For Miguel Gabela, Miami commission candidate, public safety is a recurring issue

Miguel Gabela is a candidate for the Miami City Commission District 1.
Miguel Gabela is a candidate for the Miami City Commission District 1.

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.

Miguel Gabela has walked neighborhoods and knocked on voters’ doors in Miami’s District 1 twice before — he came within 200 votes of victory in his last bid in 2015.

That year, Gabela, a 55-year-old Jaguar auto parts retailer, ran against Wifredo “Willy” Gort and captured 44 percent of the vote. It was Gabela’s second run for the seat. Gort is term-limited this year, and Gabela, now on his third attempt, is one of seven candidates vying to fill the District 1 seat on the City Commission. Vote-by-mail ballots were sent to voters this week. Election Day is Nov. 5.

Gabela told the Miami Herald that as he talked to voters in each of his three campaigns, a common theme has been public safety. He said voters tell him they want to see more cops on the beat, more lighting installed over sidewalks, and trimmed tree branches so those lights are not obscured.

“People do not feel safe in large parts of the district,” he said. “They don’t feel comfortable going out after a certain time in the evening in parts of Allapattah.”

Gabela is espousing a platform of basics, such as sidewalks that are clean and walkable and street gutters that are cleaned out more often. Although flooding is an issue in some corners of the district, he didn’t want to comment on the issue of climate change. He said only that he thinks the storm drain system needs to be improved and kept clean so water does not pool in the streets.

Pushing to expand the city’s trolley system into the rest of Allapattah is a priority, he said, with a focus on making sure the district’s large senior population can get to and from supermarkets and shopping plazas.

He also said he sees the increased real estate development pressures as a potential benefit to the community, if managed with a balanced approach that doesn’t lead to displacement of current residents. He said gentrification is underway, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He said he wants investment to flourish, but as a commissioner would promote programs to protect people who struggle to pay rent and afford their groceries.

“Do we want to stay in poverty all our lives?” he said. “To always have filthy sidewalks, bad lighting and trees that don’t get trimmed? To have property values that get depressed?”

Gabela has previous City Hall experience: He served on the city’s planning and zoning board from 2001 to 2009. He said he decided how to vote on projects by weighing their impacts on neighbors versus the good of the community, a calculation he said he’d use as a commissioner.

He noted one example of a vote that might have seemed controversial: His opposition to the construction of Camillus House. The issue wasn’t the fact that it was a homeless shelter, he said. He would’ve supported a plan that placed homeless facilities in each district of the city.

“I felt that it could have been done better, and all the districts should’ve done it,” he said. “And everybody can absorb the consequences equally.”

The candidate said he has lived in the district for more than 35 years.

He’s made a significant investment into this bid for public office, loaning his campaign $100,000. That’s a little more than half of the $191,000 he’s raised.

Political consultant Steve Marin, a fixture in Miami politics, is managing Gabela’s campaign. Marin is also a consultant on the team trying to redevelop Melreese golf course into Miami Freedom Park, a $1 billion mall, office park, hotel and stadium complex that would serve as the venue for home games for Inter Miami, the upcoming Major League Soccer team co-owned by David Beckham, Jorge Mas and other partners.

Whoever is elected to the District 1 seat could cast a crucial vote related to the plan. The deal would come to commissioners in the form of a no-bid 99-year lease — a process that was approved by voters in November 2018 — and the lease would need approval from four of five commissioners.

Gabela said because there is no final negotiated lease, he cannot say whether he would vote for or against it. Commissioners are expected to consider a lease on Oct. 24, although administrators say there are still significant terms that are not finalized, making it unclear how meaningful the vote could be.

Marin’s involvement in his campaign, Gabela insisted, is irrelevant to his stance on Miami Freedom Park.

“Because Steve Marin is on my campaign, it does not sway me one way or the other on the stadium deal,” he 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.