Elections

A Miami commissioner won reelection without opposition. Two other districts have races.

Manolo Reyes, the commissioner representing District 4 in the city of Miami.
Manolo Reyes, the commissioner representing District 4 in the city of Miami. mocner@miamiherald.com

Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes automatically won four more years in office after nobody filed to run against him Saturday, the deadline to qualify to run in the city’s November elections.

Reyes, 75, was reelected without opposition to represent District 4, which includes Miami’s Flagami, Silver Bluff and Shenandoah neighborhoods.

The retired high school economics teacher has served two years on the commission after successfully running to fill the seat left open by Francis Suarez when he was elected mayor in 2017. Suarez ran for mayor in the middle of his four-year term, so Reyes completed the second half. His 2017 election marked his first victory after six failed political campaigns over three decades.

On Wednesday, Reyes said he was grateful to his supporters.

“I’m humbled by the amount of support that I’ve been receiving,” Reyes told the Miami Herald. “This is quite a compromise I have with my constituents to keep on working hard to serve them the way they should be served.”

Once a budget analyst for the city, Reyes has played a vocal role in decisions made by Miami’s five-member commission during his half-term. Last year, Reyes strongly advocated against Suarez’s unsuccessful effort to become a “strong mayor,” as which he would serve as city’s top administrator. He famously opposed Miami Freedom Park, a plan to transform city-owned Melreese golf course into a sprawling office park, mall and soccer stadium complex that would host home games for David Beckham’s upcoming Major League Soccer team.

Reyes wondered whether his stance might spur an opponent to file. By Saturday evening’s deadline, no one had. Seven candidates qualified to run for the open District 1 seat, where Wifredo “Willy” Gort is term-limited out. In District 2, incumbent Commissioner Ken Russell faces three challengers.

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Reyes’ opposition to Miami Freedom Park could factor into the future of a no-bid 99-year lease that would require four of five commissioners to approve it. Current commissioners want to see a lease before the election, when Gort, who also opposes the stadium complex, will reach his term limit and step down. With Reyes a firm no, Beckham and local partner Jorge Mas will have a tough time securing the remaining four votes. They’ll need a yes vote from Gort’s successor if the lease comes to a vote after November.

“I was a no then, I am a no now,” Reyes told the Miami Herald. “I have nothing against the stadium. I have nothing against the Mas family. But the process was not followed the way it should have been.”

The commissioner successfully introduced legislation regulating the proliferation of shopping carts in his district after noticing many were being abandoned far from their respective stores. Reyes was also the lone opposing vote on a citywide increase of public parking rates, saying at the time that he believed the increases were too high and would hurt residents and small businesses.

Reyes voted to kick Ultra Music Festival out of Bayfront Park in 2018, and after brokering meetings between downtown residents and Ultra’s principals this summer, he voted in favor of bringing it back. At the time he said he felt organizers of the music festival had made a good-faith effort to compromise with residents. Reyes, one of several commissioners who received campaign donations from Ultra, insisted the contributions have not influenced his decisions.

He echoed the sentiment recently when voting in favor of a controversial upzoning in Brickell. Some neighboring residents who fought the upzoning questioned the motivations of Reyes and Commissioner Joe Carollo because they received campaign donations from the law firm representing the property owner pushing for the zoning change. Both commissioners rebuffed the suggestions, calling the contributions insignificant and denying that money sways their votes.

“I always vote my conscience,” Reyes frequently says.

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Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes, who represents District 4. Joey Flechas jflechas@miamiherald.com

Reyes had raised $269,782 for his reelection, according to the most recent campaign reports filed in early September. He received numerous contributions from real estate and construction interests, lobbyists, architects and land-use attorneys, many of whom have business before the city. As of the most recent reports, he had spent $103,162. After paying some more bills, Reyes said he plans to donate the balance to local charitable organizations.

Reyes has differed from Suarez on numerous items, such as when he voted against holding a referendum so voters could decide if they would let the city negotiate a no-bid deal for Miami Freedom Park, when he vehemently opposed the strong-mayor campaign, and when he opposed the Brickell upzoning. Suarez later successfully vetoed the Brickell zoning vote.

Reyes was on the prevailing side of a thorny issue in Coconut Grove regarding proposed changes to the building code meant to protect residents from outsized development and loss of trees — an item pushed by Russell, the commission chairman whose opponents approached Reyes seeking a sympathetic ear. Russell could not get a second from the rest of the commission.

The creation of more affordable housing will be a key part of Reyes’ agenda going forward, he said. Specifically, he wants to push a concept that he agrees with Russell on — the use of an income calculation that more accurately reflects the median income of neighborhood residents and would give the city a better idea of what kind of rent people could afford.

“One thing that I have made clear: When they talk about affordable housing, they actually have to be affordable,” Reyes said.

Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, from votes at City Hall to neighborhood news. He won a Sunshine State award for revealing a Miami Beach political candidate’s ties to an illegal campaign donation. He graduated from the University of Florida.
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