All 12 candidates running for a seat on the Doral City Council say easing congestion on main roads and slowing down development would be their top priorities if they are elected.
On Nov. 8, Doral residents will choose a mayor and two council members. The heated races have made waves in the city as Mayor Luigi Boria seeks re-election against Doral’s founding mayor Juan Carlos “JC” Bermudez and longtime councilwoman Sandra Ruiz.
On Tuesday, 11 of the 12 candidates were interviewed by the editorial boards of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.
Running for Seat 1 are Claudia Mariaca, Jackelin Guiza, Enza Mongiovi-Vera, Carlos Pereira, Jackeline Alers and Adriana Moyano. Moyano did not attend.
Running for Seat 3 are incumbent Christi Fraga, Digna Cabral and David Hernandez.
▪ Juan Carlos Bermudez was born in Cuba. He has served on numerous community boards including the Miami-Dade County League of Cities, the Florida League of Mayors, the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, and the Doral Community Coalition. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame Law School and has lived in Doral for almost 18 years.
▪ Luigi Boria was born in Venezuela. Boria has served as an associate pastor at Alpha and Omega Church, is a major donor of Doral Pro-Health, and since 2010 has run the Luigi Boria Foundation, an organization that benefits underprivileged children. He sits on the board of directors of the Florida League of Mayors and graduated from Andrés Bello Catholic University in Venezuela and has lived in Doral for about 27 years.
▪ Sandra Ruiz was born in Mexico. She has served in numerous capacities for Autism Speaks, American Cancer Relay for Life and on the city’s Military Affairs Board. She graduated from Southwestern College in California and has lived in Doral for 19 years.
Before serving as mayor, Boria, 58, was a Doral city councilman from 2010 to 2012. Boria, a Venezuelan businessman who says he is a multimillionaire, said in his most recent efforts to alleviate traffic a few months ago that the council entered into an agreement with the Florida Turnpike Enterprise to build a flyover ramp from Northwest 117th Avenue to the northbound side of the turnpike, giving heavy trucks direct access to the turnpike.
Boria also cited a pedestrian bridge that will be built above Northwest 41st Street, connecting the north and south halves of the Turnpike Trail and a ramp for local traffic to be constructed on 117th Avenue.
The candidates blamed each other for the city’s traffic issues, accusing each other of initiating and approving developments without adequate roads.
“The lack of planning [by] the past administration is what created this mess,” Boria said. “We don’t want to go back to the past; we want to have a great plan for the future.”
Bermudez, 54, who served as the city’s mayor for almost a decade, starting when the city was incorporated in 2003, denied the accusation.
“I’m not going to get into who did what and who didn’t do what,” Bermudez said. “When we became a city, there were already a number of projects in the pipeline.”
Ruiz, who has served on the council for about 10 years, said she would be a better mayor than Boria because he has poor leadership skills.
“Business and public service do not always cross paths,” said Ruiz, 54. “The person needs to be able to build a team and needs to be able to bring all the parties to the table. We don’t always agree, but we certainly should agree to respect each other. I think I bring those qualities to the table.”
Bermudez, an attorney, said one of the first things he would do if elected is secure a seat on the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, create a traffic task force composed of traffic experts, and create a process where public records are put online for residents to see.
“One of the things that’s important in a growing city like this when it comes to traffic is that you need someone that can advocate zealously at the national, state and local levels,” he said.
Ruiz agreed, adding that the city has the means to do it.
“We need to think outside the box,” she said.
In 2007, federal agents seized hundreds of thousands of dollars in Boria’s computer company during an investigation by the IRS after investigators suspected that his firm tried to avoid reporting the money to the government.
According to the complaint, about $1.8 million were deposited into Boria’s business account in amounts less than $10,000.
Federal law requires that any transaction above $10,000 be reported to the IRS. Records show that bundles of wrinkled cash wrapped in rubber bands were deposited by a “suspicious Hispanic male” in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey into Boria’s company account. Investigators say the man was depositing crumbled money wrapped in rubber bands.
