South Florida 100: Terrible presidential debate, but hey, at least the Heat are in the Finals

            The Miami Heat celebrate their NBA conference final playoff basketball game win over the Boston Celtics with the Eastern Final trophy Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
            The Miami Heat celebrate their NBA conference final playoff basketball game win over the Boston Celtics with the Eastern Final trophy Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

            Our panel of 100 influential leaders discusses the most important issues affecting you.

            Anthony J. Abbate, architect

            Last week: The gates opened this week as Florida lifted protective health restrictions. It’s now supposedly up to individuals to decide whether and how to protect against the pandemic and control its spread. But with official pressure to force people back to workplace environments with varying and inconsistent levels of precaution and control, decisions seem to be governed less by individual good judgement than by government that exalts profit over people.

            Looking ahead: In case anyone missed it, the flood insurance rate zones have been updated. The first floor of my house, built in 1996, was at 10.5-foot elevation and is now officially at 8.9 feet. That’s not because my house and land dropped by almost 2 feet, but because the old data, developed in 1929 was updated to take into account changes to calculated sea levels. The Federal Emergency Management Agency maps, updated in 2014 and again on December 31, 2019 may reveal that your property is in a flood zone. Visit https://www.broward.org/Environment/FloodZoneMaps to check.

            Irela Bagué, president, Bagué Group

            Last week: To the surprise of many viewers of the presidential debate this week, climate change took center stage. A long-ignored issue instantly became a topic that both candidates bickered over the same way they had done with other issues on that night. Unfortunately, everyone was left wondering how either candidate will deal with the climate crisis. Let’s hope the topic stays at the top of the list of problems America must deal with moving forward.

            Looking ahead: The progress continues on Everglades Restoration. This past week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District awarded construction contracts for key projects in South Florida, for Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands, Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) South, and Picayune Strand Restoration Projects. This news comes on the heels of the recent water quality issues Biscayne Bay has been facing. The Biscayne Bay project will improve the ecology of Biscayne Bay, including the freshwater wetlands, tidal creeks, and near-shore habitat. Let’s hope the momentum continues.

            Lauren Book, member, Florida Senate

            Last week: I’m extremely disturbed by Senator Rubio’s choice to mock and defile the legacy of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by selling shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Notorious ACB,” alluding to SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Ms. Barrett’s ascent into success in law and academia were in no small part due to the doors Justice Ginsburg opened for her and for all women — and Ms. Barrett may very well close those doors for women who will come after her. As upsetting as Ms. Barrett’s nomination is, Senator Rubio’s fundraising scheme is even more insulting to Justice Ginsburg’s legacy.

            Traci Callari, President, Broward League of Cities; Hollywood commissioner

            Looking ahead: The Broward League of Cities and the Broward County City Managers’ Association launched an educational initiative to inform Broward County residents about County Charter Amendment No. 2 that will appear on the November 2020 ballot. If approved, it would give Broward County the power to supersede municipal zoning and regulatory authority for projects on county properties that are funded in whole or in part by funds from the transportation surtax, even if the projects fall within municipal borders. I urge residents to reach out to their city officials to learn more about the far-reaching impact of this issue.

            Kathleen Cannon, president, United Way of Broward County

            Looking ahead: The Miami Heat are poised to win their fourth NBA Championship and I couldn’t be happier. In a year filled with illness, death and fear; divisiveness, combativeness and anger; racism, hatred and inequity; it’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to turn our attention for a short time to a battle on the basketball courts. And what a great win this will be if we go all the way. Despite a rough start to the season, the Heat have surpassed all expectations. Let’s all come together and cheer for the home team as NBA Champs!

            Mitch Ceasar, former chairman, Broward County Democratic Party

            Last week: The presidential debate began like a worldwide wrestling match. Predictably, with President Trump as the loud, interrupting aggressor. Trump belittled wearing masks, indicated he would not acknowledge election results and would not denounce a domestic terrorist group. Later, that group reveled in the positive attention. Moderator Chris Wallace was in an impossible position. The strategy to have a real discussion or to "shake" Vice President Biden failed. We had a few answers, but the president’s antics assured that democracy would suffer. Remember, the debate was as much about who we are as a nation, as it was about the candidates.

            Michael De Lucca, president, Broward Regional Health Planning Council, Inc.

            Last week: Due to COVID-19, we have been dealing with lots of stress related to changes with our social lives and daily routines. According to psychologist Traci Stein, the following five simple habits will make a big difference and will help you stay focused in these high-stress days: taking care of your physical needs, planning for your escape behaviors, planning regular breaks, giving binaural beats a try and forgiving yourself for losing focus. She encourages everyone to see how your own focus improves and build these techniques into daily habits to keep the benefit going into the future.

