Coral Gables

Commission candidates take questions on hot issues at voters’ forum

From left to right: Ariel Fernandez, Jackson Rip Holmes, P.J. Mitchell, Sandra Murado, Norman Anthony Newell and Jeannett Slesnick.
From left to right: Ariel Fernandez, Jackson Rip Holmes, P.J. Mitchell, Sandra Murado, Norman Anthony Newell and Jeannett Slesnick. MONIQUE O. MADAN

Six candidates running for Coral Gables Commission answered to their voters on Monday night as part of a forum held at the Coral Gables Congregational Church.

More than 100 people packed the place, so much that there weren’t enough chairs for those that trickled in.

Candidates running for Group V in the April 14 election shared their views on hot issues in the community including neighborhood schools, major developments, police staffing and garbage fees.

Eliott Rodriguez of CBS4 moderated. Seat V became vacant because Commissioner Bill Kerdyk will term-out after 20 years.

Running for his seat are: Ariel Fernandez, Jackson Rip Holmes, P.J. Mitchell, Sandra Murado, Norman Anthony Newell and Jeannett Slesnick.

Many of them had the same views on some topics. All candidates agreed that:

▪ Officers need to patrol the streets more, and that the police department needs to make speedy hires to fill up open officer positions

▪ Pensions need to be tweaked, although they didn’t present a solution.

▪ That the quality of life in Coral Gables is something that needs to be preserved.

The six candidates also discussed crime in the community, the recent spurt of residential burglaries in August 2014, Controlled Choice, street scape, Coral Gables’ trolley garage and garbage fees.

Sandra Murado, an immigration attorney in the Gables, was stern with her response to Fernandez, who proposed that the city eliminate garbage fees.

“It makes no sense to do that,” she said. “We have quality service.”

A big focus of the forum was The Mediterranean Village, a mixed-use highrise project that — if passed by the commission in the coming months — would be built on the former Old Spanish Village site on Ponce Circle.

The project would include a high-end hotel with 184 rooms; 314,000 square-feet of office space; restaurants, retail establishments, a gym and a multiplex cinema. Plans also include three residential towers with 214 condo units and 15 townhouses.

The candidates were split on whether this would be a good move for the city. Some said it would bring Coral Gables up to par with other cities with high rises, while others worried it would take attention away from Miracle Mile and cause congestion in a residential area.

Miracle Mile property owner and longtime activist Rip Holmes started perhaps the most memorable dialogue of the night.

Holmes won the audience over with laughter with his response to whether he supports Interim Police Chief Ed Hudak.

“Ed Hudak’s my homeboy,” he said. “Let’s make my homeboy permanent chief.”

Newell was quick to piggyback Holmes’ joke, adding that he admires the interim chief and that he would support him being promoted to a permanent position.

“It’s always good when a cop’s your homeboy,” Newell said.

Slesnick echoed her support, but struggled with the lingo.

“Homeboy. Hmm. A new term I’ve learned in life,” she said.

You can watch Group V’s conversation on Coral Gables TV on Wednesday, March 4 at 8 p.m., Friday, March 6 at 5 p.m. or Saturday, March 7 at 2 p.m.

Coral Gables voters will also be voting for mayor on April 14. A forum featuring the candidates in that race — incumbent Jim Cason and former commissioner Ralph Cabrera — will be will be held at the Coral Gables Congregational Church, 3010 DeSoto Blvd, on Monday, March 9, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Doors open at 6:45 p.m. for residents to submit questions. For details, email coralgablesforum@gmail.com.

Follow @MoniqueOMadanMH on Facebook; @MoniqueOMadan on Twitter.

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