Miami Lakes, which sprouted up amid rustic dairy farms, fancies itself as a fictional Mayberry with its very own Main Street.
But the tree-lined town — burgeoning with 30,000 residents and hundreds of businesses — has been forced to reckon with the urban ills of congestion, traffic and development that now dominate issues in the local election on Nov. 8.
“We’re struggling to maintain the balance by creating economic development without sacrificing the quality of life in our community,” said Mayor Michael Pizzi, who cruised to victory in the 2012 election.
But this fall’s mayoral race is expected to be more difficult for the two-term mayor: Pizzi, 53, an attorney, is still rebounding from a bribery trial that ended with his acquittal in 2014 and a costly fight with his fellow council members over his reinstatement. His two challengers are Wayne Slaton, 64, an electrician who served two terms as mayor after the town’s incorporation in 2000, and incumbent Councilman Manny Cid, 33, a commercial property manager and former legislative aide who was raised in Miami Lakes.
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In the at-large council race for seat 1, incumbent Nelson Rodriguez, 47, a Coral Gables firefighter, faces opposition from Alex Dehghani, 36, a civil attorney, and Xiomara Pazos, 59, who operates a medical transportation business.
In the at-large race for seat 3, incumbent Tony Lama, 38, a director for a software company, squares off with Elizabeth Delgado, 52, a defense attorney and former state prosecutor.
And, in the at-large race for seat 5 that is currently held by Cid, there are three candidates: Luis Collazo, 43, a social worker and advocate for senior citizens; Esther Colon, 62, a retired government administrator; and Nayib Hassan, 38, a criminal defense attorney.
The mayor’s race has set the stage for the town’s election: Pizzi is casting himself as a fighter, Slaton is touting his experience, and Cid is portraying himself as a symbol of the new generation of local leaders.
“We’re at a political crossroads,” said Cid, who called the upcoming election “the most important” since the town’s inception.
So far, Cid has raised $60,000 for his campaign — twice Pizzi’s fundraising effort and eight times Slaton’s.
Pizzi accused Cid of taking money from “special interests.” But Cid said he raised the funds from “Miami Lakers” who want to help him compete against “two guys with household names.”
Slaton said he is running a frugal campaign that aims to unify the community around protecting the town’s “standards.”
“We’re starting to reach that point where our standards are not as high as they once were,” Slaton said.
Slaton, who was appointed as mayor to replace Pizzi while he fought corruption charges in 2013-14, said the upcoming election is critical “because the town council under the current leadership is foundering.”
But Pizzi, who launched his political career fighting rock miners two decades ago and now finds himself at odds with fellow council members, said he is the only politician who can “stand up” to developers who threaten the town’s way of life.