The campaign season leading up to the election where Sweetwater residents will choose the next mayor and three commission seats is down to the final stretch.
Friday marked the deadline for candidates to file to run in this year’s election on May 12.
Among the candidates are some new faces in a city where residents are accustomed to seeing the same people in every campaign poster. Some candidates said they see this election as an opportunity to choose between the old system that has been established for years or the chance to make changes in the city.
These are the first elections in Sweetwater then-Mayor Manuel “Manny” Maroño was arrested in 2013, along with a series of scandals of alleged police and administrative corruption in the city. The city commission now is divided into two groups and voters will decide who will maintain power.
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“In the 18 years I have lived [in Sweetwater], there have been scandals and irregularities,” said Saúl Díaz, who is running for the Group 7 commission seat against Manuel Duasso — who has been a commissioner since 1995 and seeks reelection. “I don’t believe in having the same people in power for years and years. Change is what this city needs.”
Díaz’s campaign has been supported by Orlando López, a mayoral candidates who has been a city commissioner for 13 years.
López is facing José M. Díaz, who was appointed mayor after Maroño’s arrest during the summer of 2013 in a public corruption case.
José M. Díaz was a commissioner for 12 years and now seeks to stay on as mayor. The other two mayoral candidates are Nicaraguan residents Deborah Centeno and Douglas Mayorga.
Centeno run and lost twice for the commission, including in 2013 against Isolina Maroño, mother of ex-mayor Manny Maroño.
If elected, either Centeno or Mayorga would become the first Nicaraguan to win a seat in the city government, despite the large concentration of Nicaraguan residents in Sweetwater since the 1980s.
However, both candidates have collected significantly fewer campaign donations than their opponents. The most recent campaign reports show Centeno has $6,871, while Mayorga only has $50. In comparison, José M. Díaz collected $81,724 by the end of February, the most recent report available, while López has $115,150, according to his March report.
The other candidates running for commission seats are José Guerra, who has sided with López, and seeks reelection in Group 5. His opponent is Idania Llanio. In Group 6, Commissioner Prisca Barreto, who has sided with Mayor José M. Díaz, also seeks relection. Her opponent is Elsa Thompson.
Thompson said she is running commissioner because she considers herself a community activist and hopes to improve conditions for the senior citizens in Sweetwater.
“There is a lot left to do still,” said Thompson, whose campaign is aligned with López’s group. “I want to work in harmony with the mayor and commissioners.”
Llanio said she is tired of the negative headlines Sweetwater had produced in the last few months and she hopes to help make a change.
“What I can promise is that I will do the best I can so that the city can be alright again,” said Llanio, who has been living in Sweetwater since 1974. “I want to improve the activities available for the children and the elderly, so the quality of live improves for them.”
The new candidates said they hope that this year, unlike in previous elections, there will more participation on Election Day. In May 2013, only 17 percent of the 8,625 residents who were registered to vote in Sweetwater participated, according to the Miami-Dade County Elections Department. Of these, more than 70 percent voted through absentee ballots.
▪ Mayor: Jose M. Díaz, Orlando López, Deborah Centeno and Douglas Mayorga.
▪ Group 5 Commission Seat: José Guerra and Idania Llanio.
▪ Group 6 Commission Seat: Prisca Barreto and Elsa Thomspon.
▪ Group 7 Commission Seat: Manuel Duasso and Saúl Díaz.