Coral Gables

As Coral Gables election day approaches, a final look at the candidates and issues

Candidates for Coral Gables mayor are Jeannett Slesnick, left, and Raúl Valdés-Fauli
Candidates for Coral Gables mayor are Jeannett Slesnick, left, and Raúl Valdés-Fauli

Change is coming to the City Beautiful. For the first time since 2011 Coral Gables will have a new mayor, and the City Commission will also seat at least one first-time politician after Tuesday’s election, in which three positions are at stake.

Whoever is elected will have to deal with issues like handling development, traffic and public safety as well as several concrete projects coming. A new public safety building is in the planning stage, work on Miracle Mile and Giralda Avenue’s streetscape is delayed but ongoing and, by early next year, developers expect to break ground on The Plaza Coral Gables (previously called the Mediterranean Village) project.

The City Commission has also acted to limit the use of Styrofoam and plastic bags, and there are ongoing legal battles and appeals of those decisions.

The seats up for election are mayor, with Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick running against former mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli; the Group 3 seat, where Commissioner Patricia Keon, looking for a second term, faces former commissioner Wayne “Chip” Withers, who previously served for 20 years; and the Group 5 seat, which will give one of four political newcomers a chance to make their mark. The seat is open because Slesnick vacated the position to run for mayor after serving two years out of her four-year term. The winner will serve the remaining two years.

The field is a mix of long-time and newer residents from varied backgrounds. The candidates are Marlin Ebbert, a retired teacher; Randy Hoff, a retired police officer; Michael Mena, an attorney; and Serafin Sousa, a civil engineer. Ebbert ran for City Commission in 2013 but was defeated by current commissioner Vince Lago.

A new wrinkle in this year’s election is that candidates now have to secure a simple majority (50 percent plus one vote) to win. In the past, the person with the most votes won, even if it was less than 50 percent. If no candidate secures that amount, a runoff election will be held April 25.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

GROUP 1

Jeannett Slesnick, 69

Occupation: Real estate broker

Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of Florida

Public service: Coral Gables commissioner since 2015

On the issues: “I just want to see enforcement of our current speed limits and let’s try that for a while and if that doesn’t work, then I’m for reducing them to 25 mph.”

“I want development that respects the surrounding neighborhoods and the neighbors.”

“I support our police and fire chiefs and I believe they should have full controls over their departments.”

Raúl Valdés-Fauli, 73

Occupation: Attorney, Fox Rothschild LLP

Education: Law degree, Harvard Law School; bachelor’s degree, Tulane University

Public service: City commissioner and vice mayor 1985-1989, mayor 1993-2001

On the issues:

“We had fiscal sanity in our city when my term ceased. I am worried about our future.”

“I think that we have to stick to our zoning code but also we have to have a rational interpretation of the zoning code depending on where the development is going to take place.”

“[Climate change] is not just a feel-good issue, it is a very vital issue for Coral Gables.”

GROUP 3

Patricia Keon, 68

Occupation: Retired nurse

Education: Bachelor’s degree in nursing, Barry College; master’s in public administration, Florida International University

Public service: Coral Gables commissioner since 2013

On the issues:

“I think the Miracle Mile streetscape program was well planned. This is a project that has been in need for the last 25 years as the Mile deteriorated and the shopping experience along that street deteriorated.”

“We will not remain static. If we remain static, we will regress. I believe Coral Gables is on the right track.”

“I think if we have good quality developers and they have property they want to develop we have to work with them.”

Wayne “Chip” Withers, 65

Occupation: President, Withers Transportation Services

Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of Florida

Public service: Coral Gables commissioner 1991-2011

On the issues:

“I really feel that the city of Coral Gables is a gift. I really feel that it’s important that we remember that gift through a historical perspective.”

“It’s very ideal for developers in Coral Gables right now and my concern as we plan the next 20 to 25 years, do we really have our game plan in place to handle that.”

“We need a vibrant downtown, we need a good main street. However Coral Gables has always based its reputation on sanctity and beautiful residential neighborhoods. I think that the city has to put the residential integrity ahead of the commercial development.

GROUP 5

Marlin Ebbert, 69

Occupation: Retired teacher

Education: Bachelor’s degree in anthropology, University of Pittsburgh

Public service: Coral Gables sustainability board member, Coral Gables Arts Cinema board member, former member of The Merrick House governing board

On the issues:

“If the residents have to stay within the rules so should the developers.”

“My biggest campaign promise is that I will never forget who I work for: you, the residents.”

“I promise to continue my sustainability programs pushing for greater recycling and greener measures.”

Randy Hoff, 52

Occupation: Retired police officer

Education: Bachelor’s degree, College of Central Florida

Public service: Former vice president of Coral Gables Fraternal Order of Police

On the issues:

“My stance on development is we have an admirable zoning code and we need to build within the zoning code and avoid the variances and changes to that code.”

“I’ve seen the city grow, I’ve seen the effects of development there, I’ve enforced the traffic laws. I don’t need to be an engineer to see what [development] does.”

“In the police department right now our biggest problem is not crime, it’s the residents feeling safe.”

Michael Mena, 36

Occupation: Attorney, Akerman LLP

Education: Law degree, Columbia University; bachelor’s degree, University of Miami

Public service: Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization citizens’ transportation advisory committee member

On the issues:

“What I think I would bring to this position is I would advocate for the people of Coral Gables as if they were my client.”

“I think the most important question in this campaign, and in any election, is what will you do for the city of Coral Gables?”

“We don’t have enough people out there patrolling in order to enforce the speed limit so we need actual [traffic] impediments.”

Serafin Sousa, 55

Occupation: Civil engineer, CFC & Associates

Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of South Florida

Public service: No previous offices held

On the issues:

“With the good building department we have, I want to help them out with public works projects and things like the streetscape project.”

“I want to help them out with dealing with climate change. We have aging infrastructure and have to deal with global warming.”

“I think they need somebody with a different frame of mind, not a lawyer or a typical politician.”

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