Returning Hialeah to its good old years and improving public services — especially police and fire — are among the top priorities for most of the six candidates running for two city council seats on Nov. 7.
Some of the candidates have lived a long time in Hialeah, and they say that the city once was a good place to live and raise children. But now, Hialeah has many problems and local government is not taking good care of the citizens or its employees, they say.
And some say council members are too quick to vote the way the mayor recommends and need to decide for themselves how to vote on issues before the council.
City voters in District 5 will choose among four candidates, including three who have never held political office before — Ernesto Ávila, Juan Carlos Santana and Carl Zogby — and Ángel Fajardo, who served on the council a quarter-century ago, from 1992 to 1993.
They are running for the seat currently held by Luis González, who was first elected in 2005 and now cannot seek reelection because of term limits.
Ávila, a 53 year-old real estate agent, told el Nuevo Herald that one of his first tasks if elected will be to audit the city budget because the money “perhaps is being misappropriated.”
Ávila, who lived in Hialeah several years during his youth and returned eight years ago, also said he supports more programs for youths and the elderly, cutting water rates and increasing the number of police on the city’s force.
“We have too few policemen and a lot of crime,” said the Cuba-born Ávila, who moved to Florida at the age of 6. He added that his mission will be to fix the city’s problems and promised that “my doors will always be open to anyone, without appointment.”
Fajardo, a legal process server who is 75 years old and has lived in Hialeah since the 1970s, agreed the city needs more police to return to the safer times when he was a council member. Now, he says, the public’s perception is that Hialeah has the area’s highest crime rate. “Frankly, to me that’s embarrassing,” he said.
He wants the city council to again act as a place where ideas are debated for the good of its citizens, and not a place where every council member votes “yes” on whatever the mayor proposes, he says.
He opposes two measure on the ballot that would allow the city to sell certain properties it owns. “I don’t know why they want to sell city properties,” Fajardo said.
He wants to return to politics after more than two decades because “there are so many things that don’t work as they should in Hialeah, that I would like to be part of the possible difference.”
Two other candidates, Zogby, 55, and Santana, 59, did not respond to the Herald’s requests for interviews.
Zogby, who has worked more than 20 years for the Hialeah police department and currently serves as its spokesman, said he wants to increase safety, improve the streets and public transportation and keep taxes down.
Santana, a former Florida prisons department employee, wrote on his Facebook page that he considers himself to be “the voice of the anti-communist people of Hialeah” and opposes increasing taxes and garbage fees and hosting Cuban musicians who “represent the criminal communist tyranny.”
Voters in District 7 will choose between Katharine “Katy” Cue Fuente, the incumbent, and Rafael Gómez, a retired policeman who has lived in Hialeah for 34 years.
Cue Fuente, 30, was a member of Hialeah’s cultural affairs board before holding office, and she had also interned in the mayor’s office. She has a degree in organizational leadership from St. Thomas University. She did not respond to interview requests from the Herald.
Gómez told el Nuevo Herald that he has four key proposals. He would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour because the city has some of the highest rents in South Florida. That was tried in cities like Seattle and the results have been positive, he said. “People earn more money, buy more.”
Gómez, 56, said he also favors opening a nonprofit clinic in Hialeah to assist people who have no health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, especially because of the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
He also favors more parks “because people don’t have a place to relax, have a good time and breathe fresh air,” he said. He would also like to see higher salaries for firemen, police and emergency dispatchers because they are moving out of the city while council members “only say yes to whatever the mayor says,” he says.
Gómez, who was a school policeman for 26 years, said he became interested in running for office “when I saw what these politicians are doing … privatizing the schools, the garbage pickup.” He said that as a retiree, it’s his duty now to try to do something to improve the city.
Hialeah residents can find their voting centers on miamidade.gov/elections/voter-information.asp by typing in their name, date of birth and street address. Early voting is available at the John F. Kennedy Library, 190 W. 49th St., on Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 7p.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.