In the Republican primary for state House representative in District 119 in western Miami-Dade County, Analeen “Annie” Martinez has raised $80,000 more than any of her three opponents. It hasn’t hurt that her father is a Miami-Dade County commissioner.
Martinez, the daughter of Commissioner Joe A. Martinez, has donors with close county ties. Those include Transportation America, which has county contracts; American Dream Miami, the group building a mega-mall in northwest Miami-Dade; Florida East Coast Industries, the owner of Brightline; and several county lobbyists.
Her three opponents in the Aug. 28 primary hope to prove money and connections aren’t everything. Juan Fernandez-Barquin is an attorney specializing in real estate and probate cases, including some involving the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority. Enrique Lopez is a real estate agent who has served as state director for Florida Realtors for five years. And Bibiana “Bibi” Potestad is a young attorney who has worked for Juan C. Zapata, a former state representative and county commissioner and a nemesis of Joe Martinez.
The younger Martinez, who works in procurement at Florida International University, brushed off the suggestion that a vote for her is a vote for political dynasties, as was suggested in one campaign mailer from a mysterious political committee, Voters Response. The mailer featured side-by-side photographs of Martinez and her father with the caption: “Diga no a las dinastías políticas.”
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Martinez acknowledged that some people will vote for her because they support her father, but she feels her own merits should speak for themselves.
“He happens to be my father, but I am my own person,” Martinez told the Miami Herald. “I don’t see it as a dynasty.”
Joe Martinez bristled at the term.
“Political dynasty — seriously?” he said. “Who wouldn’t want a local government working hand in hand with somebody in the state or somebody in Congress? It’s not a dynasty, and it’s not a negative, either.”
Annie Martinez agreed. “I see it as just a network,” she said.
Joe Martinez insisted he didn’t even want his daughter to run, given the nastiness of politics. “I would have preferred she take up skydiving without a parachute,” he said.
He added that, while he has helped with fundraising, he has mostly stayed out of the day-to-day campaigning.
“If she needs something, she’ll ask,” he said. “But running the campaign, I’ve totally stayed out of it.”
But the shadow of the elder Martinez looms over the race, according to at least one opponent. Fernandez-Barquin said some people have been hesitant to publicly endorse him because of Martinez’s family ties, fearing the potential political consequences.
“Many people who would typically get involved are reluctant to get involved in this race,” Fernandez-Barquin said. “Many have told me that directly.”
That hasn’t stopped Fernandez-Barquin from raising $148,210 as of Aug. 10, almost triple the amounts raised by Potestad ($53,711) and Lopez ($56,950). Martinez has raised $227,825.
“People are sticking their necks out to support me,” Fernandez-Barquin said.
District 119 includes the unincorporated areas of West Kendall, Kendale Lakes, Tamiami, The Crossings and The Hammocks. The House seat is open because Rep. Jeanette Nuñez has reached her term limits.
In addition to the four Republican candidates, Heath Rassner, a Democrat, and Daniel E. Sotelo, who claims no party affiliation, are vying for the seat. They will advance to the November runoff against next week’s Republican winner.
Potestad said the race has been “very cordial,” while Lopez said whoever wins the primary will have “total support” from the others. But Fernandez-Barquin suggested things may be getting a bit nasty.
On Sunday, he said, he found what appeared to be — and smelled like — excrement splattered on the side of his truck. He believed a supporter of an opponent may have been behind it, though he declined to name names. When Fernandez-Barquin showed his opponents the picture, he said, “they were appalled.”
Money and feces aside, the candidates all stressed the importance of better transportation options for the far-west district where traffic is a daily nightmare. All four support a plan to extend the 836 expressway 14 miles into West Kendall, though the nuances of their stances vary.
Potestad called the Kendall Parkway plan a “phenomenal short-term solution,” but said other options, including a trolley or smaller bus and possibly a rail line, if funds from the half-penny tax are spent properly, would help. (A lawsuit filed by other residents earlier this month accuses the county of improperly diverting proceeds from a voter-approved transportation tax to subsidize existing transit rather than expand it.)
Martinez similarly stressed the importance of having multiple options. She pointed to carpool incentives and strategically placed bus routes, likening the issue to education and housing where she feels choice is key.
“I don’t believe one size fits all,” Martinez said.
Lopez stressed that when the 836 extension is built, officials need to make sure promises are kept and everything is built at once. Otherwise, he said, the area could be left with a new road but insufficient funding for bike paths, buses and green space.
“If [MDX] implements it how it’s being sold to us, I’m 100 percent supportive of it,” Lopez said.
Fernandez-Barquin said he doesn’t believe more buses are needed, but would like to see a train or light rail run parallel to 836. A Metrorail expansion would be too expensive, he said, but an added Metromover route — the electrically powered, automated system that runs through downtown Miami — could make sense.
“If that existed, I would take it to go to court downtown,” he said.
Fernandez-Barquin has stood on both sides of the issue: In addition to supporting the extension, he has defended homeowners in court against MDX and the Florida Department of Transportation when their plans to widen roads encroached on private property.
“Private property rights are the foundation of this country,” Fernandez-Barquin said.
Beyond transportation issues, both Martinez and Lopez said they have young relatives with special needs and care deeply about providing proper resources.
“Many county parks are [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant, but it’s not enough,” Martinez said as one example.
Lopez has a child with special needs, he said, and believes the Baker Act — which allows for the involuntary examination and institutionalization of adults and children in certain cases — needs to be tweaked to ensure parents don’t lose their rights.
“We are currently misusing the Baker Act,” Lopez said. “It strips decision-making away from the parent.”
Lopez also stressed the importance of state spending on mental health, noting that Florida ranks last in the nation in per-capita spending in the area.
Potestad, who finished law school last year, said that in addition to transportation, economic development is critical for a district that is mostly residential. More business options close to home would ultimately help traffic, she said.
“People don’t take into consideration how much traffic is affected” by the lack of commercial development, Potestad said.
Potestad added that she has run a grassroots campaign, taking donations from family and friends and not from “special interests.”
“I don’t come from a political family,” she said. “What matters is how many [voters] you connected with.”
Ultimately, Martinez said, she feels the same way: She hopes voters will put family ties aside and consider the candidates.
“Many people tell me, ‘I’ll vote for you because of [your] father,’” Martinez said. “God willing, if I win, the next time they will vote for me for me.”