Political veteran Dennis Moss knows how to annoy his main opponent in his effort to secure a fifth term on the Miami-Dade County Commission.
All he has to do is insinuate that Alice Pena is beholden to Norman Braman, the billionaire auto magnate who as of last week had contributed almost one-third of the money Pena has raised in her attempt to oust Moss from an office he’s held since 1993.
“I beg your pardon, nobody owns me,” said Pena. “How can you say that? I am not for sale.”
“Beholden” has become the ugly word this election cycle, as Moss and three other commissioners fight off Braman’s attempt to oust them from commission seats they’ve occupied for years. Braman, the man responsible for the recall of former county mayor Carlos Alvarez last year, has targeted Moss and fellow commissioners Audrey Edmonson, Barbara Jordan and Bruno Barreiro for their vote two years ago to raise property taxes and earlier votes to use public money to help build the Miami Marlins a stadium in Little Havana.
Two others are also trying to unseat the heavily favored Moss, who by the end of July had easily outdistanced his opponents in fundraising, banking $137,396. Next was Pena at $16,850, followed by Loretta Riley’s $2,608 and concert promoter Darren McGillis’ $2,005.
Pena said she’s seeking the post representing South Dade to try to eliminate waste and mismanagement in the county’s sprawling bureaucracy.
Asked to name specifics, she said she’d “have to look at what’s happened the past few years.”
Moss, meanwhile, who lists the recently completed South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center among his accomplishments, is campaigning on experience. Unlike Pena, he doesn’t favor the current charter-review task force recommendation on incorporation of municipalities and annexation, which essentially removes commissioners from the process.
“At the end of the day you need a referee on the field,” said Moss.
District 9 is the largest of Miami-Dade’s 13 districts. Its roughly 200,000 residents live as far north as Cutler Bay, south to the Monroe county line and west to the Everglades. The district includes a cluster of cities that run along U.S. 1, including Perrine, Goulds and Naranja Lakes. It’s also the by far the most agricultural of the county’s 13 districts, covering the farming communities of The Redland, Homestead and Florida City.
Pena, 71, born in the Dominican Republic, was reared in New York. Her family moved to Washington, D.C., and finally landed in Coral Gables when Pena was a teen. Her parents moved here, she said, because they had friends and relatives here from Cuba and Puerto Rico. She attended Miami-Dade College while her mother began what was to become the family farming business.
When her folks first built a home just north of The Redland in the controversial 8 1/2 square-mile area in the late 1960s, Pena and her sister would go down on weekends to help out. They had a home in Coral Gables. By the time her father Gerardo passed away in the late 1970s, Pena moved to the family property, building a new home there. She was married once briefly, and has no children.
She’s had as many as five employees on the family farm and grows lychee and tropical fruits. In 2004 Pena joined the Miami-Dade Farm Bureau, becoming president a year ago. She resigned from that post in June when she decided to run for public office.