Boria ultimately agreed to forfeit half the money that was frozen by federal agents in his bank account — or $127,000. He denied that he deliberately tried to avoid reporting the money to the government during Tuesday’s interview. When asked why he settled, he said it was more efficient than going through the legal process.
COUNCIL SEAT 1
▪ Jackelin Guiza, 47, is owner of a consulting firm and a member for the Venezuelan Forum. She has advocated against bullying and domestic violence through community events. She has lived in Doral for 15 years.
▪ Claudia Mariaca, 42, is a parent-teacher association board member, a homeowners association director and an officer of a financial consulting company. Mariaca has been a community activist for about four years. Last year, she proposed an ordinance — later passed by the council — to improve the involvement of residents in the zoning process. She’s lived in Doral for 10 years.
▪ Enza Mongiovi-Vera, 51, co-owns a home building services company with her husband and is a former HOA vice president. She helped run her husband’s unsuccessful campaign for the Doral council in 2012. She’s lived in Doral more than 14 years.
▪ Carlos Pereira, 42, ran for State House District 105 in 2014. He ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and lost to incumbent Rep. Carlos Trujillo. Periera previously worked as a sex shop manager in Broward, a comedian for AméricaTeVé, and a ventriloquist in his native Venezuela and in South Florida. He has lived in Doral for four years.
▪ Jackeline Alers, 49, is a dance and fitness company owner. She is also a former scholarship development director, an event management firm consultant and has chaired the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. She has lived in Doral since 1999.
▪ Adriana Moyano,43, is a marketing company owner and has lived in Doral 12 years.
Traffic wasn’t the only point of consensus among the political opponents, who also said urban growth should be controlled and zoning laws improved.
“Growth and development go hand in hand with traffic,” Mariaca said. “We need people to go in and get the infrastructure right.”
All Seat 1 candidates criticized the city’s decision to invest $2.5 million in the Miss Universe pageant, which at the time was owned by Donald Trump. The city subsequently gave Trump the key to the city, an action that caused major controversy and enraged residents.
“I think it was irresponsible and inappropriate,” Pereira said.
Conversations circled back to the issue of traffic, and candidates said the city should turn to outside agencies for help and solutions. On average, Doral has more than 100,000 drivers coming through the city on a weekday and more than 106,000 cars exiting the city every weekday, according to city staff. Doral has about 50,000 residents.
Alers echoed the sentiments of Mariaca, who said the high-density projects and urban growth need to be controlled.
“Our little city is turning into a teenager, and as a teenager there are growing pains,” Alers said.
Alers’ company, Dancefit Fusion, has a contract with Doral until 2018 for dance and fitness instruction, city records show. The company was dissolved in September by the state of Florida for not filing its annual report. Alers told the Miami Herald Thursday that it was an oversight because she’s been busy with the campaign.
COUNCIL SEAT 3
▪ Christi Fraga, 29, is owner of a small business in Doral and has served on the city council since 2012. Fraga was the only council member who voted against spending $2.5 million on the Miss Universe pageant and has been key in establishing new trolley routes in the city. She has lived in Doral for 14 years.
▪ Digna Cabral, 39, is a research analyst for the University of Miami. In 1999, she served as a liaison for union members in New York. She’s an active member in her church and her homeowners association. She has lived in Doral for about 10 years.
▪ David Hernandez, 40, is a certified public accountant and has been an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College and Florida International University for nearly a decade. He has volunteered for local and presidential campaigns in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Hernandez has lived in Doral for four years.
Fraga, the incumbent, acknowledged that much remains to be done about the city’s gridlock. Fraga said the city has already started working with the Florida Department of Transportation to find alternative routes for trucks.
Fraga’s opponents, Cabral and Hernandez, said Tuesday that the decisions of the council have contributed to more traffic congestion and uncontrolled growth of the city.
Hernandez said Fraga has taken part in creating more traffic issues by voting for high-density projects and has “not taken into account the welfare of the residents, but the interests of urban developers who have contributed money to her campaign.”
“I have always represented and will represent the residents of Doral,” Fraga said during a tense exchange, adding that donations from developers do not compromise her decisions on the dais and that Hernandez’s comments are “baseless.”