Voters in Hialeah have overwhelmingly chosen to keep the city’s leadership as it is.
After a campaign that pitted well-funded, experienced incumbents against mostly young, underdog newcomers, voters had the final say Tuesday: the mayor and two council members will remain in office.
Mayor Carlos Hernández, a former Hialeah police officer who has served on the council since 2005, handily defeated former interim mayor Julio Martínez and political newcomer Juan Santana, a security guard. The mayor will now serve his first full term in office after winning a special election in 2011.
In the race for the Group Five council seat, voters elected current council Vice President Luis González to his third and final term. He beat Julio Rodríguez, a political science major at Florida International University.
For the Group Six seat, current councilman Paul “Pablito” Hernández (no relation to Carlos) defeated the youngest candidate in the field, Marco Miralles, a Miami Dade College student and produce clerk at a Publix in Hialeah.
Salsa music blared as Hernández and the rest of the slate celebrated at his campaign headquarters.
“I’m very, very thankful to the city of Hialeah,’’ Carlos Hernández said.
“Tomorrow, we’ll get back to working for this grand city.’’
González said he was tired and happy after a campaign that focused more on personal attacks than policy debate.
“Eventually, the citizens saw through that and came out to vote,’’ he said.
Paul Hernández said it felt surreal as the results came in.
“The greatest gift that an elected official can have is knowing the people come out to support the job I’ve worked so hard at,’’ he said.
Martínez, a Vietnam veteran and former boxer who served as interim mayor in the early 1990s, took in the results at the Ramada Inn with fellow candidate Rodríguez.
Martínez pointed to low voter turnout.
“Percentages were very low, so the mayor doesn’t have that many followers,’’ he said. “I just don’t know why people don’t come out to vote.’’
Rodríguez said he appreciated what he learned during his first run at public office and said he won’t close the door on running again.
“I honestly don’t feel great,’’ he said. “At the same time, it was a great experience.’’
Voter turnout in Hialeah proved, in several precincts, higher than in the rest of the county. According to data from the Miami-Dade Elections Department, many precincts in Hialeah had 20 to 30 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Countywide, only about 10 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.
Hialeah voters also gave themselves the power to approve any future changes to the pension plan for the city’s elected officials. In August, the City Council voted to end pensions for future elected officials. Instead, council members who are elected after Jan. 1, 2014, will contribute 7 percent of their salary to their retirement.