For the second time in two years, Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli won re-election Tuesday against longtime rival Jeannett Slesnick.
And similar to the 2017 mayoral election between the two, the election night victory came down to the wire. Just 123 votes separated the candidates.
Did he feel Déjà vu?
“No,” he said Tuesday night from his victory party at the Knights of Columbus Hall in the Gables. “This is not horseshoes.”
His 50.72 percent of the vote just barely surpassed Slesnick’s 49.28 percent, according to unofficial results posted by Miami-Dade County’s Elections Department on Tuesday night. Just over 25 percent of the city’s 33,194 registered voters cast ballots in the election, about the same as in 2017.
“I am very very pleased that the residents of Coral Gables have chosen me again,” said Valdés-Fauli, 75. “It doesn’t get any easier but I’m very, very grateful for the people of Coral Gables.”
Slesnick, 71, the former commissioner, couldn’t be reached for comment.
In the Group IV commission race, there will be an April 23 runoff as none of the four candidates received 50 percent of the vote.
Former longtime city commissioner Ralph Cabrera, 60, who won 39.76 percent of the vote, will face off against political newcomer Jorge Fors, 35, who received 30.74 percent.
A difference of 753 votes separated the two Tuesday night.
In a close third, former Coral Gables assistant city manager Carmen Olazabal received 26.27 percent of the votes. Real estate agent Jackson “Rip” Holmes received just over 3 percent of the votes.
The winner of the runoff will serve for the next four years. Valdés-Fauli will serve another two years.
In a race defined by the city’s development — or overdevelopment, depending on whom you ask — the candidates offered starkly distinct visions for the city.
Valdés-Fauli, who first served on the Gables city commission in 1985 and became mayor in 1993, argued for what he called “smart development.” His vision is to add density to the downtown area to attract young professionals and maintain low property taxes.
Slesnick, whose fund-raising was dwarfed by that of her developer-backed opponent, fashioned herself a champion of the common voter who had grown weary of balcony views marred by construction cranes and a high-rise boom. After losing by 187 votes in 2017, she felt the political wind at her back this time around.
“She led a one-issue campaign but the residents of Coral Gables decided there were other things [that merited consideration],” Valdés-Fauli said.
The city’s growth issues fueled big money from developers. Valdés-Fauli raised about $250,000, much of that coming from large developers, real estate entities and others connected to building up the city. In March alone, he raised $29,500.
By contrast, Slesnick’s money came primarily from individuals who gave smaller donations. She raised $182,000 but $100,000 represented a loan she made to the campaign.
In March, Slesnick collected $1,000 from one real estate person — Ron Shuffield, president of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell (EWM). Slesnick was a longtime real estate agent at the firm before starting her own realty firm.
During his campaign, Valdés-Fauli touted the city’s low property tax rates and ever-rising property values, the completion of the $24 million streetscape project on Miracle Mile and Giralda Plaza and the addition of high-tech policing.
Elsewhere in Miami-Dade County, voters in the Village of Miami Shores elected Crystal Wagar as mayor and Councilwoman Alice Burch as vice mayor. Wagar is the former chief policy aide and chief of staff to then Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jimmy Morales, now Miami Beach’s city manager. Her husband is the co-chair of the Mercury public strategy firm and former U.S. ambassador to Singapore.
The current mayor, Mac Glinn, did not run and will resign this month. Incumbent Councilman Jonathan Meltz won re-election, but voters will likely have to break a 893-893 tie between candidates Christian Ulvert, a political consultant, and former Shores Vice Mayor Stephen Loffredo during a runoff to be held April 30 — unless the results of a recount later this week find one of the two to be the victor.
Wagar and Burch will be appointed mayor and vice mayor, respectively, and serve for two years in those positions before serving another two years as council members. Meltz and the winner of the runoff will serve two-year terms on the council.