Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason handily won reelection Tuesday to a second two-year term, fending off an aggressive challenge from Commissioner Ralph Cabrera.
For the first time in 12 years, the Coral Gables Commission will operate without Cabrera, 54, who was term-limited.
Cason, 68, won nearly 71 percent of the vote. He stressed lowering property tax rates, building up the city’s reserves and reforming the city’s pensions. Cason said he will push the Streetscape renovation of Miracle Mile, the city’s main commercial hub.
“He stood up for reducing the budget a little bit and he’s standing up to the retirement plans, benefit packages and unions,” said voter Mike Visconti, 48, an aviation consultant who cast his ballot at the Coral Gables Country Club.
Since Cason took office in 2011 the city’s reserves jumped by $9 million, to $21.1 million in March. In April 2009, when City Manager Pat Salerno took office, the city’s reserves were $157,000, inordinately low for a city the size of Coral Gables. The city lowered property tax rates for the last two years and negotiated with its police and general employees’ unions.
“I want to see the supertanker turning in the right direction and on a good course,” Cason has said.
In the Group 2 race to fill Cabrera’s seat, Vince Lago, a projects manager with BDI Construction & Design, defeated civic and arts volunteer Marlin Ebbert with 53 percent of the vote. Ross Hancock, a communications director for the American Welding Society, finished third.
Five individuals ran for Maria Anderson’s Group 3 Commission seat. Anderson, like Cabrera, was term-limited after 12 years on the commission. Longtime civic volunteer and Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board member Patricia (Pat) Keon won the seat with 49 percent of the vote.
“I am extremely grateful to family and friends and a network of girlfriends who run wide and deep in this community,’’ Keon said. “I think we ran a campaign on issues and I think voters responded.”
Though turnout was low — 7,101 residents voted out of 30,672 registered voters, a 23 percent turnout, the campaign grew heated in the final days.
Hancock and Lago clashed after Hancock claimed Lago entered the race illegally because Lago has not lived at 5200 San Amaro Dr., the address listed on his campaign documents. On Monday, Hancock said he filed suit with the Miami-Dade Circuit Court. A ruling has not been made.
Lago said he bought the home in 2011 and has been repairing mold and electrical problems since. He, his wife and 11/2-year-old daughter have been living with his wife’s parents at their home on Alhambra Circle.
Maite Saizarbitoria-Bocanegra, a 40-year-resident, voted for Lago and Cason.
“I like the work he’s done in the two years. The most important issue is security. We need to improve the police.”
Cabrera ran a campaign focused on crime. Throughout the campaign, Cabrera pointed to a 13 percent increase in city crimes in 2012 over 2011, citing figures from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Cason, meanwhile, said crime in Coral Gables had gone down by 1.1 percent during this period, according to the Coral Gables Police Department.
Stephen Field, 48, a lawyer who has lived in the Gables for 14 years, voted for Cabrera.
“I like the fact that he recognizes that there’s a crime rate problem. [Cason] seems more interest in paving streets than solving crime or dealing with other problems.”
The reelected mayor, who serves a two-year term, and the two new commissioners, who serve for four years, will be sworn in at a ceremony at noon Friday at Coral Gables City Hall. The results are unofficial until certified by the county elections department.
Miami Herald Writers Barbara Corbellini Duarte and Syd Towne contributed to this report. Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.