Miami mayor’s tech Twitter campaign caught Elon Musk’s attention. What’s next?

Less than 72 hours after a brief online exchange with the world’s wealthiest tech mogul, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was still crowing about the moment Wednesday morning.

“When you’re tweeting with Elon Musk at 4 o’clock in the morning — and you have the county mayor getting involved as well — you know that something special is going on,” a black-masked Suarez said from the back of the Miami-Dade Commission chambers after endorsing a resolution promoting the recruitment of technology firms to the county. “Amazing things can happen.”

The last several weeks saw Suarez emerge as a new favorite of tech Twitter as the 43-year-old, first-term mayor engaged with a stream of technology executives, founders and promoters expressing online interest in relocating to Miami.

The Twitter buzz shifted to in-person promotion as Suarez hosted “#cafecitotalk” sessions in his Dinner Key offices with tech execs taking him up on his offers to visit. That included some notables, including crypto-currency evangelists Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.

Nobody has come close to the wattage of Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX founder. Another Musk business, the Boring Co., promotes tunnel transit projects that move passengers in small cars underground.

The Suarez-Musk encounter began at 3:14 a.m. when the mayor tagged Musk’s Twitter account in a post responding to one of the mogul’s posts about the importance of battery technology for expanding sustainable energy. “.@elonmusk couldn’t agree more...would love to have you @CityofMiami City Hall to discuss it and potential solutions for the benefit of our future,” Suarez wrote.

Forty-two minutes later, Musk replied with a pitch for his tunnel business: “Cars & trucks stuck in traffic generate megatons of toxic gases & particulate, but @boringcompany road tunnels under Miami would solve traffic & be an example to the world.”

That wasn’t the end of it. Shortly after 8 a.m. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who leads the government that controls the bulk of local transportation funding, weighed in with her own Twitter message to Musk: “Let’s talk.”

The Musk courting touched on two raw topics in Miami politics: transportation (the Boring Company is pursuing a $1 billion tunnel transit project at the Chicago airport) and climate change (the challenge on tunnel building as Miami’s water table rises).

Levine Cava, elected in November, isn’t looking to blow up Miami-Dade’s already over-subscribed transit budget to fund a Musk tunnel, a top aide said. “Her tweet was about engaging in conversations about attracting tech industries to Miami-Dade County, and working with the private sector to be part of the strategy for infrastructure investments,” said Johanna Cervone, Levine Cava’s chief of staff.

A modified Tesla Model X before an event to unveil the Boring Company’s tunnel in Hawthorne, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. It unveiled the first mile-long stretch of the company’s underground vision of a transit system.
A modified Tesla Model X before an event to unveil the Boring Company’s tunnel in Hawthorne, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. It unveiled the first mile-long stretch of the company’s underground vision of a transit system.

Miami-Dade already has a tunnel, the nearly one-mile underwater route between the MacArthur Causeway and PortMiami that cost about $1 billion to develop. It was funded with a mix of state, federal and county dollars.

Musk is touting privatized tunnel projects without public dollars — all but unheard-of for transit. In Las Vegas, his company is promising a circuit of tunnels funneling people in high-speed Teslas to various tourist spots, sustained by fare revenue and advertising.

By contrast, the private developer behind the proposed $770 million Miami Beach Monorail project for Miami-Dade plans to generate fare revenue and sponsorship dollars but still proposed $60 million in yearly government payments.

Should Musk follow through, he would be the most famous mogul to pursue a big project in Miami since Donald Trump dispatched Michael Cohen to the County Commission to pitch a movie studio in Homestead eight years ago. Recently declared the richest man in the world thanks to a surge in Tesla’s stock price, Musk is also the owner of SpaceX, which ferried NASA astronauts to the Space Station on the agency’s first outsourced orbit.

“The guy has delivered,” said Eric Zichella, owner of the P3 Management lobbying firm, with an active practice in city and county government. “You can’t just dismiss it and say it’s all hype.”

Suarez said this week he’s invited Musk to Miami for a meeting. Musk didn’t respond to a Miami Herald inquiry, and there’s no word yet on a response to the Miami mayor’s invitation.

After Wednesday’s commission meeting, Suarez said he’s eager to hear what Musk might want to do in Miami. “He’s the wealthiest person, arguably, in the world,” Suarez said. “He’s someone who is an executor. You have to sit down with someone like that and see what he has in mind.”

Miami Herald staff writer Rob Wile contributed to this report.