River Cities

Election season under way in Miami Springs

With the holidays approaching, not many paid attention to Tuesday, Dec. 23, but that was officially the day the qualifying period opened for anyone interested in running for Miami Springs city council or mayor in next April’s biannual municipal election.

And if the large number of residents who picked up “packets” is any kind of early indicator, it could be a very interesting and crowded political season in Miami Springs, as a dozen people have already picked up the necessary paper work.

Leading the way and the highest-profile early challenger is local icon and the “Sam Malone” of Miami Springs, Fred Suco.

Suco, who purchased Woodys West End Tavern four years ago and has diligently worked to turn it into one of the most popular watering holes in town, is no newcomer to the political arena.

Not only did he run for city council in 2009, losing to George Lob for the Group III seat, but also ran for mayor all the way back in 1995, losing to John Cavalier. It was confirmed by City Clerk Erika Gonzalez-Santamaria on Friday, Jan. 2 that Suco not only had acquired the necessary 50 signatures and turned everything in, but that Miami-Dade County elections had gotten back to the city and informed them that he was officially qualified to run for the mayor’s seat.

“Out of respect for the qualifying process, I really don’t want to get into any specifics right now as far as reasons for running, political agendas or anything like that,” said Suco. “Once the qualifying period is over and all candidates are in place for each of the respective seats they wish to run, I’ll be happy to talk then.”

Not that there was a great deal of suspense in whether Zavier Garcia would run for a third consecutive term as the city’s mayor, but Garcia, who was out in front of city hall last week headed for his car, confirmed to the Gazette that he indeed will seek his third term and run against Suco in the April 7 election.

“Out of respect for the holiday season, I refrained from campaigning until after the new year,” said Garcia. “So, yes, I will be seeking another term as mayor of Miami Springs and will place my positive record and re-election fate in the hands of the residents. If the voters are happy with my work ethic and the passion with which I serve our community, then they will honor me with another term as their mayor.”

The qualifying period Suco referred to is a 60-day window in which any Springs resident wishing to run for a seat is entitled to do so but must pick up the necessary paperwork first from the City Clerk’s office.

The “packet,” as it is popularly referred to, contains all of the necessary information forms for each person to fill out as far as personal information, qualifying documents, treasurer’s report, deadline dates and the form to gather the required 50 signatures.

Including Suco and Garcia, a total of 12 packets have been picked up so far. Picking up a packet does not necessarily mean someone is running for a seat, only that perhaps there is interest on the part of that individual. Each one has until 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 20 to turn in their paper work with the required signatures. Even then, they are not officially qualified until the city hears back from the Miami-Dade County elections department with the final approval, which with rare exceptions is usually a rubber-stamp process.

Interestingly, the husband/wife duo of Martin and Kathie Marquez have both picked up packets. Martin, who has unsuccessfully run for a council seat in the past, his last effort coming in a 2007 defeat to Garcia in the Group III race, will run for the Group IV seat that Jaime Petralanda currently resides in.

This would be a first political venture for Kathie Marquez, who, according to her initial form sheet, had signed up to run for mayor before crossing it out and indicating she would run for the Group III seat that George Lob occupies. While Petralanda was not among the dozen people who had picked up a packet, Lob was, so he will look to retain his seat for what would be his fourth and final term. When reached on Monday, Petralanda did confirm to the Gazette that he will be picking up a packet soon and will be looking to retain his Group IV seat for a second straight term.

Another interesting storyline could be the return of Bob Best. Best, who occupied the Group I seat for eight years (2005-13), was forced to step aside two years ago due to term limits, but has picked up a packet and even though was noncommital as to which group seat he would seek, could possibly go after his old seat, which Michael Windrem captured two years ago and intends to run for again.

Other people who have picked up their paper work include a pair of candidates who ran unsuccessfully two years ago — Constantino Hernandez and Nestor Suarez — neither indicating which group seat they would run for; Rosie Buckner, wife of Miami Springs police officer Ray Buckner, who signed up for Group III; and two relative unknowns, Michael Kosiakov and Melissa Patricia Lanza, neither of which committed to a group seat.

The one name we haven’t mentioned and the one group nobody has initially committed to run for is Billy Bain’s Group II seat. Bain was the city’s mayor from 2003 to 2011, ran away with his race when he ran for council two years ago and, when reached by the Gazette on Monday afternoon, indicated he will seek to retain his Group II seat.

According to Gonzalez-Santamaria, nobody has to commit to a particular group at the time they pick up their paper work but must indicate what group they are running for once they start gathering signatures.

Follow the Gazette each week between now and election day for regular updates on all of the various political races. The Gazette also will be publishing a special Election Section as the April 7 election approaches.