On Nov. 6, Palmetto Bay residents will choose a mayor and two council members for districts 1 and 3, picking from among eight candidates who want those positions on the village council.
The race features some familiar faces.
Mayor Eugene Flinn, 56, was the municipality’s founding mayor. He served two terms from 2002 to 2010, a time marked, in part, by the start of a contentious battle against Palmer Trinity and its desire to expand that led to a flurry of lawsuits between the village and the private school. The skirmish lasted years into the term of the subsequent mayor, Shelley Stanczyk.
Flinn defeated Stanczyk four years later; term limits give him one more opportunity to run. He has two opponents, both of whom have served on the council. Tim Schaffer, 57, a business and retirement consultant, held the District 2 seat from 2012 to 2016. District 1 incumbent Karyn Cunningham, 55, a retired teacher, is leaving her council seat to aim for the mayor’s.
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Patrick Fiore, 62, is trying to regain the District 1 seat he held from 2010 to 2014, when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Stanczyk and Flinn. But to get there, Fiore, a retired vocational specialist for Camillus House, has to beat Anthony Gorman, 69, a construction quality control systems manager and political newcomer who is a member of the Palmetto Bay Business Association.
District 1 represents the northern portion of the village and District 3, the southern part.
District 3 incumbent Larissa Siegel Lara, who was a newcomer to politics in 2014 when she defeated village activist Henry Clifford, is not running again.
That seat will go to another first-time council member. Candidates are Marsha Matson, 73, an arbitrator for the Financial Services Regulatory Authority, who was involved with the steering committee that incorporated the South Miami-Dade village in 2002; Robert Buzzelli, 72, who resigned from the Services Advisory Committee to the council to run; and David Soderholm, 59, a political neophyte and traffic supervisor at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
So far, the candidates have raised a combined $138,346.24 — with Cunningham ($54,512) and Matson ($39,375) far ahead of their competitors as of the most recent filing date of Sept. 9. They have also spent the most in the race with Cunningham listing expenditures of $7,330, and Matson listing $9,817 so far.
Traffic would be the one issue on which these candidates could find agreement. They all point to congestion as one of the village’s — actually, the entire county’s — biggest challenges.
“We started an aggressive traffic calming program during 2004-2006, and I kept my promise and brought the focus on traffic calming back when I returned to office in 2014,” Flinn, an attorney, said. The city has also established one park and ride location that he negotiated so far, he said.
In February, Palmetto Bay moved to link its bus service, the I-Bus, with Florida International University’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus and with Miami Dade College’s Kendall Campus.
Flinn, who has raised $23,650 in contributions and has spent $4,495 so far, cites protection of the environment in Palmetto Bay, which is situated along Biscayne Bay, plus traffic, development, community safety and engagement as his key issues.
His largest donations include $1,000 contributions from Miami-Dade Firefighters Local 1403, Homestead’s Redland Market Village, and Florida Standing United PC, a not-for-profit political action committee based in Tallahassee. He took out a $10,000 loan for his campaign in March.
“I am fighting hard to save the unique and endangered 22 acres of pine rockland along Old Cutler Road at the Palmetto Bay Village Center,” he said. “I have worked hard to preserve this land and other property including ‘the woods’ along 168th and 88th — where I started that process back in 2007-2008 and came back this term to complete the acquisition and protection.”
In 2017, Cunningham, who spent 14 years with the United Teachers of Dade union, voted with the majority against allowing a developer to build 485 condos on the property that once housed Burger King’s corporate office, a decision that put her at odds with Flinn. He supported the project because of 40 acres of green space that the developer, Scott Silver, promised to donate in the form of rock pineland and wetlands along the bay to the city, with slightly more than half of the land pitched as a passive park.
In response to a Herald query on her candidacy, Cunningham called the 485-unit development “needless” and said condos on that site would “increase traffic in an area that lacks transit options and is not designated for density.”
Cunningham’s largest donations include three $1,000 contributions from United Teachers of Dade and a $1,000 contribution from fellow council member John DuBois. She cites development, “both economic and land use planning,” infrastructure, transit and traffic solutions” as Palmetto Bay’s pressing issues. “Community input is an essential component in planning and policy making,” she said.
Schaffer takes credit for trying to alleviate some of the village’s traffic issues. “When I was a council member I was the first to open up the discussions on the village’s traffic problems and I was the one that initiated the first traffic calming projects,” Schaffer said. “When I was a council member I created the Downtown Redevelopment Task Force along with our building director.”
He said residents urged him to run for election, including some who voted against him in 2016 and elected David Singer instead.
He lists $5,000 in his most recent campaign treasurer’s report, from a personal loan in May. He has spent $340.
Gorman, who lists $2,945 in contributions including $1,100 in loans he and wife Pamela made to his campaign, cites “control of density” in terms of number of people and “intensity” referring to number of buildings, and a revision of the current code in the downtown area as Palmetto Bay’s most pressing issues.
“Both of these issues are directly related to traffic volume, moving forward,” Gorman, a former Army Green Beret, said. “All streets in Palmetto Bay are, unfortunately, controlled by Miami-Dade Department of Public Works and Transportation. Therefore, it will be necessary to work closely with that agency to resolve current traffic issues.
“Additionally, the zoning of the FPL property situated at Southwest 152nd Street and the east side of 67th Avenue, is a major concern regarding development, as is the property at the Palmetto Bay Village Center,” he said. “My 35 years of construction experience building, and involvement in design of millions of dollars of projects, make me uniquely qualified to help lead the village forward in these critical times.”
