Miami-Dade’s 2018 political season officially began Monday when County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava filed for reelection.
Two years into her first term representing South Dade, the Democrat expects a challenger for next August’s election, according to a source familiar with her thinking. The first commission candidate to file for the 2018 elections, Levine Cava said Monday she’s used to having her political vulnerabilities overestimated.
“They thought I didn’t have a chance to win the first time, too,” she said.
Though incumbents rarely lose their seats on the 13-member board, newcomers are more vulnerable than most. Levine Cava narrowly ousted predecessor Lynda Bell in 2014 during Bell’s first four-year term representing Miami-Dade’s District 8. Levine Cava also has been an advocate for workplace-housing requirements, campaign-finance caps and other left-leaning causes opposed by lobbyists, developers and other stalwarts of the county’s political fundraising circuit.
“I am proud of the progress we’ve made in a short period of time,” Levine Cava said in a press release announcing the filing of her candidacy papers for District 8, which includes Homestead, Cutler Bay and Palmetto Bay. “I look forward to continuing to earn the voters' trust and deliver on even more promises for our residents and businesses over the next few years.”
Monday evening, a former paid field operative for Florida’s Republican Party unveiled a website criticizing Levine Cava’s personal wealth and voting record, including her opposition to the planned American Dream Miami mega-mall proposed in Northwest Miami-Dade. Titled “Keeping up with Cava,” the website features a caricature of Levine Cava in a convertible zooming past a country club, cash flying out of the vehicle.
“Basically I want to bring a conservative back to that seat,” said Jaime Figueras, a regional field director for the Florida GOP until December. “I think people need to take a serious look at Levine Cava.”
Levine Cava said that the photo of the waterfront home on the website isn’t hers, and that she doesn’t belong to a country club. “I canoe and raft,” she said.
While Levine Cava is the first to file for any of the six commission seats up for election in August 2018, conditions are ripe for an unusually high-profile cycle.
Sally Heyman, a veteran commissioner and Democrat representing District 4 on the coast, drew the ire of Miami-Dade’s Democratic chairman this year when she championed Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s new policy to detain local inmates being sought for deportation by immigration authorities. Jose “Pepe” Diaz, of District 12, faces his first reelection since a 2015 Key West drunken driving arrest (he refused to have his breath tested for alcohol during the incident and was acquitted in May).
The odd-numbered commission districts follow the election cycle for the mayor, and are voted on during presidential years. Even-numbered districts face elections two years later. Also up for reelection in 2018: District 2’s Jean Monestime, District 6’s Rebeca Sosa, and District 10’s Javier Souto.
While the first votes in the 2018 commission races won’t be cast for 17 months, the timing of Levine Cava’s filing isn’t unprecedented. Incumbent Audrey Edmonson filed her reelection papers for 2016 in March 2015, and fellow board member Barbara Jordan filed a month later.
Term-limit rules approved in 2012 went into effect only last year, meaning all but one of the commissioners not up for reelection in 2018 must leave office in 2020. The exception, Joe Martinez, replaced incumbent Juan C. Zapata in District 11 last year and is eligible to run for a second term. All of the incumbents whose seats are up for election in 2018 would be running for a final four years, though Levine Cava is the only one up for her second term on the board.
Because Martinez served on the commission before, Levine Cava retained her rookie status after he rejoined the board last year. The former director of Catalyst Miami, a leading social-services organization, Levine Cava won office with the support of the Democratic Party, unions and other mainstays of the left. Bell is a prominent Republican, and the race was seen as a proxy battle between the two parties.
The commission elections take place in two stages: a nonpartisan primary for each seat in August, and then a November run-off for any district where a candidate fails to capture more than 50 percent of the vote. Once the commission elections are over, fundraising efforts will turn to the 2020 mayoral race.
Term limits prevent Gimenez from running again, setting up a wide-open race that’s attracting the attention of commissioners and their supporters. Levine Cava is mentioned as a potential candidate, especially with Democrats seeing an opportunity to tap into the high turnout expected for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.
Other commissioner names making the rounds as potential mayoral candidates: Sosa, Monestime (who briefly flirted with an Gimenez challenge last year), Martinez (who lost to Gimenez in 2012), Xavier Suarez (a former Miami mayor who ran campaign ads against Gimenez in 2015 before opting against a challenge) and Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo, who represents District 13.