Throughout the myriad meetings, debates and forums in the recent 2011 mayoral campaign, candidate José Arturo “Pepe” Cancio insisted on making it clear that, unlike most of his opponents, he’s neither a politician nor a career municipal official. It was vital for him that thousands of Miami-Dade registered voters understood that he’s a tried and true entrepreneur with a working knowledge of the public sector who, on most accounts, is against government behaving like, well, government.
Especially how it’s been run lately.
Even though the May election is over and done with, and the run-off is only a few days away, Cancio maintains that, in order to recover from the current leadership, administrative and economic crisis, the county must change the way it operates now by adhering to the private sector’s basic principles: Fiscal and organizational discipline, efficacy, efficiency, accountability, and a sense of pride, purpose and service.
Only then, he claims, will our community prosper.
SENSE AND STABILITY
Given the chance, and seldom is Mr. Cancio denied the opportunity under any circumstance, the 71 year old CEO of Central Concrete SuperMix not only shares his vision for Miami-Dade, but also grabs delicate issues by the proverbial horns.
“Although I was the oldest of the eleven candidates, I considered myself a breath of fresh air,” he says, addressing a factor, his age, which voters may have considered holding against him. “It would be difficult for any other candidate to match my vitality and my desire to serve. I am used to being on top of things, to long hours and very hard work.”
It would also be impossible for other candidates to equal Pepe Cancio’s experience, leadership, and track record in the private sector. The veteran businessman has spent his entire adult life working in various industries, beginning in his native Cuba, then in Brazil and finally in the United States.
He learned his way around the concrete business “from the bottom up,” and for the past 22 years, has guided SuperMix through the thick and thin of South Florida’s building boom. In fact, Cancio is known in the construction industry as a hands-on multitasker who insists on supervising his firm’s concrete-pouring projects “to make sure things turn out right” and who faces challenges with fairness, direction and clarity.
True to form, Cancio reiterates his campaign message: “I want to bring sense and stability back to this county,” he says emphatically. “And I would have only needed the 17 months left in former mayor Carlos Alvarez’s term to achieve it.”
Seventeen months? More than anything else it was that assertion that caused potential voters to raise their eyebrows. Already contemptuous of public officials’ empty promises, loaded excuses, foot-dragging and delay tactics, they cannot envision anyone single-handedly having the ability —let alone the power— to “fix” any aspect in county government in such a short time.
But Cancio presented a strong argument: His commitment not to run for reelection in 2012 would have freed him to focus on restructuring county hall while:
• Preparing not one, but two budgets —the first by this summer; July 15th, to be exact— and dealing with a deficit estimated at $400 million;
• Negotiating contracts that will include layoffs, salary and benefit concessions, with no less than 10 employee unions, before the existing agreements expire on September 30, 2011; and
• Resolving critical items on a seriously back-logged “to-do” list that seems to begin and end with the Jackson Health System crisis.
It’s a tough agenda for any incoming mayor. However, Cancio maintains, comprehensive restructuring of the county’s government becomes virtually unattainable if the county’s newly-installed top official plans on embarking on a reelection campaign a few months down the line.
“It deserves and demands our total dedication.”
Under Miami-Dade’s present conditions, given the weeks lost to the mayor’s recall, the county manager’s resignation and this election, time is of the essence and the new mayor will have to hit the ground running with the right recovery program. Cancio insists that redundancy, excess and inefficiency must be dealt with first —and it should happen from the top down.
“There is no need for three mayor’s offices,” he states categorically.
Salaries, perks and benefits for top executives must be reviewed and restructured. Cancio recommends trimming the mayor’s compensation, which exceeds $230,000, by 50 percent and his overhaul plan calls for a reduction in the commissioners’ budgets, as well.
Cancio, who became acquainted with the structure and inner workings of Miami-Dade government when he was called upon by then-Governor Jeb Bush to replace Commissioner Miriam Alonso in May 2002 and during the four years in which he represented District 12 on the community council, says more than two dozen departments should be placed on the chopping block.
“Many of them offer services already being provided by another county entity,” he explains. The remaining departments’ budgets, operations and processes must then be thoroughly reviewed to maximize efficiency, resources and results.
“Government must emulate what families across our community are already doing: living within their means.”
Easier said than done, experts say, especially when the county’s ten employee unions are already bracing for this year’s contract negotiations and are ready to battle any push for salary and benefit concessions.
The time has come to change how government works, Cancio claims, and it must begin to think, act and operate like a well-managed corporation that’s geared for recovery first and then for success. But he’s keenly aware that old habits die hard, even among career politicians who say they have seen the light.
“I was the only CEO in the field of candidates. I know how things are done in the business world and I’m used to getting things done.”
Although he would have loved nothing more than to put his management philosophy and corporate experience to work at the Stephen P. Clark Center, Cancio accepted defeat and will be true to his and his fellow candidates’ pledge to support and assist the eventual winner.
Has his platform made in-roads among the two remaining candidates, commissioner Carlos Gimenez and mayor Julio Robaina? They’re not telling. But if the soon-to-be-elected mayor of Miami-Dade wants to imbue the county with some sense and success, they should take into consideration the experience and advice of the businessman who fought for the City of Doral’s incorporation in 2002 and found “lost” funds to finance a vital highway overpass.
Or else? Perhaps we’ll see Pepe Cancio on the ballot again in 2012.