“Being Venezuelan was not a really a campaign issue because he had to get Cubans and Colombians to vote for him. If he only appealed to Venezuelans, he would not have won,” Gamarra said.
He and other local political observers are reluctant to take Boria’s victory as a signal that Venezuelans are poised to take on Florida’s politics in the same way Cubans have garnered their political clout.
He likened Boria’s success to that of County Commissioner Juan Carlos Zapata, the first Colombian elected to that body and the first Colombian elected to the Florida Legislature.
“Juan Carlos Zapata didn’t win as a Colombian when he ran,” Gamarra said.
It took Cubans almost 30 years in exile to snag a major political post in South Florida: Miami’s first Cuban mayor, Xavier Suarez, was elected in 1985. Venezuelans, meanwhile, began to flock to South Florida in 1998, after Chávez rose to power there. Fourteen years later, Doral is led by a Venezuelan-born mayor.
Boria is quick to assert that where he came from won’t define his politics.
While South Florida politicians often wade — or find themselves ensnared — in global affairs, Boria constantly finds himself bringing his excited countrymen — and reporters — back to the issues facing Doral.
In office about a month, his tenure has been marked by city issues. During his first meeting as mayor, Boria announced the resignation of City Manager Yvonne Soler-McKinley and named veteran Miami-Dade bureaucrat Merrett Stierheim as her temporary replacement. The next week, Stierheim fired the police chief — who in turn has threatened to sue, saying his dismissal was politically motivated.
Boria came to the United States with a five-year accounting degree from the prestigious Venezuelan University, Universidad Católica Andres Bello. When he arrived in 1989, it was to start a branch of his growing computer wholesale business in this country.
Two-plus decades later, he is a self-made multimillionaire with businesses here, in Venezuela, Colombia and Costa Rica.
Boria depended more on his money than on his heritage to get elected. It helped that Boria could spend a half-million dollars to churn out fliers and robocalls, and hire campaign strategists to run an absentee-ballot campaign.
The entrepreneur, who started The Wise Computer, funneled $400,000 of his own money into his campaign, raising $120,000 more in campaign donations. He far outspent his two opponents, who raised a combined $300,000.
That was a lot of money flowing into the mayoral election of a relatively small, young city — especially one known more for tony golf courses than for heated politics.
Money is a linchpin of political campaigns, but former Miami-Dade School Board Chairman Frank Bolaños — who lost in a runoff to Boria— says his opponent had another element to his campaign that has become crucial in local politics: an effective absentee-ballot campaign. Boria won the Nov. 27 runoff with seven more in-person votes than his opponent, but 400 more absentee votes.
Absentee ballots have been at the center of many scandals at the county level and have swirled around Hialeah and North Miami. Two Hialeah residents were arrested this summer and accused of illegally collecting the ballots, and forging the signature of a woman with dementia.
Sasha Tirador, who helped run Boria’s campaign, has been crowned the “absentee ballot queen” in local politics. Tirador was investigated for potential absentee ballot fraud by the Miami-Dade state attorney in 2008 during a congressional race. No charges were filed.
For his part, Boria says he won on his merits.
“I visited more than 5,000 homes. I had the chance to know exactly what the residents of Doral like, and I share many of their frustrations and ideas and visions,” he said.
Whether it was money, absentee ballots, or just good campaigning that landed him in office, there are those who consider Boria’s election as a breakthrough.
“I’m opening the door, at least,” Boria said. “I’ve been like the point of the arrow. I’m trying to make them comfortable that they can, and if they believe, they could be elected officials.”