do anything, just wasted away, unless you have a plan what you're going to do and how you're going to follow yourself and keep yourself busy every day and either go work full-time, part-time or give your time to the people who really need it.
So that's going to be best be answered by you. That's going to be based by your due diligence and how you handle it and what type of work you do in the military. I don't know that. Maybe if you were in the military side of police enforcement, maybe you can get a job in some police force, either inside or outside the area. But those are things that you're going to have to look at for yourself. I don't mean not to answer your question, but I just don't know all the facts.
Well, Alex, you may want to keep listening because we're about to get to how they operate financially in Tampa here today. A number of mid-sized American cities are struggling financially today. How are the finances here in Tampa? And what are the challenges that you're facing?
The city of Tampa is no different than any other city. However, our finances are a lot better than most cities. We have kept our budget for 2013. It's about $808 million. And we have just -- I just looked at the report for nine months of 2012, and we're running about 17 percent ahead in collection of moneys that come into the city for distribution for the taxpayers to live and have their streets paved lighting and everything, fire and police and so forth. When I first started the city budget, the police and fire was a little bit more costly than all the moneys we collected in ad valorem taxes.
Well, guess what? A long time ago to now, it doesn't cover one. It doesn't cover the police department. So it's basically money that we desperately need, and that's happened because of devaluation of the homes, therefore less tax is paid into the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County and the school system. So all these things have to be done, and the public is aware of it. I don't think they quite have grasped that yet as to how we run the city.
But you guys do not run a budget deficit, do you?
No, you can't. By our charter, we are -- cannot have a deficit in the budget. So we do have reserves. I think this year we're going to hit the reserves in a few million dollars. We do have about close to $100 million in reserves, and those reserves will be dwindling down to something. But I think in the next year or two, they should be par with the intake and the expenditures of the city.
Here is Nate in Randallstown, Md. Nate, your turn. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
Hey, thanks, Kojo. I'm an Army brat, so I've kind of moved a little bit of every where from Germany to Maryland and lived in Tampa from 2007 to 2009. I was relocated with a marketing firm that was headquartered in Maryland, and so I got a chance to experience Tampa for a couple of years. I've been all over Hillsborough County. I lived in Carollwood, which is a really nice area. But I just heard you talk about finances in Tampa.
And I was just curious about the tolls. We do have quite a lot of tolls in the Tampa area. And, you know, what is that for? Where does that money go towards? I know there's a lot of development, you know, in the cities and on the roads, but where does that money go to in terms of the total...
What money are you asking about in particular, Nate?
The tolls -- the toll roads. There's a lot of tolls.
A lot of toll roads here, and he wants to know where that money goes.
Well, the city of Tampa per se doesn't collect the money on toll roads. Those are collected by the Expressway Authority or the Hillsborough County Road Authority, which foes into the County or the state. Usually, the state moneys that are -- goes back into the building of the road to pay off the bond debt, to help pay off the bond dents. As you well know, when you buy gas, there's a certain percent of that goes into building of roads and maintaining roads in the city.
You get a kickback from the state to do that in your hometown. So when you do those things, that's where the preponderance of that money goes to. There's another side of that that are private toll roads, which I really don't like because they can do what they want at any time in the future.
Thank you very much for your call, Nate. It is my understanding, Charlie Miranda, that you were quite a baseball player when you were young. You played on a team from Cuscaden Park in Tampa, and one of your teammates was former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. Tell us about your team's trip to Cuba in the year 1954.
That was -- of all the things I've ever done, that's, to me, the most memorable one. We were just small, little skinny kids playing at Cuscaden Park, and we had some great teams. And, fortunately -- I don't know how I made it to the all-stars, but I did. I guess I talked my way into it. And Tony La Russa was our starting shortstop. He was the youngest of all the players in the team. He was only nine. Most of us were 13. And when you get at that age from nine to 13 -- there's a four year difference -- that means a lot.
But he was an excellent ballplayer and could really play shortstop. I always tell him that I made him famous because if I had a fastball, I could have made the second baseman famous. But I didn't, so I made the shortstop famous by the hard round balls that he had to catch and throw out the guy at first. But that team was exceptional. It was a very, very good team with very good ballplayers, and I think three of the 12 kids signed professional contracts.
And you were a pitcher on that team, and you say you remember every pitch of a game that you went to Cuba to play when you were 9 years old?
Well, that's what's happening now. People forget. I love to remember, never to forget because you have to be on that -- I didn't have a blazing fastball, so I had to remember where I put the ball at. And every time you came to bat, I remember what I threw at you and where you hit it. So I try to hit my spots if I could on changes or curve balls. I did even at that age threw a little knuckleball. And those are the things I remember the most. I never...
Thirteen and a half years old. When are you up for reelection?
I think you now have a lot of supporters in the Washington area. Charlie Miranda is chairman of the Tampa City Council. Thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.
And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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