Miami-Dade’s best-known cities — Miami and Miami Beach — both elected new mayors on Tuesday. A warm welcome to mayor-elects Francis Suarez of Miami, and Dan Gelber, of Miami Beach.
They are a unique pair of victors. Voters elected them to the posts their fathers held in the same cities decades ago. Retired judge Seymour Gelber was Beach mayor in the 1990s; Xavier Suarez was first elected Miami’s mayor in 1985. He’s now a county commissioner.
Former Miami Commissioner Suarez’s ascension to the city’s top job means Miami’s half-million residents will surely feel a significant shift in how the city is run and its vision for the future.
Departing Mayor Tomás Regalado has been a fiscally responsible steady-Eddy, just what the city needed when he was elected in 2009, marking the end of the era of unprecedented growth under the more visionary Mayor Manny Diaz.
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Now, Suarez’s election to this nonpartisan seat mirrors that of Diaz. The Miami Herald recently described Suarez as “a big-picture candidate skilled in diplomacy, enthralled with technology and heavy on dreams of putting his stamp on the city.” And because Suarez’s worldview for the city is smart and inclusive, voters chose him with confidence.
Suarez, 40, is a champion of expanding the region’s mass transit system by creating six new rail lines (which he branded the SMART plan). He helped broker a deal to subsidize Tri-Rail’s downtown Miami connection at MiamiCentral Station when Regalado balked, and pushed the creation of a special transit bank account for the city.
The real estate attorney supports a tunnel under the Miami River. And Miami likely is in for some innovative changes with issues such as sea-level rise. Voters on Tuesday approved a bond issue to provide funds to meet this particular challenge.
Gelber’s election signals his return to politics after almost a decade absence. He’ll learn that things have changed. Growth, traffic, crime, sea-level rise and late night partying all are big issues in the city.
On Tuesday, residents also voted No on ending the sale of alcohol at 2 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. at some outdoor bars on Ocean Drive. That means the prickly issue, which pits area residents and bar owners — remains on the table.
Gelber, 56, told the Editorial Board that he will aggressively address the city’s traffic and overdevelopment issues and continue efforts to make the city more resilient to sea-level rise. He wisely wants outside experts to challenge the city’s notion on how to tackle the problems.
Also elected on Tuesday: Michael Góngora, a former Miami Beach Commissioner returning to the dais; and Mark Samuelian, who defeated Rafael Velasquez, whose final days of campaigning where mired in claims of sexual harassment.
In Miami, Joe Carollo was leading, followed by Zoraida Barreiro and Alfonso “Alfie” Leon III who were in a squeaker Tuesday night to determine which would be in a runoff with Carollo. Veteran politician Manolo Reyes won his first race, and deservedly so. The seventh time was the charm, it seems.