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The Magic City’s Rise

An interview with Miami mayor Francisco Suarez.

City Journal – Miami began styling itself “The Magic City” just a month after its incorporation in 1896. In recent years, it has lived up to the name, topping lists of the world’s most successful urban centers. As its staggering real estate prices, heavy traffic, stunning beauty, and aura of prosperity testify, Miami has been integral to Florida’s rise to the forefront of American life.

As many cities struggle with resurgent disorder and other urban problems, Miami is a testament to the power of effective municipal government. Earlier this month, I talked with the city’s Republican mayor, Francis X. Suarez, about the origins of what he calls Miami’s “15-year overnight success story.”

Suarez, a commercial real estate lawyer elected mayor in 2017 at 40 after serving for eight years on Miami’s city commission, carries a local legacy. His father, Xavier Suarez, was Miami’s first Cuban-born mayor, serving from 1985 to 1993 and again in an abbreviated term from 1997 to 1998, both times as a Democrat in a state where, in more recent years, the Latino community and general population have shifted steadily to the right. The younger Suarez, Miami’s first locally born mayor, is a Republican. In March, he endorsed former president Donald J. Trump, after briefly challenging him for the 2024 GOP nomination and opposing him in favor of Republican write-in candidates in 2016 and 2020.

Suarez, who recently served as president of the United States Conference of Mayors, demurs from criticizing his fellow office holders. While he believes they want the best for their cities, he has no time for the progressive ideology many espouse. Such leaders “piggybacked on socialism,” he ruefully declares, noting that, in too many American cities today, as in the Cuba of his father’s birth, leftist ideology promises “easy answers.” The results instead serve up harsh reality. Dysfunctional government, punitive business policies, and the politics of resentment, Suarez says, discourage investment and initiative. “All the most productive people leave,” he adds.

When migrants to Florida arrive, they often bring their assets with them. Since 2020, an estimated 56 New York City financial firms moved to the Sunshine State, with additional companies relocating wholly or in part from other blue states. In June 2022, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, who turned Palm Beach’s Four Seasons Hotel into a trading floor during the Covid-19 pandemic and has acquired much personal real estate on the island, moved his corporate headquarters from Chicago to Miami, where he now resides in equally impressive real-estate holdings. Griffin is now Florida’s richest man—a title he will hold at least until Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos completes his recently announced move from Seattle. Miami has seen an influx of venture capital, tech, artificial intelligence, and other high-growth industries, at the expense of Democratic-run West Coast states and even of Texas.

The reasons for this tectonic shift in economic power are not hard to discern. Richard Irvin, the Republican mayor of Aurora, Illinois, who unsuccessfully challenged Illinois’s Democratic governor J. B. Pritzker in 2022, may have said it best when he declared that his opponent was “either in complete denial or simply refuses to acknowledge what everyone sees, which is that his high-tax, pro-criminal administration is literally driving jobs and businesses out of state.” Griffin said largely the same thing to the Economic Club of Chicago in October 2021, calling Pritzker’s failure to tackle crime and other quality of life issues faced by Citadel employees living and working in his state “a disgrace.”

Suarez was ready for Griffin’s arrival, posting on social media, “I’m excited for Miami to gain someone who shares our innovative spirit and understands the value of community safety and quality of life.” For transplants like Griffin, lawbreaking will pose much less of a concern. Homicides in Miami are now at the lowest level since 1947, when the city began compiling records.

How does Suarez preserve a successful urban government in an America where many other major cities have been heading in the wrong direction in recent years? The mayor’s formula is simple: keep taxes low, keep people safe, and embrace innovation.

Suarez is a low-tax, law-and-order Republican, to be sure, but innovation is the key to understanding his tenure. “See that?” he asked me, gesturing toward a neon sign on the wall of his reception room that says, “How can I help?” Suarez had tweeted those four words—now the title of Suarez’s mayoral podcast and a heavily marketed city slogan—on December 4, 2020, in response to the Bulgarian-born tech venture capitalist Delian Asparouhov, who mused at the height of the pandemic, “[W]hat if we moved [S]ilicon [V]alley to [M]iami”? The exchange went viral, launching a national conversation about Miami and its potential.

Florida was already known for its science-based yet more relaxed Covid restrictions, best-in-the-nation public schools, state constitutional bans on income and inheritance taxes, and commitment to good policing. Miami’s rise was supercharged, however, by its tech market and the billions that poured into it from across the country and, more recently, the world. As Suarez pointed out, Miami now offers direct flights to Dubai, Doha, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, and other destinations in the Middle East, as well as to almost every important European destination. “We had 20 years of growth in two years,” Suarez says of the “tsunami of opportunity” that followed his famous tweet. That two-year period included his reelection in 2021 with nearly 80 percent of the vote and nomination by Forbes as one of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.” “You first recognize the tsunami, then you ride it,” the mayor says. “Normally in a tsunami people take cover. We took out our surf boards.” The growth shows no signs of abating.

As Griffin told his employees in a company letter upon his headquarters move, “Miami is a vibrant, growing metropolis that embodies the American Dream—embracing the possibilities of what can be achieved by a community working to build a future together.” The private sector is paying attention.

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