As an island with some of the most expensive real estate in the Miami area, Key Biscayne may seem like an affluent enclave removed from big-city problems. But that pricey location has also sparked some of the biggest challenges facing candidates in the village’s fall elections, including the effects of climate change.
Candidates for the November contests are promising to tackle a string of Key Biscayne woes tied to its exclusive location on the ocean, including repeated warnings of unsafe water at the island’s beaches and big spending on the village’s plan to address rising sea levels.
The village elections include a two-person race for Key Biscayne’s first open mayoral seat in eight years. The pending turnover will be closely watched in the enclave of 11,000 mostly affluent residents.
“People are pretty much always engaged,” said outgoing Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay, who is finishing up her second two-year stint as the village’s ceremonial leader before term limits kick in this November. “They show up. They go to meetings.”
It’s an island village small enough that everybody votes at the local community center, and affluent enough that one candidate’s platform includes more parking for golf carts.
Running to succeed Peña Lindsay are a current member of the village council, Luis “Lucho” de la Cruz, and a former member, Michael Davey. De la Cruz is pitching himself as the right person to extend Key Biscayne’s progress and address some complicated issues, while Davey casts himself as an outsider.
“This Council has been beset by in-fighting and glory seeking, at the expense of our residents,” Davey, 52, said in response to written questions the Miami Herald sent to Key Biscayne candidates. “Despite the best efforts of certain members, this Council has not been able to accomplish much of note.” He said he wants the new council to press Miami-Dade to revive efforts to replace the aging Bear Cut bridge, which is part of the lone route to the mainland for residents.
De la Cruz focused on the council’s ongoing efforts to address problems. Key Biscayne’s beaches have been subject to health warnings for potential fecal contamination of the water — problems that can be caused by sewage leaks, storm runoff and other factors. De la Cruz said he pushed Key Biscayne to pay for its own testing on the source so the village wouldn’t have to rely on state and county regulators for information.
“We’re awaiting the results so we can determine the next step in dealing with the bacteria,” said De la Cruz, 65. He also said he would push for urgency in addressing nuisance flooding across the island. “We need to address ASAP our storm drainage system,” he said.
Both De la Cruz and Davey are lawyers. De la Cruz moved to Key Biscayne in 1972, and Davey arrived about 15 years ago. Davey served on the village council for the maximum eight years, between 2006 and 2014. De la Cruz has been on the council since 2014.
They’re running for a ceremonial post, since the mayor’s main role is to preside over meetings of the seven-member village council. Administrative power rests in a village manager hired by the council, which includes the mayor.
“I have one vote like everybody else,” Peña Lindsay said.
Three of the six council seats are up for election this year. The mayor serves two-year terms, and council member terms last four years.
Five council candidates are running for the three at-large seats, so each Key Biscayne voter can cast ballots for up to three candidates. The top three finishers win. No incumbents are in the commission race, though two have served on the board before. The five candidates are:
Jeffrey Gonzalez: Gonzalez, 43, is a first-time candidate who wants Key Biscayne to step up a planning process to confront flooding across the island. He sees the threat as potentially dire for the ritzy real estate that fuels Key Biscayne’s prosperity.
“The biggest long-term challenge that [Key Biscayne] faces is chronic flooding that drives fear and uncertainty, which will impact property values dramatically,” said Gonzalez, a marketing manager who moved to Key Biscayne three years ago. He also cites a short-term problem — pedestrian safety — and said his first act as a council member would be to push for a local crossing-guard program on busy Crandon Boulevard.
Luis Lauredo: Lauredo, 68, served on the original village council nearly 30 years ago, when Key Biscayne broke away from Miami-Dade and formed its own municipality in 1991. He’s a former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States under President George W. Bush and was an organizer of various hemispheric summits and initiatives in the 1990s and 2000s.
He has lived in Key Biscayne for 37 years. Asked the top challenge facing Key Biscayne, Lauredo said he wanted to see the newly elected government consider what residents wanted when they formed their own local government nearly three decades ago. “We need to pause and analyze our progress,” said Lauredo, who has worked in banking, healthcare and international business. The council needs to “make sure we are in line with the original intent of the citizens that created the Village of Key Biscayne.”
Edward London: London, 78, served on the village council between 2012 and 2016. He wants closer oversight by the board of village operations, including detailed monthly reports on results. He wants the village to hire a chief financial officer who would report to the village council and “work with” the village manager.
He also wants to ask voters to approve zoning rules that would make it easier for assisted-living centers to operate in Key Biscayne. London wants more parking for cars, bikes and golf carts, and faster progress on the village’s list of capital projects, including stormwater drainage “today” and sea-level measures “tomorrow.”
“Having served four years on council, I had no intentions of serving again,” said London, who moved to Key Biscayne in 1973 and is chairman of the village’s pension board for police and firefighters. “But I am frustrated by the lack of progress in moving forward with the capital projects.”
Ignacio Segurola: This is the second run for village council by Segurola, a 44-year-old lawyer who has lived on the island since 1999. He’s been vice president for six years at Casa del Mar, the condominium building where he lives, and has also been the vice chairman of Key Biscayne’s task force for studying the burying of utility lines.
For Key Biscayne’s top challenge, Segurola cited the long list of projects being eyed by the local government — drainage improvements for storm water, more playing fields and parks, beach renourishment, and overall planning for sea-level rise. “All of these are big-ticket items that will require a comprehensive plan,” he said. “Without proper and forward-looking planning, the projects will not get done and a lot of taxpayer monies may be wasted.”
Tony Winton: First-time candidate Winton, 57, is a former Associated Press reporter who cites his experience “asking questions, getting facts, and simply listening” as good experience for joining the village council. He’s lived in Key Biscayne for 15 years, and his responses on the village’s top challenges sounded the loudest alarm on sea-level rise among his fellow candidates.
“Key Biscayne could be inundated within a couple of short decades,” he said. “We may be looking at financially devastating conditions on this island. With stakes this high, we can’t afford to be passive, nor leave our future in the hands of the County or other municipalities.”
Winton said he’d like to see the council promptly develop a strategic plan with realistic deadlines for the island’s projects, which Key Biscayne’s paid administrators could then implement. He said burying the village’s power lines was a “no-brainer” project, but one that requires a referendum and a plan that shares the burden fairly between homeowners and businesses.
Candidates were mostly opposed or neutral toward a proposed charter change facing Key Biscayne voters in November that would eliminate special elections to fill vacancies for elected posts. The process currently allows the remaining members of the village council to elect replacements for members who vacate their offices with less than six months remaining in their terms. An appointment is also allowed if less than a year remains on the former member’s term and there’s no village or countywide election already scheduled before the date that would mark six months until the term expires. Otherwise, a special election is called to fill the post.
The proposed charter amendment would eliminate special elections to fill vacant posts and allow the council to appoint all replacements.
Key Biscayne’s existing formula is complicated enough that the ballot language leaves out the details, stating: “The Village Charter currently provides different methods for filling vacancies that occur during Council terms. Such methods include by Council appointment or by special elections. It is proposed that the Charter be amended to provide for the filling of such council or mayoral vacancies solely by an appointment made by the council. Shall the above described Charter amendment be adopted?”
De la Cruz, one of the two mayoral candidates and a council member, said he would prefer residents select replacement officeholders “but I will be fine with what voters decide on this matter.” Davey, his opponent, urged voters to reject the amendment, saying: “Whenever possible, the voters should have the right to pick a council member’s replacement, not the Council.”
Only Gonzalez, one of five council candidates, urged a yes vote on the measure, saying: “Holding a special election is not a smart use of funds when the Village Council would be best to select a knowledgeable candidate.”