Alumnus Michael Hernandez '04, MPA '11 has had an extensive career in public affairs.
He worked both Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and served as the director of communications and senior advisor for Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez for four years. He’s currently a senior vice president at Mercury Florida, an international powerhouse public affairs consulting firm and serves as president for the FIU Alumni Association Board of Directors, while also teaching effective governmental Communication at the Green School.
Hernandez's latest endeavor landed him on the small screen, being the on-air political analyst for WSCV Telemundo 51.
Hernandez recently took some time from his hectic schedule to talk about his experience at Telemundo, his career in public affairs, and his passion for FIU and South Florida.
Have you fully recovered from election night yet? That must’ve been quite stressful.
In the year and a half that I’ve been working with Telemundo, Election night was the longest night. Laughs. It was brutal. I was on the digital broadcast for four straight hours without a script, going over every result NBC News was projecting and having to gather and share my thoughts LIVE. Other interviews that aired after election night were prerecorded, but Saturday evening I had to go back to the station and comment on the projected results and now President-Elect Biden’s acceptance speech. It was nice being able to do LIVE TV and know that my kids, 8 and 5, are sitting at home with my wife and calling their cousins in New York and saying, “that’s my daddy!”
How did you get involved with Telemundo?
My relationship with Telemundo began in 2019. The station was looking for an analyst with experience in politics, bilingual, with newsroom familiarity and someone with bipartisan credentials. While I am a Democrat and had worked both Obama campaigns, I also worked under Mayor Giménez (a Republican) and know how both political parties think and work. I’m not overly partisan and bring a different perspective to the table.
Have you enjoyed working on this side of the media world?
Absolutely, I’ve learned so much about the process and how extensive it is, and I can’t thank Telemundo enough. It’s different being part of a news broadcast production versus being someone that would pitch them stories. I’ve received more from them than I’ve given in return. I was also able to work with reporters I knew from the past, as well as sit alongside former Congressman Carlos Curbelo. It was an honor to work beside him, and we got along very well.
Where did your passion for public policy come from?
Attending FIU, I was [going back and forth] between majoring in communications or political science. I ended up majoring in political science with a minor in communications. I also joined The Beacon, now named PantherNOW, to gain that newsroom experience. After graduating, my first official job outside of FIU was working for a public affairs consulting firm. I always wanted to be at the intersection of communications and public policy and government affairs. I was glad that I was able to do it in my backyard as opposed to a lot of my friends who moved elsewhere to establish their careers.
Many think someone wanting to work in public affairs needs to head to Washington, D.C. Why did you choose to stay in Miami?
I felt it was important to raise my family here. I’m passionate about South Florida and believe that this is what the U.S. will look and feel like in the future. Miami-Dade and Broward counties aren’t outliers, they’re what other metropolitan areas around the country are going to be in the 21st century. Living here, you understand multiculturalism and understand different perspectives – political, economic, social – there’s always a wide array of viewpoints. South Florida’s diversity is its strength.
Sometimes we get a bad rap as a community. Every urban metropolitan community has challenges, for instance, our environmental issues such as sea-level rise is a concern. But there’s always a lot of work to do. I continue to feel that South Florida is the kind of community that you get out of what you put in. If you want to succeed professionally, there are ways to do that. If you want an urban lifestyle, you can have that. If you want a suburban lifestyle, you can have that. If you prefer rural, it’s possible, too.
Would you say FIU has played a role in South Florida’s growth?
Without a doubt. Miami’s growth can be traced directly to and in conjunction with the growth of FIU. I like to say there are two eras of FIU: pre-President Rosenberg and post-President Rosenberg. Before President Rosenberg, FIU wasn’t appreciated for what we were doing, it was considered an emerging institution. But with the hard work of the previous presidents and President Rosenberg, it’s now a highly ranked institution that has “arrived.”
When I started working for Mayor Giménez’s office in Spring 2014, our population in Miami-Dade was 2.6 million and Broward was 1.6 million. Six years later, it’s increased to 2.8 million and 1.8 million, respectively. Four hundred thousand people relocated here for a reason. There isn’t an exodus, there’s a massive influx from around the country and the world. In our recent search for an executive director for the alumni association, there was an abundance of applicants. People still want to work, live, play and raise a family in South Florida, and they want to be connected to FIU.
How about you as a person? Did attending FIU affect your personal growth?
FIU has been a big part of who I am since the beginning. It’s why I chose the career I did and have had the success that I have had. In fact, my mom was one of the first hires of our previous president— Modesto A. Maidique— back in 1986. I have a large network, and I wouldn’t have had it, had it not been for FIU. I’m passionate about the university, which is why I came back and earned my master’s in public administration from FIU. Granted, it took me longer than I had hoped due to the Obama campaign that took up a lot of time.
How was it working for the Obama campaign? How’d you get involved?
The Obama campaign was the first campaign I worked on at a federal level. It started when my boss at the time wanted to get involved in the campaign but frankly didn’t believe anyone could derail Hilary Clinton’s presidential run. He mentioned there’s a new senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who’s could potentially be her running mate or Secretary of State. And little did we know, he became the candidate for the Democratic party.
I was moved by Obama —what he stood for and what he planned to accomplish if he’d win the presidency. There weren’t many Cuban American democrats in South Florida willing to go on tv and radio and represent the Obama campaign, so my boss and I started doing that and we quickly got close to the Florida campaign team. Fast forward to when I decided to re-enter the private sector after four years in government, I reached out to Ashley Walker who had served as Florida campaign manager for Obama’s re-election. And that is how I ended up with Mercury Public Affairs.
Given your experience in the political world, what would you say to those who’d like to be civically active or are interested in public affairs, but are discouraged by current political tensions?
- Verify the source. There has never been, at least in my lifetime, more disinformation out there than in this election. We need to do a better job of reading and verifying information and sources before sharing articles and clickbait throughout our networks.
- Support local journalism. Reporters are paid to be skeptical and report facts. Journalists are working to know and very facts. It’s important to conduct some research and support reporting by subscribing to the local newspaper and watching your local TV channels.
- Stay informed. In George W. Bush’s inaugural address in January 2001, he urged Americans to be “citizens and not spectators.” That means to participate in local elections and stay informed. If you don’t take an interest in folks elected to represent you, it’s a dangerous slope to be on because a democracy is only as strong as those who choose to participate in it. I’ve worked with both sides of the aisle, and at the end of the day, we must remember despite our different perspectives we’re not enemies. We’re Americans.
FIU is taking a stand on educating students on how to be civically active the right, informed way. I appreciate that because we all should be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Yes, a big congratulations to those graduating this semester! Take pride in your university, be active in the alumni association. You are now part of a network of approximately 260,000 graduates, in all 50 states and dozens of countries. Get involved with your alumni association. Support the university that supported you.