Coral Gables

Coral Gables voters will return to the polls for the first runoff election in city history

Marlin Ebbert and Michael Mena are headed for a runoff for the Coral Gables Group 5 City Commission seat.
Marlin Ebbert and Michael Mena are headed for a runoff for the Coral Gables Group 5 City Commission seat. emichot@miamiherald.com

Election season is still going in Coral Gables as voters will return to the polls for the first runoff election in the city’s history.

The April 25 contest is between the top candidates in the Group 5 City Commission race: Marlin Ebbert and Michael Mena.

Ebbert, 69, is a retired teacher who has served on various city boards. Mena, 36, is an attorney with the law firm Akerman. For either candidate it would be their first time in elected office. Ebbert unsuccessfully competed for a commission seat in 2013.

The winner will serve the remaining two years of Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick’s four-year term. She vacated the seat to run for mayor, but lost.

The runoff was almost guaranteed as the April 11 election featured four candidates who ultimately split the vote and prevented any candidate from getting the needed majority of 50 percent plus one vote.

Voters approved a city charter amendment in November 2016 to create runoff elections in the Gables.

Ebbert earned about 33 percent while Mena got about 44 percent of the vote. Their opponents, retired police officer Randy Hoff and civil engineer Serafin Sousa, secured about 18 and 5 percent, respectively.

Mena said he was encouraged by the support he got as a first-time candidate. He said he hopes to continue pushing his platform in the next week or so.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is working really hard getting out to the community,” Mena said.

He also defended the large amount of mailers his campaign sent out to residents and said that he wanted to make his message clear as he was jumping into city politics for the first time.

“I think the result of Tuesday’s vote in our race reflects people’s reactions to [the mailers] more than anything else,” Mena said.

Getting that message out was costly for the political newcomer as Mena spent about $119,000 of the $136,540 in campaign funds he raised through March 28. Ebbert raised a little more than $21,500 in that same amount of time, filing for office about a month after Mena did.

Ebbert said that she felt less nervous in this campaign compared to her 2013 run and said she will continue being visible at city events and listening to residents.

“I’ll be trying to get more support from some of the people that voted other ways,” Ebbert said.

And while development concerns and strategies have been major talking points of the campaign season and one of the reasons Ebbert decided to run, she and Mena both hope to address other issues before the runoff vote.

“While I appreciate the concern that certain residents have on the development issue, and I understand my opponent in the runoff has made it a key in her campaign, I think there’s a variety of issues facing the citizens of Coral Gables,” Mena said.

Addressing issues like traffic and public safety have been focuses of Mena’s platform. Ebbert said she agrees that those are important issues but she also has some other projects she’d like to tackle.

“I’ve been very involved in sustainability efforts and I want to continue that. I don’t want to be a one-subject candidate,” Ebbert said.

She has also pushed for changing the city’s elections to coincide with larger elections in November to improve voter turnout. Only about 26 percent of registered voters participated in Tuesday’s election.

The other races were settled Tuesday as former mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli won the mayoral seat over Slesnick. And Commissioner Patricia Keon was reelected to her Group 3 seat over former commissioner Wayne “Chip” Withers.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

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