Doral’s new mayor is the state’s first Venezuelan-born person elected to the post.
To those who know the West Miami-Dade city as Doralzuela — a nickname earned because of the influx of Venezuelan expats there — the news is not surprising.
But there’s more to Luigi Boria’s recent election than his Venezuelan roots, say political observers who point to his effective, well-financed campaign. And the man himself, who also happens to be a self-made millionaire and ordained minister, has steadfastly focused on local issues — like Doral’s hellish traffic and ambitious commercial development — rather than the headlines back home.
“For me, it doesn’t make any difference. I understand the happiness of my country, but I’ve been here for 23 years,” said Boria, 54, adding that he considers himself an American. “I think we should do the right thing for the city, no matter what nationality you are.”
Despite his reluctance to lean on his background, there is no denying the influence Venezuela has had on Doral — a young city whose growth has coincided with the arrival of tens of thousands of new residents who oppose Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Doral has the largest concentration of Venezuelans in this country, according to U.S. Census data, and Venezuelan flags flap next to the Stars and Stripes at gas stations. Restaurants serve up gooey, cheese-filled cachapas and savory arepas. And last year, exiles announced plans to erect a statue of the country’s founder, Simón Bolívar, outside El Arepazo — an eatery and informal gathering spot that has been likened to the Venezuelan equivalent of Calle Ocho’s iconic Versailles restaurant.
Venezuelan exiles have been eager to celebrate Boria’s success as their own.
“We have not only a sense of pride that a Venezuelan who has the professional quality of Luigi Boria, our mayor, but it is also a historic accomplishment,” said Pedro Mena, executive secretary of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, an organization that pushes for peace and unity among Venezuelans.
He added: “It’s going to create an important image for Venezuelans working here in South Florida, and it’s going to be a positive image.”
While excited countrymen like Mena see Boria’s victory as a sign of growing political clout in the Venezuelan community, political observers take a more measured opinion.
They are quick to point out that Venezuelans lack critical mass, since they still make up a relatively small community in South Florida. Census data reported by Miami-Dade County show that, in 2010, there were 46,000 Venezuelans in the county, compared to 856,000 Cubans. Colombians constitute the second-largest Hispanic group in the county, according to the data.
On the other hand, the number of Venezuelans in Miami-Dade increased 117 percent over the previous 10 years, according to the 2010 Census figures.
Former Mayor J.C. Bermudez, the first and only mayor of Doral since it incorporated in 2003, until he was term-limited out in November, also points out that the city is home to 77 different nationalities. Eduardo Gamarra, a professor of Latin American politics at Florida International University, said Boria needed voters from all those backgrounds to propel him to the mayor’s seat.