Fiore, who has amassed $3,450 in contributions, said the most pressing issue for Palmetto Bay “is to retain the outstanding quality of life we have here, and enjoy the homes we live in.”
But there are obstacles, he acknowledges.
“Traffic and speeding through the village is the other pressing issue. It is something that the next council, with input from county and state officials, must be ready to address from day one, which is a quality of life issue, also,” Fiore said.
“I have a vision for this village of lower density, keeping our property values high, bringing a mode of civility back to the council, and helping each and every resident address their issue, which, along with my public and private experience, makes me the best candidate to tackle these issues on behalf of the residents of this village,” Fiore said.
Buzzelli, a political newcomer who spent 31 years with Miami Fire Rescue, calls traffic “the No. 1 issue with the residents I have spoken with. Development is next and the additional traffic that it will generate.”
He supports the installation of traffic calming devices, increased police patrols and sustainable development.
“One item I have been working on is creating a local school bus system to get between 200 and 300 cars a day off our streets and relieve stress from parents trying to get their children to school and themselves to work.”
Buzzelli has raised $5,887 in contributions, including $1,000 from Miami-Dade Fire.
Matson, who retired after 22 years teaching government at the University of Miami, said “unwanted high-density development and the crush of traffic overwhelming the village” are “by far, residents’ most pressing issues.”
She says she sees it at home.
“I live a few blocks from Franjo Road, one of the village’s development hotspots, which is becoming a concrete canyon of rental apartments. On a daily basis, I share with fellow residents a declining quality of life from the village leadership’s drive to create an urbanized center incompatible with our single-family residential community. My understanding of government and experience on a county zoning board give me the tools to rewrite the zoning code, advocate for lower density, and minimize traffic,” she said.
Miami-Dade Citizens for Property Rights contributed $1,000 to Matson’s campaign in August. She contributed $7,000 to her campaign in March and another $2,500 in the form of a loan in May.
Soderholm, who has $3,527 in contributions, including $1,000 from Daniel Padron in August, sandwiches traffic between safety and overdevelopment as his campaign issues.
“Traffic is an issue that [plagues] everyone in Dade County,” Soderholm said. “We need to find ways to get vehicles off the road. Countywide plans must be developed and make it pedestrian friendly. Public transportation that people understand would be helpful. An example would be to utilize the bus lane that runs south along U.S. 1 and maximize its potential. Very little traffic is on it as it exists.”
As to safety, Soderholm wants more police presence in the the community. He also says that “Palmetto Bay is 95 percent developed. With what’s left I don’t want to overdevelop. Areas that are zoned residential should match the existing residents. Areas of commercial zoning should balance in with the village.”
About the candidates
Occupation: Retired from teacher on special assignment with the United Teachers of Dade.
Education: Bachelor’s from University of South Florida, 1985; state certifications in elementary education and psychology; urban education certification from Florida International University, 1987.
Civic service: Incumbent Palmetto Bay District 1 councilmember (left seat to run for mayor). Greater Miami Chamber’s Leadership Miami Class of 2012; board memberships include the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment, advisory board of Common Threads, the Yaegar Foundation and the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center board. Also, Florida League of Cities Transportation and Intergovernmental Relations Committee and Chamber South board of directors.
Education: Bachelor’s degree from University of Miami, 1984; law degree from UM, 1987.
Civic service: Founding Palmetto Bay mayor; incumbent mayor. Memberships include Palmetto Bay Business Association, Palmetto Bay Garden Club, South Dade YMCA and Junior Orange Bowl Committee. Recipient of Chamber South’s Steven J. Cranman Professional Public Service Award.
Occupation: Business adviser, retirement consultant and investment adviser representative with RMR Wealth Builders. Retired reserve police officer with the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Education: Bachelor’s from University of Miami, 1982.
Civic service: former Palmetto Bay council member; University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame committee member, Village of Palmetto Bay Historical Preservation Board.
Occupation: Retired vocational specialist for Camillus House; assistant clubhouse director at NFC Amenity Management.
Education: Bachelor’s from University of Scranton, 1978.
Civic service: former Palmetto Bay council member, former member of the Palmetto Bay Charter Review committee.
Occupation: Construction quality control systems manager.
Education: Miami Dade College, former Army Green Beret, LEED accredited, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers certified Level 4 health and safety officer.
Civic service: Palmetto Bay Business Association, South Dade Chamber of Commerce, Military Affairs of the South Dade Chamber.
Occupation: Retired from City of Miami Fire Rescue; working for a Palmetto Bay law firm.
Education: Attended Miami Dade College. Graduated from the U.S. Army’s Artillery and Missile Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1968.
Civic service: Served on the Services Advisory Committee to the Palmetto Bay Village Council.
Occupation: Retired government professor at University of Miami; arbitrator for the Financial Services Regulatory Authority.
Education: Bachelor’s in history and master’s in political science from Kent State University, 1966 and 1968, respectively; Ph.D in political science and public administration from Northern Illinois University, 1978.
Civic service: Member of steering committee to incorporate Palmetto Bay; chair Community Council #13; former president of Old Cutler South Association; member Palmetto Bay Heritage Committee.
Occupation: Miami-Dade Public Schools teacher at Miami Palmetto Senior High; traffic supervisor for Homestead-Miami Speedway, Orange Bowl media relations.
Education: Bachelor’s Appalachian State University, 1982.
Civic service: Flotilla staff officer for Coast Guard Auxiliary.