Javier Souto, one of the longest-serving members of the Miami-Dade County Commission, doesn’t bring out anger in his reelection opponent, rookie candidate Marina Meadows.
“He is someone who’s an institution,” she said. “But he doesn’t represent us residents anymore.”
That’s the outsider pitch Meadows, a long-shot challenger, has been making at political events, big and small, in a bid to oust Souto, who has been on the commission since 1993. District 10 comprises a swath of West Miami-Dade that includes Fontainebleau, Westchester and Kendale Lakes.
Meadows, a 46-year-old former bookkeeper who is unemployed and speaks halting English, doesn’t campaign on specific issues or votes. She doesn’t have much of a political organization to speak of, or even a professional candidate portrait. Meadows said she had trouble opening a campaign bank account and has raised only $710. Souto has collected nearly $211,000.
But Meadows said she’s running anyway to give voters an alternative to Souto, whom she considers out of touch and getting on in years. He’s 75.
“I have the capacity and the desire to bring change,” Meadows said last month at a Kendall Federation of Homeowners Association forum.
Souto did not respond to interview requests this week. He has generally stayed away from campaign events, though as commissioner he has continued to emphasize constituent services for a district made up entirely of unincorporated neighborhoods that rely solely on the county — and not cities.
“I take pride in knowing that although many new cities have been created in the 21 years that I have served my District, there has been no strong support for incorporation in Westchester, Fontainebleau or Kendall because of the quality of municipal services, responsiveness and accessibility that my constituents have enjoyed,” Souto wrote to the Miami Herald editorial board in a candidate questionnaire.
In the same questionnaire, he listed 25 municipal problems his office helps residents handle, from weekly garbage collections to maintenance of the tree canopy.
A retired pharmaceutical executive and former state legislator, Souto has been known for paying attention to graffiti, poor street lighting and illegal garbage dumping — all scourges that he rails about from the dais and in his emailed newsletters.
Last month, he voted against a higher property-tax ceiling to benefit public libraries. He cast repeated votes in the past year to restore the pay of unionized workers who had been making a healthcare contribution.
During his long tenure, Souto has not avoided controversy. Two years ago, he said he suspected a Westwood Lakes house under construction whose architectural style he didn’t like was an unpermitted mosque. He later apologized to his Muslim “friends.”
This year, Souto said at a February commission meeting that Miami-Dade’s Cuban Americans should be granted special consideration for their contributions to the community. At issue was a public-private partnership proposal with Coral Gables-based Odebrecht USA, whose Brazilian parent company has an affiliate working in Cuba.
Souto, who like Meadows was born in Cuba, said the county shouldn’t hire the company so as not to offend Cuban Americans’ sensitivities — drawing a rebuke from Dennis Moss, an African-American commissioner who has also been on the board since 1993.
Souto later wrote that he didn’t intend to offend anyone.