In 2016, Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro sponsored a proposal to rename parts of NW 17th Avenue “José Fernández Avenue” after the 24-year-old Marlins pitcher died in a boating accident.
Just a few weeks later, an autopsy report was released concluding Fernández had been under the influence of alcohol and cocaine when he crashed the boat, killing two others who were onboard. Barreiro took the position that Fernández had “paid with his life” for his mistake and said he still deserved recognition for his baseball career.
Commissioners seemed to agree, and ultimately they voted to approve renaming the road in his honor. More than two years later, however, the change hasn’t been made. A commission spokesperson now says the plan is “indefinitely on hold.”
Although Miami-Dade lawmakers regularly vote on naming roads for prominent locals, only a handful have come under scrutiny in recent decades. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to rename Arthur Godfrey Road in Miami Beach after critics called the long-ago radio and TV star anti-Semitic. Those who knew Godfrey have dismissed those characterizations, and his name remains a part of Mid-Beach.
Now Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez is proposing a law that would require the county to conduct a background check and report back to the commission before any person, organization, place, or thing is honored with a road name.
“The Commission Auditor shall complete background research, reviewing public records and other sources of information, in print, on the internet, or through other means of communication that are publicly available,” the ordinance reads.
Martinez was unavailable to speak with New Times. The ordinance doesn’t say what commissioners should do if unsavory info comes up during the backgrounding process.
One case that bears consideration came in 1990, when commissioners were forced to revisit “Leomar Parkway,” a six-block stretch of SW 132nd Avenue they’d named for Leonel Martinez, a developer who pleaded guilty to drug trafficking a year after being honored with the street designation.
Baseball star Jose Canseco also had his name removed from a portion of SW 16th Street in Westchester after a series of arrests and the release of a tell-all book in which he admitted to steroid use.
The ordinance sponsored by Martinez would also call for a review of whether the designee is living or dead. Currently, a street can be named after a living person only if three-fifths of the commission approves. The county’s regulations were highlighted last year after Miami sports radio host Brendan Tobin campaigned to rename Biscayne Boulevard “Dwyane Wade Boulevard.”
As of this week, Tobin is still pushing hard for the name change.
Broward County has also experienced road-naming controversy. After protesters demanded the removal of Confederate street names, Hollywood commissioners voted in 2017 to take down the signs and rename the roads. The move was applauded by activists, but the two-year process was criticized for taking too long.
The county commission government operations committee takes up the plan tomorrow, Tuesday, January 15 at 1:30 p.m.