Coral Gables

Race for Coral Gables commission seat draws two new candidates

Candidates for the Group 5 seat on the Coral Gables City Commission, from left, are Jolie Balido-Hart, Michael Mena and Randy Hoff.
Candidates for the Group 5 seat on the Coral Gables City Commission, from left, are Jolie Balido-Hart, Michael Mena and Randy Hoff.

As the Coral Gables election draws near, the field of candidates running for Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick’s seat is growing.

Two political newcomers have filed papers to run for the Group 5 seat in the April 11 election: Michael Mena, an attorney, and Jolie Balido-Hart, president and co-founder of public-relations firm Roar Media. Randy Hoff, vice president of the Coral Gables Fraternal Order of Police, previously filed to run for the seat.

Slesnick is vacating the seat to run for mayor.

Balido-Hart and Mena have never held public office but see this opening on the City Commission as a chance to shape the city’s future for coming generations.

“My wife and I are raising our daughter and we’ve got another one on the way,” Mena said. “I want to get involved in public service and shape the community they’re going to be growing up in.”

Mena is a partner at the Akerman law firm and said he sees reducing traffic, encouraging smart development and addressing sea-level rise as some of the most important issues for the city.

“I also want to continue to improve our parks. The city’s done some of that work already, but I think we can do more,” Mena said.

Balido-Hart said her decision was an extension of her service on the boards of organizations like City Year Miami and Big Brothers Big Sisters and the work her firm has done with organizations like the United Way and the Beacon Council.

“I think that being an entrepreneur and starting a business really says a lot about a person’s ability to create a plan and implement it,” Balido-Hart said. “I’m a person that knows what it takes to get things done.”

She hopes to use her communications background to encourage resident feedback. “I know how to listen to people and that’s something that I’m no stranger to,” Balido-Hart said.

She and Mena agree that issues like traffic and development are some of the biggest concerns in the Gables.

Slesnick currently faces one opponent in her bid for mayor: former Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli. Slesnick is running after about two years on the City Commission. Valdés-Fauli served as mayor from 1993 until 2001, when Slesnick’s husband, Don, defeated him at the polls. Don Slesnick then served as mayor for a decade.

Commissioners Vince Lago and Patricia Keon have also filed for reelection and currently have no opposition.

The official candidate qualifying period runs Feb. 20-24. Residents have until March 13 to register to vote in the election. Runoff elections are set for April 25 if any candidate doesn’t secure a simple majority — 50 percent plus one vote.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3