Three incumbents and six challengers are looking to fill four seats on the Sweetwater Commission during the city’s election on Tuesday.
Both Group One commission candidates, David Borrero and Isidro Ruiz, are running for the first time.
Borrero, a three-year resident, believes his direct experience with city government makes him the right candidate. He said got his start in the city through an internship landed through Florida International University’s Honors College. He received an MBA from the school earlier this year.
He said he volunteered his time for a year before he being hired to work on grants. Over a period of five years, he said, he worked on different projects, one of them pertaining to the city’s drainage.
“I worked with FEMA, the state and Miami-Dade County, acquiring grants to work on the project, and there are a lot of areas in the city that have been alleviated from flood loss,” he said. “I’ve managed millions of dollars for the city to improve everything that was funded by the grants. I want to make sure the city is clean and is a suitable place to live.”
Borrero said he wants to be the candidate of reform.
“I’m big about having transparency in city government, with where we are spending our money, putting up documents on the city’s website available for people to download,” he said. “My most important thing is not being a part of the political controversy with scandals always happening in the city.”
Ruiz, a 13-year resident, came to Sweetwater from Cuba in 2004 and started working for an equipment company owned by Gloria Bango, a former mayor. He said he’s running to make the city better.
“I don’t think the city is moving forward,” he said. “If I win, I want to try to put everybody together. When I say everybody, I mean the finance department, administration, parks and recreation, everybody as a team. I want to find grant administrators able to bring money to the city so we can go ahead and do everything.”
Ruiz added he is concerned young people in Sweetwater don’t have a place to hang out.
“If you look at the kids in the city, they’ve been involved in drugs and prostitution, and it’s because they don’t have a place to go like they did five, six years ago,” he said.
He acknowledged he doesn’t have a specific plan, but stressed he wants to work with everybody.
“I’m not making any promises, but my promise to the residents of Sweetwater is to work with them and be their voice and take it from there,” Ruiz said. “I’m not trying to turn this city into a political trampoline.”
Commissioner Jose Bergouignan is defending his seat against retired Sweetwater police Lt. Marcos Villanueva and resident Jose Mejia.
Bergouignan has been a resident since 1994 and a commissioner for 16 years. The business owner said that the city has stagnated recently and claims Sweetwater’s strong mayor system is a main reason why.
“There are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with in the city,” he said. “I’m more of a public server, not a politician. I’m not doing this for money.”
Bergouignan said Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez is simply not available.
“The main thing is unfortunately we’ve had issues with mayors the last two or three times,” he said. “The issues we have today is due to the fact of him being unavailable. We used to have Fourth of July events, and now since the mayor came in, he keeps saying there is no money. This event has been going on for 30, 40 years.”
Bergouignan said he wants to continue improving the city.
“We need to get back to fixing our infrastructure. Our streets are decaying, we need to repave a lot of streets, our parks need to be redeveloped and we need more trees,” he said.
Villanueva moved to Sweetwater in 1984 and started his police career in 1997 as a community officer. He served as a lieutenant for four years and resigned to run for commissioner.
“There is a lack of efficiency in government and abuse of power, and they are just milking the cow,” he said. “It is almost impossible to govern, and people need to put their political differences aside for the betterment of Sweetwater. I know the city.”
Villanueva said one of his plans involves tearing down City Hall, the police department and passport office and move them elsewhere in an effort to bring more revenue to the city.
“I want to build a 25-story high building, a Sweetwater housing authority for the low-income community,” he said. “It’s for residents of Sweetwater only, and a minimum of five years is needed to qualify.”
Villanueva added that in order to unite and improve the city, differences need to be recognized.
“We have students living in Sweetwater, and we do nothing for them. We have African Americans here,” he said. “We do nothing for the Hispanics here that don’t speak English. It’s a bunch of projects we need to identify.”
Mejia is taking a break from studying political science at FIU to run for commissioner. The aspiring attorney has been living in the city since 2008, and said it’s time for a “revolution.”
“The common denominator is the lack of leadership, and I can’t stress enough the word lack because unfortunately that’s what is precisely on the commission,” he said. “That’s where I come in.”
Mejia said he would like to lower taxes, strengthen the relationship between FIU and Sweetwater and eliminate red light cameras.
“We have them [red light cameras] unfortunately, and it’s an invasion of privacy, an overreach of government and a poor use of income,” he said. “Residents hate it.”
The candidate said residents are saying, “hasta cuando,” or “until when” regarding the widespread belief that corruption is rampant in city government.
“I’m very humble, down to earth, and I don’t sugarcoat anything,” he said. “I think Sweetwater needs that. The politicians we had bend over backwards for a dollar. We need to start working for the residents and not for a dollar.”
In group three, Saul Diaz is facing off against Joniel Diaz, the son of former Sweetwater commissioner and Mayor Jose M. Diaz.
Saul Diaz said he’s been living in Sweetwater for about 20 years and he’s been attending commission meetings for the last seven.
“I want some change in the city,” he said. “There are people who have been there for 20 years. I ran two years ago and lost by 67 votes. I decided to run again because one commissioner who was there retired and now he wants to put his son in the seat. It’s not healthy for the city.”
The business owner said if he is elected, he wants to propose term limits.
“Two terms of four years is enough,” said Saul Diaz. “When you serve your community for so many years and then you leave with so much money in pension, I don’t see it.”
Saul Diaz said he plans to be neutral if elected.
“I’m confident I’m going to win this one,” he said. “I’m not going to be on nobody’s side, and if they ask me what side I’m on, I’ll say I’m with the community. We need to work for the community and nobody else, that’s how I look at it.”
Joniel Diaz did not return calls requesting comment.
Commissioner Isolina Marono is running for reelection against interim Commissioner Cecilia Holtz-Alonso, who was appointed to the group three seat in February.
Marono, who has been living in the city since 1971, was appointed to the group four seat in 2012 after her predecessor died in 2011. She won a full four-year term in 2013. She is also the mother of former Mayor Manuel Marono, who was sentenced to 40 months in prison for accepting bribes while in office.
Marono said she is running for reelection because she loves her job.
“I’ve been volunteering for the city for the past 25 years,” she said. “That’s why I’m running again. I plan to do exactly what I did the last 25 years and the last six years as a commissioner: answer the phone, help the people. Whatever they need, I’ll be there for them.”
She added that she is well-known in the community, and she plans to end division within the commission.
“I’m going to try to bring union in the commission,” she said. “I want to work together with the commission and the mayor and keep serving my citizens. A lot of people know about me.”
Holtz-Alonso did not return calls requesting comment.