05/10/2012 03:51 pm ET

Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez On 305's Reputation, Guava Pastries, And His Campaign Promises

In the largest recall of a local politician ever, Miamians voted to yank Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez after he used taxpayer money to build the Marlins stadium and for the size of some county workers' paychecks.

In a special run-off election, in which only 16 percent of voters cast a ballot, Miami choose another Carlos to replace him -- Carlos A. Gimenez, a Cuba-born, Miami-raised former firefighter, fire chief, and county commissioner.

Shortly after he took office in July, Gimenez vowed to cut his salary in half, stating "it’s not going to be the same old, same old. The culture of the county is going to change.”

(Politifact quickly verified that Giminez's salary is nearly $100K less his predecesor's, though they note he hired a few deputy mayors who will receive salaries hovering around $250K.)

Although he declined comment on Trick Daddy's claim on his mayoral throne, HuffPost Miami spoke with the Mayor about the county's biggest challenges, his unexpected heritage, and why Miami often gets a bad rap as a terrible place to live.

Who are you:
Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez

Years in Miami:
I came to Miami when I was six years old.

Current neighborhood:
City of Miami

Current gig:
Mayor – Miami-Dade County

Favorite 'Only in Miami' moment?
When the Miami Heat won its first championship.

What's your idea of a perfect day in Miami?
Eighteen holes – all birdies – followed by dinner with the family, including my grandchildren.

Prefer 395 or 195?
Actually, I use U.S. #1 a lot

Where do you take visiting out-of-towners?
Versailles Restaurant

Local oasis to escape the 305 grind?
Home with family

Why did you get into politics?
I love this community. After 25 years of public service, including my work with fire-and-rescue, I wanted to continue making a positive difference and felt the best way to do that was to be a positive catalyst in local politics.

What are the top three challenges facing Miami-Dade?
Getting as many people back to work as possible is my highest priority. That requires positioning Miami as a great place for investors to open up new businesses.

Another critical factor is supporting the continued improvement of our educational system, both at the K-12 level, as well as at the higher education level. The foundation for the future success of our community is having an educated workforce capable of filling the jobs we intend to bring to Miami.

The third challenge deals with making our government more responsive and more efficient, something that we’re moving in a more positive way.

What would Miamians be surprised to know about you?
That my grandmother was actually an Irish-American from Long Island would surprise many. She was a great lady, and not a day goes by without having someone who remembers her tell me a positive story about her. I’m also very reserved, which is not a typical trait for someone you’d find in politics.

Proudest accomplishment as mayor.
Fulfilling the three promises I made during the campaign in only nine months: Cutting taxes by rolling tax rates to the 2009-10 levels, shrinking the size of government, and maintaining critical services intact, including public safety and programs for children, even after the cuts we made.

Why do you think Miami often gets a bad rap as a terrible place to live?
I have a hard time understanding why anyone would feel that way. We’ve got what many consider to be the best weather in the country; our cost-of-living compared to other major cities in the country is a lot lower; our general infrastructure is in much better shape than that of other cities; we have a multicultural community that many people around the world actually love to be a part of; we’re breaking tourism records while other major cities are having huge problems bringing visitors to their cities.

The bottom line is that many people outside Miami simply don’t know enough about our city. It reminds me of a saying years ago by an author who wrote: If you come to Miami and you don’t like it … just wait a while.

Why do you love Miami?
It is my home, where I grew up, where I raised my family. I love the people, the weather, the beaches, the great diversity of cultures. We have one of the most diverse cities in this hemisphere, but you need to understand our culture and our diversity to realize that we really are an amazing place to live in.

What are three local meals you can't live without?
Anything with chocolate, Cuban guava pastries (pastel de guayaba), and fresh seafood, some of the best of which you can find in Miami.

In a word, Miami is...