Three of the seven Miami-Dade commissioners up for reelection this summer automatically won four more years in office Tuesday when nobody registered to challenge them for the August primary.
Bruno Barreiro, Esteban “Steve” Bovo Jr. and Barbara Jordan earned the coveted “unopposed” designation from the county Election Department after the noon deadline passed for candidates to qualify for the Aug. 30 primary. Nobody had even filed to run against the three commissioners, so the qualifying threshold was not an issue.
Commissioner Xavier Suarez was on track to join the unopposed slate until a last-minute challenger, political newcomer Michael Castro, filed for his District 7 seat on Monday. Suarez joins commissioners Audrey Edmonson, Dennis Moss and Juan Zapata in facing challengers in the nonpartisan primary. The contests move to a November runoff only if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. Should a runoff be needed, the top two finishers face off on Election Day.
Able to raise hundreds of thousands in dollars from county vendors and developers, incumbent commissioners rarely lose elections. But two on the dais, Daniella Levine Cava and Chairman Jean Monestime, did oust incumbents to take their seats.
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“It’s not that it’s hopeless,” said pollster Fernand Amandi. “If more candidates were willing to run the risk and try, they’d realize they’re more likely than not to be successful. Because there’s an anti-incumbent mood, locally and across the country. The perception is: Oh, it can’t be done.”
Also re-elected Tuesday for lack of a challenger: Pedro Garcia, the county’s property appraiser. Garcia was elected to the post in 2014 to fill out the rest of the term of Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who gave up the office to become Gov. Rick Scott’s lieutenant governor. Lopez-Cantera had unseated Garcia himself as property appraiser in 2012. Garcia was the first person elected property appraiser after voters made the post an elected position in 2008.
The most watched county race is the mayoral contest, where incumbent Carlos Gimenez faces school-board member Raquel Regalado and five other qualified challengers. None of the others holds elected office but one, former congressional staffer Alfred Santamaría, has raised more than $1,200 in campaign cash. The other mayoral candidates are: printer Frederick Bryant; former county Democratic Party chairman B.J. Chizsar; retiree Miguel Eizmendiz (who has been unavailable for interviews to provide more biographical information); and Miami economist, author and former gubernatorial candidate Farid Khavari.
All candidates on the ballot qualified by paying the required fee, which ranges from a low of $360 for the commission races to a high of $6,829 for the property appraiser race. The fees are set as a fraction of the position’s salary, and the property appraiser earns about $183,000 a year.
For county commissioners, the most competitive race looks to be Zapata’s, who is facing a challenge from his predecessor in District 11. Joe Martinez, who gave up his seat in 2012 for an unsuccessful mayoral bid against Gimenez, has raised $8,500 in his campaign account. Zapata’s campaign account showed $135,000 raised through May. A second Zapata challenger, former pharmaceutical salesman Felix Lorenzo, also qualified for the District 11 race. His campaign account shows $2,500 raised.
Edmonson also faces a challenger who once held elected office: Daisy Black, a former rival of Edmonson when both were involved in El Portal politics. Edmonson beat Black for the city’s mayoral post in 2004, and Black won the office in 2010 after Edmonson joined the County Commission. Black’s campaign has raised $10,000, and Edmonson’s has raised $390,000.
Moss is challenged by restaurateur Earl Beaver, whose campaign has raised about $1,000 to Moss’s $374,000.
Every two years sees either six or seven County Commission seats up for grabs, and all seven incumbents filed for reelection. The seven also are the first to be affected by term limits voters passed in 2012. The two-term limit kicked in that year, meaning the incumbents up for reelection in 2016 can’t run again in 2020.
Of the seven commissioners up for reelection this year, the most senior is Moss, who first won his seat in 1993. Of the three reelected automatically, Barreiro has the longest tenure, having won his seat in 1998.
Sean Foreman, a political science professor at Barry University, said incumbents enjoy an advantage over would-be opponents, who may be scared off from a race against an established politician. Add in low pay — $6,000 a year plus vehicle stipends and other benefits that top $30,000 — and the difficulty of reaching higher office from the County Commission, and the races tend to look unattractive.
“The last couple of cycles,” he said, “groups have tried to recruit.”