            Looking ahead: Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, other than skin cancer. In 2017, the latest year for which incidence data is available, in the U.S., 250,520 new cases of breast cancer were reported among women, and 42,000 women died of this cancer. For every 100,000 women, 125 new breast cancer cases were reported and 20 women died of this cancer. Early detection of breast cancer is the best protection; protect yourself and get tested. This October, show your support by wearing pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month to spread awareness and preventions of this disease.

            Dr. Michael Dennis, chair, FAU Schmidt College of Medicine

            Last week: Millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, are suffering terribly from repercussions of the pandemic. Some relief measures passed earlier have expired, such as the federal unemployment benefit and small business loan forgiveness programs. House Democrats are understandably concerned and are proposing a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. It would provide $1,200 checks and reinstate the expired benefits until January. It also calls for significant support for education ($225 billion), for state and tribal governments ($436 billion), and viral protection measures ($75 billion). These are uniquely gruesome times and call for a level of discussion that transcends arguments over deficit spending.

            Looking ahead: As expected, the conservative media feels Trump won the first debate. And the liberal media feels strongly that Biden prevailed. The vastly more important question is: What was presented that bodes well for the future wellbeing of the nation? Was there a truly “presidential” candidate who represented the virtues of listening, understanding, compromise, cooperation and healing? Differences of opinion are acceptable if not used as political bludgeons. Rude interruptions indicate personal weakness. Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Roosevelt would have groaned. The demeanor of the “debaters” casts doubt on the state of American democracy and its place in the global community.

            Lamar Fisher, member, Broward County Commission

            Last week: This past weekend, Gov. DeSantis issued an order that affected Broward by lifting all state restrictions and opening all businesses. I think it is time we move forward and allow all businesses to operate so our economy can get back to some sense of normalcy, but I do caution all residents, visitors and businesses to please continue to stay safe. Use the CDC guidelines as a guide because what we certainly don’t want to see happen is a surge of positive cases in our community, which ultimately puts our most vulnerable population at a major risk. Please stay safe!

            Looking ahead: The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact will have a half-day virtual Climate Leadership Summit on Oct. 13 to hear from leaders from the business, government, academic and nonprofit communities to expand on our region’s capacity to respond to the many challenges we face due to the climate crisis. I’m most excited to learn about the business case for resiliency for our community, as we know there is a strong economical case associated with systemic and building-level adaptation and quantifying the return on investment will only enhance our ability to move forward with some of these strategies.

            Beam Furr, member, Broward County Commission

            Last week: The term “Proud Boys” is in the news due to President Trump’s failure to condemn this white supremacist group at Tuesday’s debate. For those wondering about this group, the use of the word “Boys” in their name is apt – they are a serious case of arrested development. We are at a time in history where people need to look beyond themselves. But these “Proud Boys” are an exemplar of our least mature and childish impulses – selfishness, loathing and small-mindedness. Trump asked these “boys” to “stand by.” But it is time for the adults in the room to step up.

            Looking ahead: Broward County has officially reached a deal with the United States Postal Service to expedite and streamline the process of getting mail ballots to the Supervisor of Elections office. Previously, ballots that were mailed in had to go through a distribution center in Miami-Dade County for processing. Under this deal, ballots will now be directly picked up by election workers from local Broward post offices, and delivered straight to the elections office to be counted! This will make the process significantly faster and more transparent. Residents should be confident their mail-in ballots will be received – but earlier is always better!

            Sheldon Harr, founding rabbi emeritus, Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El

            Last week: Opening bars, nightclubs, restaurants, schools and other similar establishments may be positive for the economy, but clearly it is bad for our health. President Reagan had his economic plans called "voodoo economics.” President Trump predicts a "miracle." Gov. DeSantis acts as a lapdog to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Have we lost our minds? Science must prevail. Let our policies reflect what is best for our very existence.

            Marlon A. Hill, partner, Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel

            Last week: Though much attention may be given to the influence of Florida's Hispanic vote, the burgeoning Caribbean-American electorate centered in Broward County may be an influential outlier in this year's general election. Often misunderstood and overlooked, the Caribbean American voter is driving the growth of the Black population throughout the state, but is also multilingual, multiracial and religiously diverse. With a conservative 3% of Florida's population, or well over 600,000, self-identifying as Jamaican, Haitian or other Caribbean, this group could tip the scales in the fight for 29 electoral votes.

            Marty Kiar, property appraiser, Broward County

            Looking ahead: Congratulations to the Miami Heat for winning the Eastern Conference Championship and going to the NBA Finals for the sixth time in franchise history. The Heat played magnificently throughout the playoffs, finishing with a 12-3 record and beating the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics along the way. The Heat are now taking on LeBron James and the L.A. Lakers for the NBA championship in the 2020 NBA Finals. Thank you to the Heat organization for giving South Florida something to cheer for! Bring it home, let’s go Heat!

