Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: In praise of the good fight in Miami Beach, Hialeah

Tania Garcia
Tania Garcia hgabino@elnuevoherald.com

Headlines of political glory belonged to well-funded winners — incumbents all — but don’t dismiss the vigorous voices that emerged against overdevelopment.

Quality of life vs. density was on the ballot in Tuesday’s elections in Miami Beach and Hialeah, a theme hopefully here to stay countywide.

There was one big victory for preservation in North Beach, but pro-development incumbents mostly won. What else is new? Yet, the reelected, and those running in 2016, would be misguided to dismiss the discontent residents expressed in two of the county’s largest cities.

In Hialeah, the approval of a 250-unit rental apartment complex in an east side neighborhood of single-family homes gave rise to the first-time candidacy of homeowner and Realtor Tania Garcia. She didn’t win the election, but garnered 39.6 percent of the vote , an impressive number for an unknown.

There wasn’t enough city-wide support for Garcia to beat Vivian Casals-Muñoz, who voted for the high-density development, but I don’t recall many times when a Hialeah resident, fed up with overdevelopment, took her cause as seriously.

That’s progress. Garcia didn’t win, but she gave one of the mayor’s rubber stampers a good run. Maybe the next time residents vehemently oppose a project, voices cracking with emotion and frustration, the city council will do better than arrogant pretense at a public hearing.

Too bad the system is stacked against newcomers running for public office. Some incumbents get endorsements they don’t deserve based on experience. In Hialeah, they don’t even show up for endorsement interviews, so sure they’ll win. Others have plenty of money to create the buzz that promotes the public profile they want to put forth, not the real record in office.

In Miami Beach, Mayor Philip Levine, a millionaire, may have easily won reelection over challenger David Wieder, a lawyer who chairs the Historic Preservation Board and entered the race a little late. But Wieder, Beach residents and preservationists won the Ocean Terrace ballot question.

“I’m actually happier about this than if I had won,” Wieder told the Miami Herald.

Beach voters rejected the rezoning of the quaint Art Deco and MiMo Ocean Terrace historic district that would have allowed more of the mammoth high-rises that make the sand and sun so hard to spot these days.

Preservation advocates delivered an effective message on social media. But most local elections aren’t won on the mere reach of the Internet — not yet, anyway — but on well-organized, energized and financed political forces on the ground.

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez boasted that incumbent victories reflected the “tremendous support” for the work of council members.

Not quite. The win is reflective of the historical power of the political machine in Hialeah to keep leadership in the hands of the same strongman, be it Raul Martinez, Henry Milander or Carlos Hernandez.

People often ask, what can we do?

David Wieder and Tania Garcia stood up for their communities — and showed the way.

They didn’t win the race for public office, but they scored the bigger battle of being heard.

A previous version of this column said Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine lost on the Ocean Terrace redevelopment ballot question, but Levine has not taken a public position on the issue.