Three Group 2 commission seat candidates vying to fill term-limited commissioner Ralph Cabrera’s set — Marlin Ebbert, Ross Hancock, Vicente (Vince) Lago — debated in the second of three candidate forums Thursday night at Coral Gables Congregational Church.
It was the second of three forums by the Ponce Business Association; the mayor’s forum will be next Thursday.
The three candidates agreed on almost every topic presented by moderator Eliott Rodriguez, a CBS4 news anchor and Gables resident: the need for pension reform; combating crime in the Gables; the need for a senior center; promoting green initiatives and improving neighborhood public schools.
In addition, the three opposed a controversial plan by Miami-Dade County and the Buoniconti football family, Nick and son Marc, to build an $18 million, five-story dry-stack building for 360 powerboats in the Matheson Hammock marina.
“I’m 100 percent opposed to any development at Matheson Hammock, said Lago, 35.
“Matheson Hammock is like the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s a treasure we have to protect and not allow developers to go there,” said Ebbert, 65.
“I agree wholeheartedly,” said Hancock, 58. “I can’t say it better than Vince or Marlin did.”
The three were so agreeable with one another, Rodriguez quipped, “I’m glad we got you guys to disagree on something,” after a resident’s question on noisy leaf blowers spawned a slight disagreement.
Hancock, a communications director for the American Welding Society, favors a citywide ban on leaf blowers. “If I was trying to do something that made this much noise and pollution that wasn’t blowing leaves, I wouldn’t be allowed to do it.”
Ebbert, a longtime community volunteer, didn’t call for an outright ban, but agreed something needed to be done and that generators posed an even bigger noise problem.
Lago, an executive in construction management and design for BDI Construction, said the city would be overstepping its bounds if it banned the leaf blowers. “I want to minimize government, not have more government. We need to minimize the times but not outlaw it.”
Hancock, while agreeing with the others on the importance of curbing future pension costs and paying down the current $235 million unfunded pension liability, departed from the prevailing view among candidates that pension costs are the city’s chief problem. Instead, he said, the city’s No. 1 issue is improving its public schools.
“We need to do something to support and make our public schools in Coral Gables on the same level as the city services we provide. People want to settle in Palmetto Bay and other communities that have done more to nurture their public schools,” he said.
But the sharpest split came buried in Hancock’s closing comments, when he blasted the amount of money being raised by all of the candidates, especially in the Group 2 race. The 10 candidates have raised more than $525,000 as of March 8. Lago has raised the most among the candidates, with $124,553 in his coffers. Of the other Group 2 candidates, Ebbert has raised $22,845 and Hancock, $1,555.
“On April 10th, we will wake up to find out whether this election has been bought by lobbyists and special interests,’’ Hancock said. “A half-million dollars so far has been pumped into this election. More in this group than any other.