Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to focus on ‘fundamental, big-picture changes’

Sworn into his first full term on Tuesday, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez promised big things from his administration by aiming to lift the county into “the ranks of the world’s leading global cities.”

“We’ve got work to do if we want to be mentioned alongside the New Yorks, the Londons and the Hong Kongs of the world,” Gimenez said. “But I know that we can get there, because we already have so much going for us.”

Gimenez spoke Tuesday morning at a swearing-in ceremony for himself and seven commissioners who were elected in August and November. At a regularly scheduled meeting later Tuesday, the board elected Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, seen as a Gimenez ally, to serve as chairwoman beginning in January. Commissioner Lynda Bell was chosen vice-chairwoman.

The leadership votes in the County Hall commission chambers came after a morning of pomp and circumstance at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay, where the mayor and commissioners took the oath of office surrounded by family, staff and friends. Then they each gave brief remarks.

Barbara Jordan opposed any efforts to privatize portions of the public Jackson health system. Audrey Edmonson criticized long voting lines on Election Day. Dennis Moss laid out ambitious plans for his South Miami-Dade district. Bruno Barreiro and Juan C. Zapata got misty-eyed as they thanked their supporters and loved ones.

In a couple of lighter moments, Xavier Suarez made a series of jokes that kept the audience chuckling. Esteban “Steve” Bovo turned to Zapata, the only new member of the board, and teased: “Welcome to the Twilight Zone.”

Barreiro, Edmonson, Jordan and Moss won reelection, and Bovo and Suarez were automatically reelected without opposition. Zapata was elected to an open seat, becoming the first commissioner of South American descent on the dais. He is Colombian-American.

All began serving four-year terms — the first terms that will count toward limited eight-year terms that voters approved earlier this month. Gimenez, Bovo and Suarez took office last year after special elections to complete their predecessors’ terms.

Gimenez praised Miami-Dade as a trade hub with a diverse workforce and a thriving arts scene that his government will build on.

“I’m talking about fundamental, big-picture changes that will take root in the coming years and will come to full fruition long after my term as mayor is over,” he said, without elaborating.

He appeared to garner support from the dais with Sosa’s election as chairwoman. Gimenez, a former commissioner, was often on the same side of votes as Sosa. Bell, the new vice-chairwoman, has been a Sosa ally. All three are Republicans in nonpartisan posts.

“My vision for this board is one that the administration and the board can work together, even when they disagree,” Sosa said. “At the end of the day, the needs of one district cannot supersede those of another, because we represent everyone.”

The chairmanship race — which was unusually wide open going into Tuesday’s meeting — came down to Sosa, of West Miami, and Jordan, of Miami Gardens. Sosa won with a 7-6 vote, backed by Bell, Bovo and Zapata, and Commissioners Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Sally Heyman and Javier Souto. Barreiro, Edmonson, Moss, and Suarez, and Commissioner Jean Monestime, voted for Jordan. Sosa and Jordan voted for themselves.

The vice-chairmanship was decided between Bell, Heyman and Suarez. Bell defeated Heyman with a 7-6 vote in a runoff.

The board chair presides over meetings, sets the agenda for the board, creates committees and could take over some of the mayor’s powers in the event of a mayoral vacancy.

In other business, the board:

•  Awarded a $25 million contract to Munilla Construction Management to build a Metrorail train test track at the county’s Lehman Center rail yard. The 2,500-foot track had raised some controversy earlier this year but drew no comment from commissioners Tuesday.

•  Rejected a proposal by Jordan on first reading to require employers across the county to provide their workers with earned sick time. Jordan said she would try to bring back the legislation in the future.

•  Signed off on creating a task force, also proposed by Jordan, to advise the commission on unincorporated neighborhoods becoming cities or joining existing cities.

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