            Tim Lonergan, commissioner, Oakland Park

            Last week: It has been reported that COVID-19 infection rates are increasing throughout the country. Due to the catastrophic failure of the Trump administration to respond quickly, consistently and responsibly, the pandemic expanded and is impacting Americans longer than necessary. In Florida, Gov. DeSantis originally responded cautiously but recently allowed bars and restaurants to fully reopen. In most establishments, it’s impossible to adhere to social distance guidelines at full capacity. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, calls the governor’s actions “very concerning.” There are better ways to support struggling businesses than responding like the pandemic ended.

            Looking ahead: As a painful nightmare known as the first presidential debate fades from our memories, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that for future debates, additional structure is needed to ensure a more orderly discussion. Regardless of political affiliation, we all want to watch a courteous and respectful discussion, including only facts, focused on the issues, not on each other. It’s not unreasonable to expect individuals running for the highest office in the nation to respectfully disagree. Silence does not equal weakness. It’s important that candidates model appropriate behaviors. Let’s hope for an improved second debate. #VOTE

            Peter Moore, president, Chen Moore and Associates

            Last week: This past week the Senate passed a 1-year extension of the FAST Act to ensure that surface transportation programs did not expire as scheduled on Sept. 30. While we should applaud congressional action that ensured vital surface transportation programs did not lapse, we should be disappointed that the extension maintained flat funding and failed to address the needs of state departments of transportation and transit agencies as a result of the pandemic. We can only hope that Congress uses this coming year to develop a bipartisan transportation reauthorization that increases investment and addresses the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

            Looking ahead: The next round of stimulus can’t come along soon enough, especially if you are an airline worker. With the recent layoffs, the need for another $20 Billion (on top of the previously authorized $25 Billion) is critical for the long term viability of our skies. For those that feel corporate bailouts are too much, they must never want to be able to take another flight to go on vacation or visit a relative. Airlines run a business that is based on a delicate balance, including passengers and cargo, to ensure a seamless system. Let’s make sure America keeps flying!

            Philip Purcell, CEO/President, Marine Industries Association of South Florida

            Last week: Unveiled last week, the futuristic R/V OceanXplorer is designed as both a marine research laboratory and Hollywood-caliber production studio, making it possible for researchers to explore and document never-before-seen parts of the oceans. Ray and Mark Dalio, co-founders of OceanX, are pairing science and media to share the wonder of ocean exploration in collaboration with filmmaker James Cameron. Leading scientists have access to a resident helicopter, piloted and autonomous underwater drones, two manned Triton submersibles, a remotely operated vehicle, an autonomous underwater vehicle, and an underwater optical modem that delivers livestreaming video from the depths of the ocean floor into classrooms around the world.

            Nan Rich, member, Broward County Commission

            Last week: This week, my husband and I received our ballots in the mail. We filled them out immediately and put them in Monday’s outgoing mail. The Broward Supervisor of Elections lets you track your Vote-by-Mail ballot online, and both of our ballots were received and counted by Thursday! The Broward SOE has already received 514,614 requests for VBM ballots, in a county with 1,252,251 active registered voters. With this incredible increase in VBM ballots, we just need voters to fill them out and send them back immediately. Despite all the fearmongering and demagoguery we keep hearing, voting by mail works!

            Mary Riedel, president, Women in Distress Broward County

            Last week: Vote. Vote. Vote. This will continue to be topic one as we all must participate in our democracy. Vote as if your life depends upon it because it, in fact, does.

            Looking ahead: Domestic violence is another pandemic. One in three women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Children witnessing the abuse or who have also been hurt are affected in lifelong ways. It takes an entire community to break the cycle. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Learn more about how you can help stop abuse for everyone. Go to www.womenindistress.org.

            John "Jack" P. Seiler, former mayor, Fort Lauderdale

            Last week: The New York Times reported that the President paid no federal income taxes in 10 out of 15 years beginning in 2000, and paid just $750 in federal income taxes in the year he was elected and in his first year in the White House. The tax documentation obtained by the Times also reveals the President has been fighting the IRS for years over whether losses he claimed should have resulted in a $73 million refund. Congress has been trying for years to obtain his tax returns after he broke with presidential tradition and declined to publicly release them.

            Looking ahead: In the middle of this crazy COVID-19 pandemic, the South Florida sports scene has come alive and created a level of excitement, energy and expectation not seen in a few years. The Miami Heat worked, hustled and fought their way through the playoffs to reach the NBA Finals. The Miami Marlins successfully navigated their shortened baseball season to reach the MLB playoffs. The University of Miami Hurricanes are playing college football like the great teams from the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. With the Miami Dolphins and Florida Panthers also on the upswing, things are looking up in South Florida sports!

