After knocking on more than 3,500 doors with 136 student volunteers, Pete Cabrera regained his Doral City Council seat on Tuesday.
All the while, students from Ronald W. Reagan Doral Senior High School formed his campaign backbone. They referred to Cabrera as “Tio Pete” (“Uncle Pete”). Rain or shine, they knocked on thousands of doors, trying to get the promise of a vote. They even held free car washes and put together hand-made posters for the politician.
“These kids changed my life, my experience with them will mark my life forever.” Cabrera said, teary-eyed. He said he felt like he gained more than a hundred nieces and nephews. “This wasn’t about community hours, it started that way, but it became much more.”
Cabrera beat incumbent Bettina Rodriguez-Aguilera by 9 percentage points Tuesday, according to the Miami-Dade County elections department. He won Seat 2 of the council by 574 votes after 6,392 people voted.
Cabrera got comfortable at City Hall on Wednesday morning, with painters retouching the walls. Cabrera was sworn in that night, along with Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez who went unchallenged.
The win comes after a tight race between him and Rodriguez-Aguilera, who was a councilwoman for two years, and worked for the city for many years before that.
But the City Hall hallways aren’t new for Cabrera.
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 in 2012 to current mayor Luigi Boria, and decided to devote more time to his family, business and projects.
He will be getting paid just over $15,000 per year in salary and will receive a monthly $2,500 stipend for expenses, along with other benefits, according to the 2014-2015 budget.
“It feels refreshing to be back,” he said. “It feels good. Can’t wait to get to work.”
On his to-do list are:
▪ Alleviate bumper-to-bumper traffic on main roads
▪ Speed up road expansions and project completions on 97th Avenue and break ground on the unnamed 114th Avenue park.
▪ 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.
▪ Completion of city bikeways and expansion of the park system.
However, above anything else, Cabrera’s main campaign focus though was to “end the drama on the dais.”
He told the Herald one thing he is considering is proposing doing away with crediting items placed on the agenda to the specific council member who came up with the idea.
“It would have some exceptions of course, but it prevents competition and ego,” he said. “Who cares who’s idea it was? My number one priority is to bring back stability, respect and professionalism to the city council.”
But four days before the election, drama it was.
According to a complaint filed to the Miami-Dade County ethics commission by Rodriguez-Aguilera, Cabrera and his student volunteers were accused of asking her student volunteers to defect to his side in exchange for getting credit for working more hours than they really would have to work.
The complaint caused a stir, with the high school principal banning students from getting community service hours for working on political campaigns.
His main volunteer Maria Vizcaino, 18, was called into the principal’s office and was questioned for five hours. She later contacted a lawyer, and Cabrera then held a press conference, where he denied the allegations, and continued campaigning.
More than 60 of those kids still went out to the polls on Election Day and campaigned at 10 precincts without receiving service hours.
Vizcaino and dozens of other students made Cabrera a green and blue scrapbook — the first personal possession that adorned his new office.
Vizcaino thanked Cabrera in a handwritten message for making her “feel useful, restoring my faith in politics and listening to our ideas.”
“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to help with your campaign and get involved in local politics.,” Vizcaino wrote. “Since August we have learned countless things that will be useful for the rest of our lives.”
Rodriguez-Aguilera left Cabrera a voice-mail, wishing him the best.
She told the Herald Thursday that she will continue working with “the City Council, with other boards, associations and programs.”
“Today I am officially a private citizen. I would like to thank each and every one of you that have been part of my wonderful journey these two years. I truly feel privileged to have been able to represent all of you,” she said. “I welcome the democratic process and wish all the best to the new elected councilman, Pete Cabrera.”
Wednesday will be Cabrera’s first council meeting. However he can’t put anything on the agenda because a new charter amendment (approved in August) requires council members to submit agenda items at least a week in advance of a meeting.
“I got here a bit too late,” Cabrera said, chuckling. “Next agenda.”
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