Miami-Dade County

Defeated Miami-Dade commissioner Bell cites ‘bitter’ battle, special interests in loss

Outgoing Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell on Wednesday tied her defeat at the polls to “a bitter battle between the demands of special interests and the values most of our County’s residents hold dear,” as she vowed to make her final months in office productive.

Supporters “can rest assured that while I serve out the remainder of my term as your County Commissioner, I will continue to champion the causes and initiatives our community needs, while remaining true to my convictions,” read a statement by the one-term commissioner posted on her campaign’s Facebook page. She declined an interview request. About Tuesday’s vote, Bell’s statement said, “the people have spoken and I respectfully accept their decision.”

The Facebook posting didn’t mention Bell’s winning opponent in the District 8 race, Daniella Levine Cava, who on Tuesday became only the third person in 20 years to unseat an incumbent Miami-Dade commissioner. The tensions from the costliest commission race in history showed no hint of easing, with Levine Cava saying she had yet to hear from Bell. Asked what surprised her most in the race to represent the South Miami-Dade district, Levine Cava cited Bell’s campaign.

“Deception dominated the public discussion,” said the former director of Catalyst Miami, a nonprofit focused on low-income programs. “She tried to the tarnish the reputation of my non-profit, and me as a non-profit leader… She diminished my history of service in Miami-Dade, making it seem like I was a newcomer.”

With a 688-vote margin, Levine Cava took 52 percent of the vote to Bell’s 48 percent. The nearly final tally according to Miami-Dade’s election website: Levine Cava with 9,078 votes and Bell with 8,390.

Four commissioners faced reelection challenges in Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary, which result in a November runoff election if a candidate fails to win more than 50 percent of the vote. That can only happen when three or more candidates run, and Levine Cava’s primary win makes her a commissioner-elect. She plans to meet Wednesday with County Attorney Robert Cuevas to discuss her new status, including her obligations under Florida’s open-records and open-meeting laws until she takes office in November.

The three incumbents who won reelection Tuesday — Jean Monestime in District 2, Javier Souto in District 10 and Jose “Pepe” Diaz in District 12 — dominated their opponents on all fronts, according to detailed figures behind the tallies released Tuesday. Monestime, the one incumbent to face two opponents, finished with 64 percent of the vote, while Souto took 78 percent and Diaz took 73 percent.

Of all commission candidates on the ballot Tuesday, Souto — now in his third decade as a commissioner — won the most votes, with a total of 12,990. Sixty percent came from absentee ballots in his western district, which has the second-oldest constituency among the county’s 13 commission districts. Souto received more absentee-ballot votes than Bell and Levine Cava did combined, with 7,880 for Souto and 6,750 for the District 8 candidates.

Monestime had the most fruitful early-voting campaign, taking the largest tally of any candidate with 2,712 early votes. The first-term commissioner also commanded the most support on Election Day itself, winning 4,787 votes on Tuesday.

While Bell bested Levine Cava in absentee ballots with a 520-vote edge, she faltered in both early voting (Levine Cava held a 907-vote edge) and on Election Day itself (which Levine Cava won by 301 votes).

In her first full day as an incoming commissioner, Levine Cava laid out her transition plan and confirmed she would be moving District’s 8 office out of rented space in Palmetto Bay and into a county building in the Cutler Bay area.

During the campaign, Levine Cava knocked Bell for moving the district office into a private building, where the rent costs about $62,000 a year, rather than staying with the free space in the county’s South Dade Government Center. Levine Cava said the office will move back to the center. Bell had described the private location as more convenient for the district.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who raised money for Bell and counted her as a commission ally against the unions that endorsed Levine Cava, called the newly elected commissioner Wednesday morning to offer congratulations. “He told me he looked forward to working with me,” Levine Cava said.

With less than three months until she takes office, Levine Cava said she will be holding briefings with county officials, meeting with commissioners and local elected leaders, and establishing “kitchen cabinets” to advise her on various issues, including transit, water supplies and small-business development.

“I know the learning curve is going to be very steep,” she said. “I don’t want to lose time.”