After coming within 200 votes of losing his seat two years ago, Philip Stoddard, South Miami mayor and solar energy champion, will once again face off against his predecessor in next week’s election.
Stoddard — known for his commitment to solar energy and feuds with Florida Power and Light — has beat former mayor Horace Feliu several times since defeating the incumbent in 2010. After his narrow victory in the last election, however, winning a two-year term on Tuesday may require more than a strong record as an advocate for the environment.
His opponent, Feliu, is an adjunct algebra and biology professor at Fortis College and the president of SterilQuip, a biomedical engineering company, who served as mayor from 2002 to 2004 and from 2006 to 2010.
Stoddard, who teaches biology at Florida International University, made his political debut in 2010. He was upset at then-Mayor Feliu’s endorsement of FPL’s plans for a nuclear power plant nearby, and his acceptance of $1,250 in campaign contributions from FPL officials after voicing his support. Feliu said he has not accepted any such donations this time around.
Last year, Stoddard made Florida history when the City Commission passed a solar energy ordinance he championed requiring every new home built in the city to feature solar panels. Although he borrowed the idea from a city in California, the plan is the first of its kind in Florida.
As in other South Florida cities, development is a key issue in South Miami — and in this campaign. At a mayoral debate last week, Feliu slammed Stoddard’s handling of a 16-story development project at Shops at Sunset, which some residents have opposed.
Feliu implied his administration took concerns of residents more seriously, and said the city should have pushed for an independent traffic study as opposed to one funded by the developers.
“Unfortunately in this case, with the Shops at Sunset, it was rolled out in a manner that it was either ‘My way or the highway’ and that wasn’t the way to do business with the city of South Miami,” Feliu said. “When the traffic studies are conducted by the developers, it’s not likely that we’re gonna see an objective approach.”
Stoddard said the city would host workshops prior to construction to hear residents’ input.
“We don’t have the dates yet, but I’ve spoken to the developer and they’re quite agreeable to it,” he said.
Stoddard said the city fared far better under his administration than it did under Feliu’s, citing lower crime rates, the introduction of solar energy cooperatives and less turnaround in administrative positions.
“We’ve stabilized the city in my term,” Stoddard said.
Stoddard fought FPL’s plan to run high-power transmission lines in the area, an issue eventually settled by the county, who will pay FPL to bury the lines. He wants the city to have expanded bicycle lanes, speed bumps and traffic circles, along with transitional zoning between residential and commercial areas. He also stresses improving the city’s current parks and adding smaller “pocket parks.”
During a candidate forum on Feb. 1, Feliu said that among his top priorities would be building a “vibrant downtown” in the city without worsening traffic or congestion.
“The city of South Miami is not Coral Gables or downtown Dadeland,” Feliu said. “We want to be something in between, a city that embraces the residential component of our community. But we need a vibrant downtown. The issue right now is how do we blend the two where we don’t impact negatively on traffic and congestion.”
Feliu was arrested a day before the 2004 election on a charge of accepting an illegal campaign contribution as mayor, but was later acquitted. He then sued the state, county and city officials for false arrest. A federal judge dismissed his case.
Stoddard has raised $26,541 and has $12,668 on hand, according to his most recent campaign finance report. Feliu raised $19,650 but spent more than Stoddard, leaving him with $747 in his account.
Voters will also cast ballots to fill two commission seats.
In group 1, with incumbent Gabriel Edmond not seeking a second term, the candidates are: Velma Palmer, a former South Miami commissioner and vice mayor; Gary Robinson, a realtor who was banned from a Coral Gables Publix last month for alleged shoplifting; Sandra DiMare-Vivar, a business owner; Luis J. Gill, an IT project manager at Baptist Health South Florida; and Donald D. Jackson, a graduate student at the University of Miami and a community activist.
In group 4, incumbent Walter Harris, who was elected to the commission in 2010 and served as vice mayor for two years, will take on Mark Lago, who works for a mortgage lender, and William Lapane, who worked as a caregiver until last year.