Bruno Barreiro reelection to Miami-Dade Commission seat up in the air

Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro appears to have been pushed into an unexpected runoff early Wednesday morning after the county elections department finished counting absentee ballots that arrived on Election Day, which showed the incumbent missed winning an outright majority by 11 votes.

Late Tuesday night, it had appeared Barreiro had won reelection by a razor-thin nine votes over the majority needed to avoid a runoff. On Wednesday, an updated count showed Barreiro with 49.94 percent of the vote.

But the tally — and a runoff election — will not be certain until after the elections department counts provisional ballots — those cast by voters who didn’t have photo identification on Election Day. Provisional ballots are checked by the elections department’s canvassing board to see if the signatures match those in the department’s database.

“The only thing pending are the provisional ballots,” said Christina White, deputy supervisor of elections. “Those will be added once the canvassing board meets on Friday and determines which of them should be accepted.”

Barring any changes in the count, Barreiro, a 14-year incumbent, would head to a runoff against Luis Garcia, former fire chief and commissioner in Miami Beach and a former state representative, on Nov. 6. The election results will become final after the county’s elections canvassing board certifies the vote counts on all the races. The board meets at 9 a.m. on Friday.

“We heard the issue and we’re waiting for the canvassing board to get together,” Barreiro said Wednesday morning. “We’re looking into a possible recount, but I don’t have the specifics of how that works.”

Another commission incumbent, Audrey Edmonson was also forced into a rare runoff Tuesday. And filling the seat being vacated by Commission Chairman Joe Martinez — who lost his bid for the mayor’s post — will require a runoff as well.

With the exception of the Barreiro-Garcia runoff, the four-challenger slate supported by auto magnate Norman Braman was vanquished.

The billionaire, who successfully orchestrated the removal of County Mayor Carlos Alvarez last year, kept tabs on the results while vacationing in Europe aboard his 175-foot yacht, The Kisses.

“The whole effort of mine was to give the voters a choice,” Braman said. “It’s one of the few times the incumbents got a challenge.”

In the other commission races, incumbent Barbara Jordan bested challenger Shirley Gibson, and Dennis Moss easily won reelection.

Edmonson, who went from Eastern Airlines flight attendant to El Portal mayor before winning a commission seat in 2005, was pushed to the limit by challenger Keon Hardemon, a 29-year-old University of Miami law school graduate and public defender whose family is politically powerful in Liberty City.

With a strong showing in debates, a healthy bank account and no beef with Braman, Hardemon was able to push Braman-backed candidate Alison Austin aside. He will face off against Edmonson Nov. 6.

As a DJ played music and supporters nibbled ham and cheese sandwiches, Hardemon said the outcome was exactly what he had planned for. He said Edmonson has failed District 3 by trying to privatize troubled Jackson Memorial Hospital and voting for public financing of the Miami Marlins stadium.

“We planned to make it to a runoff,” said Hardemon, who added that now he will target the 15 percent or so of voters who went Austin’s way. “That’s what I’m praying for.”

But Edmonson said she wasn’t surprised by the runoff, and still feels good about her chances in November.

“When you have six people in a race, you have a good possibility that there will be a runoff,” she said. She accused Hardemon of running a nasty campaign, and predicted she will win. “He cannot debate. He’s not that familiar with governmental issues in the county.”

In the third runoff, former two-term state Rep. Juan C. Zapata will square off against Miami-Dade police detective Manny Machado.

The grab for the District 11 seat had been expected to go to Zapata, 45, who has been campaigning for the post for three years. A straight-up victory, however, was denied by a respectable showing from Florida International University network engineer Javier Muñoz.

“It’s close, but we’ve just got to get it done in November,” Zapata said as supporters feasted on chicharrones, plaintains and steak. “I’m grateful to the voters. It will be good to be in first place for the general election.’’

Machado is a 37-year-old Miami-Dade police officer who took leave to run for office. His website says he is married with two children and has been an officer for 12 years.

Machado, who watched the results from home with his family, said he ran for office because he was tired of hearing the same broken promises from elected leaders. He said if he wins the runoff he will focus on “issues with the elderly, youth and drugs, and traffic.’’

“We did great. We worked hard and walked a lot,’’ he said.

One supporter, dog lover Shirley Mantilla, said Tuesday that she voted for Machado because he has helped educate the public about the pit bulls, a breed not permitted in Miami-Dade County for the past 23 years. Voters on Tuesday rejected a measure that would have removed the ban.

The three commission runoffs are rare. There haven’t been any in recent memory, though a few mayoral elections have gone to runoffs.

To avoid a runoff, candidates must win more than 50 percent of the vote.

In Miami’s District 1, Jordan, 69, survived the ugliest of the campaigns, parlaying a savaging of challenger Gibson by the gay rights advocacy group SAVE DADE and her considerable experience to a new four-year term.

She kept the heat on Gibson throughout the contest, declaring her opponent no more than a puppet of Braman’s. She fought off claims of being an ineffective bureaucrat by highlighting the growth of the district, which runs from Central Dade to the county line where it spreads east and west. She also made constant mention of her 37 years of experience working for the county, and how she was working with several task forces to stop the violence that is wracking north central Dade.

Gibson had hoped to transform voter discontent and Braman’s money into victory, a move that would have sent a sitting commissioner home for only the second time in the past 18 years. But the only mayor Miami Gardens has ever known couldn’t match her opponent’s fundraising skills. Also in that race was Wade Jones, a 38-year-old advertising consultant.

In Miami’s District 5, which covers Miami Beach and crosses the causeway into Little Havana, two other candidates who had challenged Barreiro — neuropsychologist Calixto Garcia and retiree Carlos E. Munoz — were defeated..

In the District 9 race, 19-year incumbent Moss easily held off former Farm Bureau director Alice Pena to again represent South Miami-Dade. Moss collected about 10 times more money than Pena, who was also backed by Braman. Also in the race was concert promoter Darrin McGillis, and Loretta Riley.

Moss, who touted the recently completed South Dade Cultural Arts Center as one of his finest achievements, savaged the Braman-backed Pena with constant rants about her reliance on Braman, whose donation made up a large chunk of her campaign account.

Zapata, who made the runoff in the District 11 race, has had a steady political rise. He chaired the West Kendall Community Council for two years in the 1990s before losing a 2000 county commission race to Joe Martinez. He later captured the state House seat in 2002, which he held for eight years.

A registered Republican who considers himself a “social moderate,” Zapata helped create a Hispanic legislative caucus while in Tallahassee. He also worked on healthcare policy, chairing a 20-member task force that has proposed turning troubled Jackson Memorial from a public entity to a nonprofit governed by an independent board.

Born in Peru to Colombian parents and a Miami resident since age 11, Zapata is a partner in a local condo-management firm and works as a business development and public affairs consultant. He believes in term limits and increasing commissioner pay.

District 11 and its roughly 200,000 residents are primarily Hispanic and Anglo, living from the heart of Kendall and west to the neighborhoods of Country Walk, The Hammocks, Kendale Lakes and Lakes by the Meadow.

Miami Herald staff writers Patricia Mazzei, Daniel Ducassi, Stephanie Parra, Eileen Soler and Janey Tate contributed to this report.