As Doral gears up for a new budget year, a Miss Universe pageant in January and a simmering dispute between golf-course owner Donald Trump and neighboring homeowners, voters will get to vote for who they want to see take Seat 2 on the City Council.
Early voting beings Monday, with Councilwoman Bettina Rodriguez-Aguilera battling to keep her seat on the dais — former Doral Councilman Pete Cabrera opposes her.
Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez was automatically reelected because no one challenged her for her seat. Election day is Nov. 4.
Campaign signs have swamped light poles, businesses and front yards as Rodriguez-Aguilera and Cabrera, both 56, knock on doors six to seven days a week in search of votes.
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Rodriguez-Aguilera straps on her lucky leopard-printed Calvin Klein sneakers; Cabrera takes off in his blue campaign shirt with student volunteers from Ronald Reagan High School.
Rodriguez-Aguilera, a nonprofit business owner and community activist, was elected two years ago, after serving as the city’s economic development coordinator since 2008.
Cabrera, an insurance and human resources consultant, ran for mayor last term but lost to current Mayor Luigi Boria. Before that, he was a city councilman for nine years.
Both candidates expressed some of the same ideas in their political platforms: alleviate bumper-to-bumper traffic on main roads, expand the number of parks in the eastern part of the city, and eliminating drama between council members on the dais.
Background checks conducted by the Miami Herald found that both candidates have histories of financial difficulties.
Incumbent Rodriguez-Aguilera said she wants to see residents’ quality of life improve, see responsible building development, and make sure that “taxpayer dollars are being used in the best interest of the residents, not elected officials.”
“When we sit on the dais, we owe ourselves to all those that entrusted their money and their city,” she said. “It is a privilege that I do not take it lightly.”
Weeks ago, Rodriguez-Aguilera didn’t vote for the city budget that included $2.5 million for the Miss Universe pageant, given to the Miss Universe Organization. She was absent.
She said she also plans to propose building a cultural center.
“Our city is crying out for a meeting place for residents. Right now, all we have is a room at City Hall,” she said. “There’s a giant need.”
Rodriguez-Aguilera said she wants to initiate a “business incentive center” at City Hall where businesses can be educated and where job seekers can find employment.
Most recently, Rodriguez-Aguilera sponsored an ordinance that Doral employees must sign a form pledging to not text and drive. She has also proposed that the city establishes a no-texting civil infraction ordinance that would allow police officers to give tickets if drivers are seen texting.
Police already have that power under state law.
Rodriguez-Aguilera is working on developing a program with Doral police and code enforcement to train officers on what service animals are. Businesses would have to display a sign stating that they welcome service animals. The move comes after several Doral restaurants were not admitting service animals to their facilities.
She sponsored a human trafficking ordinance after two massage parlors in the city were shut down for prostitution in May. Police and code officers are being trained, and certain businesses will have to display signs informing employees of the phone number for a human trafficking task force number.
At the Oct. 8 Council Meeting, Rodriguez-Aguilera sponsored an item that rallied 250 angry residents at City Hall who have lost scenic views of golf courses after billionaire Donald Trump planted giant areca palms between their yards and his golf courses. Council members gave City Attorney Dan Espino the “marching orders” of returning with a legal opinion on the subject.
The councilwoman has sponsored the item for months, after Trump’s beautification project came to an end weeks ago, leaving thousands of residents without views they paid a premium for.
“I side with the residents,” Rodriguez-Aguilera said, adding that she has proposed drafting an ordinance limiting the height of hedges or trees around properties. We need to serve as a bridge with the Trump Organization to come to a peaceful coexistence of the both parties.”
Public records show that Rodriguez-Aguilera has had her share of financial troubles. In 2002, WRHC obtained a court judgment against her for $6,009 in 2002. She satisfied the judgment in 2005.
In 2007, lender Camacol Inc. started foreclosure proceedings against her for a property in Westchester. In 2011, the company obtained a judgment against her for $39,251. She said she is making monthly payments toward erasing the debt.
In 2001, Cabrera helped start a community organization, “One Doral” that worked to incorporate the city. After serving nine years on the council, Cabrera lost the race for mayor and decided to devote more time to his family, business and projects.
“That dramatically changed with all the negative media coverage, the disrespect among council members, and when the drama started in Doral,” he said. “It finally came to a moment where I could not stand by and watch as the work of years of public service was being destroyed.”
Cabrera said his number one priority is to “bring back stability, respect and professionalism to the city council.”
“I believe it is time for action and results, not empty promises,” Cabrera said. “In spite of having close to $60 million in the bank, not one new needed major project has broken ground in Doral. What is important is not the ideas, but rather being able to deliver.”
Cabrera said he plans to use his “decade-long relationships with county and state officials to speed up road expansions and project completions on 97th Avenue.
He also plans to build a vehicle and pedestrian bridge over 41st Street at 117th Avenue, and continue the 25th Street truck ramp to the turnpike, reducing truck traffic on nearby roads.
He also wants to see the completion of city bikeways and expansion of the park system.
“Why am I coming back? Because I care about Doral and I want to make sure we can all be proud once again to call Doral home,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera said he feels he is best prepared to enhance the economic future of the city, as well as the challenges that will come with a booming population.
Cabrera said he does not support the city sponsoring the Miss Universe pageant. He said he doesn’t “see how this investment will make any returns to the City of Doral.”
Cabrera also added that he believes most citizens of Doral Park have a legal standing against Trump and his trees because of a warranty deed. He added that his view was taken away too. He rents a home adjoining one of the Trump courses.
“On that issue, I think we need a very strong legal opinion that involves a deep analysis,” he said. “If the legal opinion says we have legal ground to the views, I’ll back it up all the way. But we need to do things based on facts, not play politics.”
Records show that Cabrera has had financial troubles.
In May 1986 he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Cabrera was in his late 20s at the time. Cabrera said he started an export business with his father when he was 21. They exported restaurant supplies to Venezuela. After its launching, the Venezuelan economy plunged, he said, “so we had to file for bankruptcy.”
Since then, he has been sued on a number of other debts.
For example, in 2008, GMAC Mortgage began foreclosure proceedings against his former home in Doral. The lender dropped the case in 2008. Cabrera later transferred the property to his ex-wife.
About the candidates
Occupation: Runs an organization — Bettinara Enterprises Inc. — focused on inspiring and mentoring local entrepreneurs.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in social work from Florida International University. Has earned certificates from the University of Miami on budget and financial management and was a leadership fellow at Harvard University.
Years lived in Doral: 5
Public Service: Domestic violence activist; leadership key note speaker; interned at Miami-Dade welfare department; former social worker for the county; served as an ombudsman, helping citizens cut the many levels of governments’ red tape; former Doral economic development coordinator.
Occupation: Owner and President of HR Soft Skills Inc.—an insurance, human resources, and employee benefits field consulting firm.
Education: Diploma from Coral Park Senior High School.
Years lived in Doral: 26 years.
Public Service: Speaker on human behavioral styles and emotional intelligence; former Doral city councilman; former appointee to the Miami Dade Public Schools Countywide Attendance Boundary Committee and Overcrowding Task Force.