Miami Lakes

Pizzi seeks third term as mayor in Miami Lakes

Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi said he agonized over whether to seek a third term.
Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi said he agonized over whether to seek a third term. rkoltun@elnuevoherald.com

His Hamlet act is over: Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi — battered but not beaten by a barrage of setbacks — has finally decided this week that he will pursue a third term in a fall mayoral election that has already drawn three other candidates.

Pizzi, who was acquitted of federal bribery charges in 2014 and then spent months fighting town council members for his reinstatement as mayor, said he agonized over his decision.

Ultimately, it came down to his belief that he is the only Miami Lakes politician who can protect the peaceful, tree-lined town from outside urban development pressures and overcrowded schools in neighboring Hialeah and other growing areas of northwest Miami-Dade County.

“I’m very concerned about outside influences taking over our town and the lack of a strong advocate for Miami Lakes residents,” Pizzi, 53, said in an interview Wednesday. “I don’t see strong leadership on the town council taking on these outside interests.”

Pizzi said that he is troubled by a campaign finance law passed by the council after his arrest and suspension in August 2013 that allows contributions of up to $1,000 by corporations, political action committees and individuals. He said other candidates in the races for mayor and a handful of council seats are accepting big bucks from developers, PACs and others from outside the town.

“I am limiting my campaign to personal checks from Miami Lakes residents,” he pledged. “I am doing this to send a message. I am not taking money from special interests. If I lose, I lose.”

Pizzi said he’s also opposed to a proposal being considered by the Miami Lakes Charter Revision Commission that — if put on the ballot and approved by voters — would replace the elected mayor’s office with a rotating mayoral position selected from among the seven town council members. “I think it’s directed at me,” he said.

Pizzi, a lawyer who gained political stature as a community activist before being elected to the town council in 2000, has served two four-year terms as mayor. But the second term was marred by his indictment on charges of accepting more than $6,000 in illegal cash and campaign contributions during an FBI undercover investigation, forcing him to leave office in August 2013 as he awaited trial.

Pizzi was acquitted of all federal charges a year later. But the combative Brooklyn transplant had to sue Florida’s governor to revoke his suspension and then his adoptive town to be reinstated to his mayoral seat last April. The legal battles have cost Miami Lakes about $1 million.

So far, Pizzi is facing three well-established politicians in the November mayoral election: former mayor Wayne Slaton, who temporarily replaced Pizzi in a special election during his second term; Ceasar Mestre, a former Hialeah police officer and lawyer who is on the town council; and Manny Cid, another member of the council.

Mestre, perhaps Pizzi’s most formidable opponent, said he was a “little surprised” by his decision to seek re-election. Mestre said the mayor had told him that he did not want to run again because he would have to “relive” the disgrace of being accused of taking bribes.

Mestre and Slaton would be more likely to bring up Pizzi’s brush with the law during the mayoral campaign because they aggressively tried to block his reinstatement as mayor — despite his acquittal.

Mestre questioned Pizzi’s re-election platform, saying that he has created a “fiction” about outside development interests taking over Miami Lakes and that he — Pizzi — is the only politician who has the guts to stand up to them.

Pizzi said that he is troubled by a campaign finance law passed after his arrest and suspension that allows contributions of up to $1,000 by corporations, political action committees and individuals.

“Mr. Pizzi thinks he’s the only one who can run the town, but our town does not have a ‘strong’ mayor,” Mestre said. “It has a town manager who runs the town.”

Mestre objected to Pizzi’s characterization of him as being beholden to special interests and corporate contributors.

“We have to concentrate on the quality of life in our community,” he said. “A lot of people have expressed to me that we have to turn the page.”

Slaton, who had served as Miami Lakes mayor from 2000 to 2008, could not be reached for this story.

Cid, at 32 the youngest of the mayoral candidates, grew up in Miami Lakes politics. He plans to run a “positive” campaign about the town’s future and not wage a “litmus test” on the incumbent.

Said Cid: “It’s time for the baton to be passed.”

The qualifying deadline for the Nov. 8 general election runs from July 25 to Aug. 3.

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