With a special election to replace their ousted mayor and fill a vacant city council seat less than two weeks away, voters in Miami Lakes heard from the candidates in a debate Thursday afternoon.
A special election to replace Mayor Michael Pizzi, who was removed from office by Gov. Rick Scott after his arrest on Aug. 6 on federal charges of conspiring to commit extortion, will take place Oct. 1.
Discussion of the former mayor was frequent among the candidates, although they never mentioned him by name.
Four of the five candidates, former mayor Wayne Slaton, Councilman Nelson Hernandez — who’s vacating council Seat 4 to run — Dr. David Bennett and Edison High teacher Luis Espinosa addressed voters at the Miami Lakes government center.
The fifth candidate, real-estate agent Edwin Romero, did not confirm the invitation to attend the debate, according to the organizers.
The men said that transparency would be their major objective in assuring that corruption doesn’t plague the position if they’re elected. Although they differed on the steps to achieving that goal.
“I think I would start limiting the mayoral powers a little bit,” Espinosa said. “It’s not a huge problem getting individuals to believe in government again.”
Bennett stressed that further public access is the key to achieving that transparency, while Hernandez and Slaton argued for strengthening the voice of council members to place checks on the future mayor.
“We need to know what we’re doing so we can operate better to be sure things are done correctly,” Slaton said. “And then we don’t have a rogue individual who knows how to perhaps just over-talk everyone and get his point across and get things passed.”
Other questions, submitted by the audience, included gauging the candidates’ visions for Miami Lakes and their plans for annexing surrounding areas such as Palm Springs North.
The four candidates opposed the annexation, citing the importance of the Miami Lakes “brand” and their concern over the potential difficulty of fusing a new community with the building codes and town charter of Miami Lakes.
The debate didn’t have very many personal attacks and remained mainly tame throughout.
It was the same in the council-member debate as Lorenzo Cobiella, Frank Mingo and Star Rodriguez, the lone female candidate, discussed similar topics as they vie for Hernandez’s seat.
Despite this, some voters still believed that certain mayoral candidates stood out more than others.
“Nelson really took me,” said Lourdes Aguirre, a 10-year resident of Miami Lakes. “I think he would be a fantastic mayor. I’m encouraged.”
Another resident, Maria Kramer, who’s lived in the town for 23 years, was grateful for the debate and was supportive of Espinosa.
“I love that Espinosa didn’t go negative. I don’t think it’s right for candidates to bad-mouth the town,” Kramer said. “We need to build, and it’s important to have someone who’s a regular citizen, not a politician.”
Dottie Wix, a 25-year resident of the town, was cautiously optimistic. She thinks the candidates were good people but hopes they can back up the talk.
“I think they did a good job,” Wix said. “I just hope they do what they say they’ll do.”