With hands raised and closed eyes, Luigi Boria, a Venezuelan millionaire entrepreneur, joins more than a thousand other faithful in prayer and song every Sunday at the Alpha and Omega Christian church in southwest Miami-Dade.
Boria, who faces Frank Bolaños in Tuesday’s run-off election for Doral mayor, could be the first ordained minister of a Hispanic church to become mayor in South Florida.
“There is no faith in doubt,” said Boria, 54, a former councilman who says he has visited close to 5,000 homes in his quest to become only the second mayor to lead the young northwest Miami-Dade city. “I expect to win because I have worked hard.”
Yet Bolaños says that Boria’s candidacy is far from saintly.
He has criticized Boria as an ambitious entrepreneur who seeks to take advantage of the mayor’s office in order to benefit lucrative construction projects spearheaded by his children, a charge Boria has denied.
“Mixing politics and religion is dangerous, especially when an economic interest is involved,” Bolaños says. “He presents himself as a modest pastor, but what he is doing is financing a dirty war against his political opponents in order to win the election.”
Daniel Alvarez, professor of religious studies at Florida International University, said that Boria’s candidacy is exceptional because religious Latinos in the United States have historically observed a strict separation between church and state.
“It’s a very interesting case,” Alvarez said. “Normally religious Latinos do not feel they should get involved in politics.”
Boria’s case could open the door for other religious in the Hispanic community interested in occupying government positions, said Alberto Delgado, pastor of the Alpha and Omega church.
“At this time, God is opening doors for Christians to lead their community following Biblical principles,” Delgado said.
Boria was a Catholic until 1996, when he converted to the evangelical faith after recovering from hepatitis.
“I prayed a lot and one morning at dawn I felt bathed with energy,” said Boria. “My wife thought I was delirious. The fact is that I was later healed. It was hard for me to imagine that my children would lose their father at a young age, as it happened to me when I was 15.”
In 1973, Gaetano Boria, an immigrant from Sicily, was shot dead during a burglary at his store in Caracas.
After losing his father, Boria, the second of four siblings, started working as an orderly at the city’s military hospital, where his job was to transport corpses from the fourth floor to the basement.
Afterward, while working at a day job at the inventory department of General Motors in Caracas, he registered at the Central University of Venezuela to study biology. He later transferred to the School of Accounting at the Andrés Bello Catholic University, where he met his wife Graciela.
After he married in 1982, Boria worked selling books and later opened a sales outlet of computer equipment. Seven years later, he traveled to Miami to explore the possibility of becoming a computer distributor nd he founded his company, The Wise Computer, in Doral.
More than two decades later, the Borias are worth nearly $24 million, according to an August report by a Miami accounting firm. The couple’s yearly income last year was $1.8 million. His assets include a $700,000 house in Doral, a $1.9 million apartment in Miami Beach, as well as $450,000 worth of vehicles, among them the Maserati he drives.
Of the $494,000 of his campaign funds, $389,000 came from his own pocket, according to campaign filings.
The younger Borias have apparently inherited their father’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Public records show that in May his children — Alexander and María Lorena, 29 and 25 respectively — created Grand Floridian at Doral, LLC, in partnership with Juan Carlos Tovar, a young Venezuelan entrepreneur. The corporation owns 12 acres from 107th Avenue and 66th Street in northwest Doral and five acres in Homestead.
Alexander Boria said that he plans to build a development of 40 single-family homes on the Doral land, which cost close to $6 million.
Bolaños criticized Boria for not disclosing what he called “a potential conflict of interests” during a council discussion of the land adjacent to the Boria property.
Educational entrepreneur Luis Machado plans to build a charter school there, a prospect that could add to the marketability of nearby neighborhoods.
When the charter school issue came before the council, Boria left the meeting and did not vote.
Bolaños says that Boria should have publicly disclosed why he left the meeting.
“He should have explained it clearly,” he said.
Boria, elected to the Doral council in 2010, said that he reported the issue to the city attorney. Former councilman Pete Cabrera, who lost a run-off slot to Bolaños by only 73 votes in the Nov. 6 general election, also took Boria to task on the issue during the heated campaign season.
Cabrera nonetheless announced his support of Boria earlier this month.
And Boria has also nabbed other potentially key endorsements — those of former Miami mayors Joe Carollo, who also attends the Alpha and Omega church with Boria, and Maurice Ferré, who announced his support Saturday on local AM radio station Actualidad 1020.