Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason announced his re-election campaign for mayor on Wednesday at the Coral Gables Country Club.
“I had to do a lot of thinking in the last couple days and I’ve decided to run for mayor,” Cason said.
He joins former Commissioner Ralph Cabrera in his bid for the city’s top seat in the April mayoral election.
At a press conference Wednesday, Cason said he originally planned to endorse longtime Vice Mayor Bill Kerdyk for mayor, but after Kerdyk decided not to run, he stepped in. When Cason first ran for office in 2011, he said he would only serve for four years.
Never miss a local story.
However, that changed.
“I looked around and didn’t see that anyone else had stepped up to the plate to protect the city of Coral Gables,” Cason said. “It was my intention to not run again. But I think that to keep our city moving in the right direction, we need to continue with the great Commission that we have, which is collegial, which respects each other, which has accomplished a lot.”
Cason added that he would have supported “anyone on the Commission in running for mayor.” But none of the commissioners could dedicate the time, or were still serving their current terms.
After the press conference, Cason addressed his competition for the job.
“I don’t think he’d be a good person for mayor,” Cason said, referring to Cabrera. “Nobody stepped up and you can’t just walk away.”
Cabrera, who served on the City Commission for 12 years, announced his candidacy in November. Cabrera ran for mayor in 2013, but lost to Cason by 71 percent of the vote. Cabrera says that was because “voter participation was abysmal.”
“So because someone else is not running for mayor, that’s why he’s running for mayor?” Cabrera said. “I think we need someone who cares about the job of being mayor, not just care about the title.”
Cason was first elected mayor of Coral Gables in 2011, beating longtime mayor Don Slesnick. He was elected again in April 2013 against Cabrera. He is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer with more than 40 years of national and international public service, including experience in Latin America as a leader of multi-agency Embassy communities.
Kerdyk on the other hand, termed out of his seat after 20 years of service. Kerdyk told the Miami Herald Tuesday he originally planned to run for mayor, but said he recently decided it was his “time to go.”
“It was a very difficult decision,” said Kerdyk, whose family has been serving in Coral Gables Commission for more than seven decades. “I’ve spent many months of reflection and I’ve decided not to run for mayor.” He added that he’s “not closing the door in running for public office in the future.”
He said he’s leaving with “a heavy heart,” but that “sooner or later you have to step out of the arena.”
“I’m happy with where I am. I think I’ve given the city a lot. I’ve worked hard,” Kerdyk said Tuesday. “My youngest daughter goes away to college next summer. I don’t want to spend the next several months as an absentee father in an encompassing campaign. I am not closing the door to running for public office later on, but I really need to step back and reanalyze where I am in life and make some decisions on where I want to go in the future.”
Kerdyk’s absence on the dais come April will end a lineage of service to the city of Coral Gables of more than seven decades. Kerdyk’s uncle, Frank E. Kerdyk served as Commissioner from 1957 until 1961. Kerdyk’s father, William Kerdyk Sr., served as Commissioner from 1967 to 1995. Kerdyk has been serving Coral Gables since 1995.
Kerdyk is supporting Cason.
Cason says his campaign will be rooted on “running a positive campaign” and focusing on continuing the several projects already in the works, like the Miracle Mile streetscape project, the bike path master plan, and the planting of thousands of trees in the Gables, as well as two massive parking garages downtown.
“There are a lot of projects under way. About 50 or 60,” Cason said. “We’re on a roll. Lot’s of great things are coming, so let’s keep rolling.”
Cabrera says his platform will be “restoring the lack of leadership.” He said seeing the rise in residential burglaries persuaded him to run again. He recently started knocking on burglary victims’ doors to learn about their experience.
Freddy Balsera, a high-profile resident and activist in the Gables, and also a burglary victim who made led hundreds of residents to city hall in September in hopes of firing the former police chief because of spikes in crime, is running Cabrera’s campaign. He called Cason “highly disinterested and out-of-touch with the community.” At a Sept. 11 council meeting, he called the mayor “weak.”
“Perhaps he should start paying attention to the thousands of residents that have had their homes broken into...” Balsera said.
But Cason dismissed Cabrera’s campaign platform.
“Mr. Balsera started the crime conversation at City Hall and now he’s running [Cabrera’s] campaign on crime. What a coincidence,” Cason said. He noted that on Tuesday, Dec. 16, the Police Chief Ed Hudak will come before the commission and confirm that crime is down, based on a recent audit conducted by the FBI.
Elections are set for April 14, 2015. The last day submit paperwork to qualify for candidacy is Feb. 20 at noon, according to the city clerk’s office.
Commissioner Frank Quesada is the only commissioner running unopposed so far. Kerdyk’s seat is the only other seat on the commission that is open, with residents Ariel Fernandez, Norman Anthony Newell and PJ Mitchell running.
Follow @MoniqueOMadan on Twitter.