Rebeca Sosa’s name has been bandied for higher political office so often, that when she surfaced as a candidate to lead the Miami-Dade Commission, County Hall insiders wondered if, this time, she really was interested.
Sosa, whose drive and grandmotherly charm have made her popular among politicians and voters alike in her central Miami-Dade district, took the reins of the 13-member board Tuesday, the pinnacle of a political career that started in small-town West Miami and has spanned more than two decades. She is the commission’s first Hispanic chairwoman.
Sosa, 57, wants to use her new and powerful position to make the commission more likable, after several years of nonstop politicking triggered by public frustration over a county government perceived as out-of-touch. That widespread sentiment resulted in the recalls of a mayor and a commissioner and subsequent elections that brought five new commissioners to a board long considered impenetrable.
“It’s time that we join forces in changing a lot of the perceptions that have been wrongly visualized in the community,” she told her colleagues when she was nominated for chairwoman. “My vision for this board is one that the administration and the board can work together, even when they disagree.”
But, in a sign of the growing pains that come from moving to a position with countywide power from one involving a single district, Sosa has already ruffled some feathers in one-on-one meetings with commissioners, during which she has proposed tinkering with the few departments under the board’s control.
That doesn’t worry her champions — many of them part of the tightknit political family that has surrounded Sosa for years.
“She’s going to have a lot of pressure on her,” said West Miami City Manager Yolanda Aguilar, a former Sosa chief of staff. “Everybody’s going to want something from her, because that’s the way this works. . . . She never loses her spunk.”
The roots of Sosa’s political career lie in Camaguey, Cuba, where she was born in 1955. Her great-grandfather was friendly with politicians, and her late father was a councilman, said Sosa’s mother, 85-year-old Isabel “Bellita” Arias de Díaz.
“She’s very much like her dad, with such a happy character,” she said.
When Sosa was 9, her family fled Cuba aboard a Freedom Flight. They settled in Puerto Rico, where she married Armando Sosa and had a son, Armando Jr. The three moved to Miami in 1979.
Sosa, who began her studies at the University of Puerto Rico, completed her bachelor’s degree in education at Biscayne College, now St. Thomas University. For years she taught elementary school; she still works for the Miami-Dade school district, training teachers, developing curriculum and matching students with jobs, at the Lindsey Hopkins Technical Education Center. She reported a salary of nearly $79,000 in 2011; she made nearly $50,000 from her commission post the same year.
Three months after giving birth to a daughter, Veronica, the 28-year-old Sosa was diagnosed with breast cancer and given only months to live. She wrote letters to her children, to be delivered at their life milestones. One was for her daughter’s wedding day.