            Barbara Sharief, member, Broward County Commission

            Looking ahead: As Election Day draws closer, it’s difficult to recall a presidential election for which the act of voting has been more controversial and confusing. Broward County is mailing out vote-by-mail informational cards to make sure your vote counts. Over 500,000 vote-by-mail ballots were mailed out. I urge you to complete your ballot and return it by placing it in the mail or dropping it off at any of the 22 early voting locations Oct. 19 to Nov. 1, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. To ensure your mail-in-ballot is counted, please mail it by Monday, Oct. 19. Don’t delay, vote today! Visit browardsoe.org.

            Howard Simon, retired executive director, ACLU of Florida

            Last week: Last week, we witnessed the vital role journalism plays in our democracy when The New York Times, analyzing President Trump’s tax returns, reported that he paid no federal income taxes for 10 of the last 15 years. Every presidential candidate for the last 50 years has released their tax returns for public inspection. Donald Trump falsely claimed he was unable to do so because he is under an I.R.S. audit, though the I.R.S. has said an audit does not prevent a taxpayer from making returns public. Thanks to the Times for not letting Trump evade public scrutiny for a second time.

            Looking ahead: The monumental injustice of the federal Appeals Court decision permitting the Legislature to override the wishes of almost two-thirds of Florida voters and re-create a lifetime voting ban for former felons — specifically those too poor to pay legal financial obligations — cannot be allowed to stand. We must work to dismantle what U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle astutely called Florida’s discriminatory “pay-to-vote” system. Help might come from Congress, which can end voting bans in federal elections for those who have completed incarceration and probation but still have outstanding financial obligations. This will depend on the outcome of the coming election.

            Richard Stark, member, Florida House of Representatives

            Last week: Although Florida appears to have the coronavirus numbers spiraling down, that can change rapidly. The governor's decision along with the Commissioner of Education forcing all Florida schools to reopen without a flexible approach done on the local level is a mistake. Indoor contact where there are lots of people congregating, and social distancing is difficult, is a breeding ground for COVID-19. I implore the governor and Commissioner of Education to listen to the teachers who say it is too early to reopen schools in many parts of the state, and allow districts to come up with their own time frames for school reopenings.

            Michael Udine, member, Broward County Commission

            Looking ahead: Kids come first in Broward County! The county commission is matching funding to support the vital mission of Swim Central. Important community programs like Swim Central save lives. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children and is completely preventable. This program provides kids with the opportunity to learn proper pool safety and how to swim. Broward County understands the importance of providing tools that will last a lifetime. We are proud to partner with this essential program and thank the staff and volunteers who make it all happen!

            Robert Weinroth, member, Palm Beach County Commission

            Last week: A month before Election Day and voting is underway. Over 5 million vote-by-mail ballots were mailed to voters and 40,000 voters have already returned their ballots. With more voters than ever opting to vote by mail due, in part, to the pandemic, the fate of Florida’s 29 electoral votes could remain undetermined well after Election Day. Already many ballots are being received without the voter’s signature. It is imperative for your signed ballot to be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day. In Palm Beach County, postage to return the ballot is prepaid. Have a plan to vote and make your choices count!

            Looking ahead: It was embarrassing to watch! The televised debate between President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was a fiasco. No matter your politics, the spectacle of these men in a verbal brawl was quite unseemly. Marked by interruptions, accusations and name calling, it is difficult to believe anyone came away from this melee with a better grasp of the candidates’ views on the issues presented by the moderator. While the Commission on Presidential Debates has announced it will “adjust” the format of this year’s remaining matchups, there is little confidence anything different will occur in the future.

            Thomas Wenski, archbishop, Archdiocese of Miami

            Last week: A humanitarian crisis has been brewing along the border of Colombia and Venezuela for the past six months due to COVID-19. Some 5 million Venezuelans fled into the wider region as their country’s economy and health system collapsed from 2015 onward. But the coronavirus has frozen economies across Latin America and reversed this exodus, leaving Colombian border communities reeling from chronic shortages of medical attention and food, as well as increased violence. Colombia has recently relaxed its strict quarantine measures, and perhaps a slowly reopening economy will improve the situation, but many border communities find themselves in a critical state.

            Looking ahead: Catholics in the U.S. observe October as Respect Life Month. The defense of human life and dignity is not a “narrow cause” but a way of life. Pope Francis says, "Human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right is based on the recognition of the first, fundamental right, the right to life, which is not subject to any condition, of a qualitative, economic and certainly not of an ideological nature." Sadly, human life often faces threats at its beginning and end — precisely when they are most in need of protection and are treated as if they don’t matter.