Elections

He wants to control rent and steal a trolley. He’s running for Miami’s District 1

Frank Pichel, candidate for Miami City Commission District 1
Frank Pichel, candidate for Miami City Commission District 1

If he’s elected the District 1 commissioner in Miami, Francisco “Frank” Pichel has an unusual pledge for the first day after the election, even before he’s sworn in: He’ll commandeer one of the city’s trolleys and drive it around Allapattah and file suit against Miami-Dade County over the elimination of a bus route.

“On Nov. 6, I’m going to do two things. First I’m going to go to the trolley station, and I’m going to steal a goddarn trolley. And we’re gonna use it ourselves,” he told the audience at an Aug. 15 debate in Allapattah. “Then I’m going to direct the city attorney to sue the county immediately for the Route 6 bus.”

Pichel, a retired Miami police officer with a checkered past, is running to represent District 1 on the City Commission, one of seven candidates vying to fill the seat. Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort, who holds the seat, is term-limited this year. The elections department has sent Vote-by-mail ballots to voters. Election Day is Nov. 5. Early voting in Miami begins Saturday.

Eyebrows were raised when Pichel, 57, made the trolley pledge. He’s made several unique promises on the campaign trail. He plans to donate his entire salary back to the district “to help the poor and the elderly.” He pledges to hire two doctors to work in his commission office, staffers who would be charged with promoting health and wellness among the senior population in the district.

He favors rent control to address a worsening housing affordability crisis. According to Florida law, such controls are allowed only if a city declares a housing emergency so bad that it is considered a “menace to the general public and that such controls are necessary and proper to eliminate such grave housing emergency.”

In his closing comments at the August debate, he asked for people’s votes by explaining that he has a long history in Allapattah, the District 1 neighborhood Pichel mentions the most in public forums.

“I grew up here. I went to school here. I fought here. I got shot here. I shot people here,” he said, eliciting awkward laughter from some in the audience.

Pichel made controversial headlines during his time with Miami police. In 2000, he was suspended when he was accused of instructing a public service aide to file a false police report to cover up a police beating that led to a prisoner’s death. Prosecutors never charged Pichel, who was a sergeant at the time.

In 2008, when he was sergeant-at-arms at City Hall, he was accused of selling small amounts of steroids and Cialis, the erectile dysfunction drug. Prosecutors later dropped felony charges as part of a plea deal in which Pichel agreed to give up his police certification.

In 2003, Pichel was suspended after allegedly leaking information to the Miami Herald about the city’s questionable handling of evidence during the search for a serial rapist. He was later reinstated. In 2001, he lost a whistleblower’s lawsuit against the city in which Pichel claimed he was targeted for retaliation after taking on a “corrupt and violent” gang of officers.

More recently, Pichel served on the city’s code enforcement board. Amid controversy spurred by Commissioner Joe Carollo’s efforts to identify code violations at popular Little Havana nightclub Ball & Chain, Pichel was photographed with Carollo behind the business at night last year.

During this year’s District 1 campaign, Pichel has raised the least amount of money of the seven candidates, $24,775 through the end of September.

Among Pichel’s other ideas: to replace the city’s fleet of non-emergency vehicles with electric cars, a push for levees

along the Miami River to address sea level rise, and set up a remote office for his staff in Allapattah instead of at City Hall in Coconut Grove. He also wants to tweak the look of police squad cars in District 1 by placing “Allapattah” on the side of the car, along with the names of the officers assigned to the vehicle.

“I don’t want crime fighters,” he said at a town hall this week. “I want crime preventers.”

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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