Five people are vying for the Miami Lakes mayor’s seat after former mayor Michael Pizzi was arrested in August. The winner of the Oct. 1 election will take over for the remaining three years of the four year term.
The special election is a result of Gov. Rick Scott’s suspension of Mayor Michael Pizzi following his Aug. 6 arrest on federal charges of conspiring to commit extortion. The Miami Lakes charter mandates that an election take place within 90 days of an official leaving office, when a seat becomes vacant with six months or more remaining in a term.
There are also three people running for an empty council seat. Councilman Nelson Hernandez resigned from the town council in order to run for mayor.
David Bennett, 55, says he wants to get Miami Lakes back to the small-town feel he says was the original plan when it incorporated.
“I want to go back to what the town of Miami Lakes was set up to do 13 years ago,” Bennett said.
Bennett has been active in town affairs for several years, running public-records requests and challenging council decisions. He said he believes this kind transparency is important for the office of the mayor. He was upset with how little there was before.
“It’s very frustrating for me,” Bennett said. “Miami Lakes is a great little town. We shouldn’t have to be dealing with all of this.”
This is not Bennett’s first time running for election. He has previously run for a commission seat in the last two elections.
Luis Espinosa, 51, is a newcomer who said he felt like the town government needed new blood.
“I just wanted to see a new face,” Espinosa said.
Espinosa said he felt like he was seeing the same people run for office over and over again at all levels of government.
He is a teacher at Miami Edison Senior High School and a former firefighter. He does not want to make major changes, but rather ensure that the city remains on a focused path.
“I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, and I don’t want to fix anything that’s not broken,” Espinosa said. “I think that we’re headed in a good direction.”
Nelson Hernandez, 27, said he is intent on preserving the small-town feel of Miami Lakes.
Hernandez, who resigned from town council to run for mayor, said he does not want to annex any of the surrounding areas. There was discussion of doing so when former Pizzi was serving.
“I think it’s important to preserve the small-town brand,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez wants to work on beautification and build up Main Street, potentially as an outdoor cafe area.
“Main Street as so much potential, “ Hernandez said. “That’s one of the biggest things I want to do as mayor.”
Hernandez, who is set to graduate from the University of Miami with a master’s in business in December, also wants to focus on bringing in more grant-funding for town improvement projects in order to lower tax rates and focus tax dollars elsewhere.
Edwin Romero, 37, wants to focus on reducing crime and focusing on education.
“Miami Lakes needs a new leader, and they need someone who really knows about Miami Lakes,” Romero said.
The real-estate broker said he wants to focus on safety in the town and aim for a 100 percent graduation rate for schools. Romero said he also wants to ensure that pending improvement projects are not stalled.
“We need to make sure those projects are initiated and executed,” Romero said.
Wayne Slaton, 61, wants to take back the mayor’s seat to refocus Miami Lakes.
“I’m really running for the office to get the office back on track,” Slaton said.
Slaton was the town’s first mayor and held his seat from 2001 until 2008. He said he feels that Miami Lakes has lost track of its goals.
“The town had really drifted away from the original vision that we had,” Slaton said.
His biggest concern is regaining trust from residents who have lost faith in the way the town has been run.
“With all the upheaval that we’ve had in the government, people have kind of lost trust in the government as a whole,” Slaton said.
Lorenzo Cobiella, 34, wants to make the town more accessible for the elderly and those with disabilities.
“I strongly believe in the need for the elderly and those with special needs to have a voice on the council,” Cobiella said.
He has been active with several organizations that work with both the disabled and the elderly, including the Miami Lakes elderly affairs committee, Alliance for Aging and Hope for Autism.
Though he has only lived in Miami Lakes for six years, Cobiella grew up nearby in Hialeah and went to school and worked in Miami Lakes. He also moved his law practice to the town.
“There was always a respect for rules and regulations, and there was a pride that neighbors had,” Cobiella said.
As a council member, he hopes to have an open-door policy so that he can communicate with residents.
“We need to make sure the town can evolve,” he said.
Frank Mingo, 53, said he wants to ensure that any future plans for annexation require a resident vote.
Mingo, who would answer questions through email, said he wants to amend the town charter to mandate voter approval for any changes to municipal boundaries.
“The present situation where the town council has the lone annexation approval authority is not good public policy, and I will work hard to make this change,” he said.
Mingo also wants to keep tax rates low and “restore ethics” in the government, including pushing for more transparency. He is intent on preserving the comfortable lifestyle of Miami Lakes.
“I know why we incorporated in the first place, and I have a plan to keep our good quality of life,” Mingo said.
Star Rodriguez, 48, wants to bring a woman to the all-male council and keep the interests of the council focused within Miami Lakes.
“I felt the council was starting to have too many people with outside interests, and I wanted to bring more of a resident’s voice to the council,” Rodriguez said. “I also felt that it was time to bring a woman back and keep the egos at bay a little bit.”
Rodriguez believes there is too much government oversight on resident chair committees that were originally resident-only. The committees changed to require that a council member be lead chair.
“It brought too much of the council in as eyes and ears, but it was supposed to be idea-sharing,” said Rodriguez, who felt that the government oversight made some residents nervous.
Rodriguez, a real-estate agent, also wants to focus on keeping up the high “A” standards of the Miami Lakes schools.
“I feel that keeping the schools strong is directly related to keeping the equity in our homes and taxes low,” Rodriguez said. “Keeping those schools at a high level of performance makes our community desirable.”