Miami District 1 candidate Betty Hermida wants to make City Hall user-friendly

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of profiles of candidates for the Miami City Commission District 1. All of the candidates’ profiles will run in print and online at miamiherald.com.

For Verania “Betty” Hermida, the likelihood of her winning the District 1 seat on the Miami City Commission relies largely on her and her campaign volunteers’ knuckles and her supporters’ mouths.

Hermida, 50, prides herself on being a 48-year resident of Allapattah, one of the neighborhoods in the district that stretches from the medical center around Jackson Memorial Hospital to a slice of Blue Lagoon and Flagami. She lists her decades of living in the district among her bona fides, giving her a long-range perspective on issues that she wishes to address if she is elected — more youth programming at local parks, a trolley serving the north half of Allapattah, and a push for strong community benefits attached to large-scale developments known as “special area plans.”

Hermida is one of seven candidates vying to fill the District 1 seat on the City Commission. Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort, who holds the seat, is term-limited this year. Vote-by-mail ballots are scheduled to be sent to voters beginning Oct. 14. Election Day is Nov. 5.

She couched her effort as a largely grassroots one, with an emphasis on door-to-door campaigning. Through the end of August, Hermida had raised $26,210, the fifth most in the seven-person race. She had spent $10,625, the least of all candidates.

“I’m just tightening my belt, putting on my sneakers and knocking on doors,” she said.

As much as Hermida wants to educate voters about who she is — she’s a first-time political candidate — she wants to teach them about how to navigate City Hall bureaucracy. Hermida said that as a commissioner, she would want to make sure the city’s code enforcement staff is used to clean up the district, but not by issuing violations alone. She said the city ought to engage in a strong education campaign so that all residents — regardless of the language they speak, their race or class — are informed about how to avoid code violations and how to deal with the violations if they’re issued.

“We should be using more warnings,” she said. “A lot of people do not know, they do not understand the process.”

Similarly, Hermida said she sees an opportunity to simultaneously reform the city’s permitting processes while working to proactively teach residents how to navigate the city’s red tape. She repeatedly uses the word “accessibility” when describing how she would run her district office and how she wants the whole city government to operate.

“No one wants to pull a permit in the city of Miami,” she told the Miami Herald. “It’s the worst process ever.”

Another priority for Hermida: mobility. She wants to see more sidewalks so the area’s senior residents have safe spaces to walk, and she would push for an expansion of the city’s free trolley system to reach the northern half of Allapattah. Acknowledging possible budgetary constraints that might slow down any effort to introduce a new trolley route, she said smaller extensions off existing routes could be a short-term solution, even if only to connect low-income and senior housing to the health district.

“We could expand it to 36th Street later on,” she said.

The only woman in the race, Hermida raised her 26-year-old son as a single mother. If elected, she would be the only woman on the five-member City Commission. She said City Hall needs representation from a woman, and although she does not want to make it the sole focus of her candidacy, she feels Miami deserves a woman’s voice on the commission.

“The lack of balance on that dais — it’s time,” she said. “The machismo really, really needs to stop.”

She has worked as a program director and day care director for the Allapattah YMCA; an associate partner in business administration at engineering firm Woolpert, Inc.; and president and CEO of the Hialeah-Miami Springs Northwest Dade Chamber of Commerce. Her previous civic experience includes serving on Miami’s nuisance abatement and code enforcement boards, and she worked as a legislative aide for Republican state Rep. Luis. Rojas from 1998 to 2000.

In more recent years, a series of physical ailments have kept her from regular work. While on disability, she says she found purpose in more volunteerism, serving on the boards of multiple civic groups.

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.