Alex Diaz de la Portilla is right pick for Miami-Dade commission

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Diaz de la Portilla
Diaz de la Portilla

Four candidates, two who are new faces and two others with familiar last names, are vying for the open seat on Miami-Dade Commission in District 5.

Veteran Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, snagged by the state’s resign-to-run law, stepped down to run for Congress.

But voters still will find a Barreiro on the ballot: the ex-commissioner’s wife, Zoraida Barreiro, a healthcare executive. She had a solid showing last year against Joe Carollo for the Miami Commission seat he ultimately won. She is currently ahead in fund-raising, her husband’s residual clout still a draw, no doubt.

Former Florida lawmaker Alex Diaz de la Portilla brings the other well-known name to the race. Business owner Eileen Higgins and Spanish-language television personality Carlos Garin, who did not come to an Editorial Board interview, are running, too.

Whoever wins the May 22 special election will represent both affluent and depressed areas of Miami and Miami Beach on the 13-member County Commission.

All candidates identify the same pressing issues: Inadequate transportation, traffic gridlock and the lack of affordable housing and good jobs. They say that the middle class is being squeezed financially, and poor residents squeezed even harder.

<bullet>Traffic: These three candidates bring a practical, “Let’s get something done now” attitude.

“If we wait until the final solution when everything is going to line up, it’s never going to happen,” Barreiro told the Editorial Board. She’s right.

Diaz de la Portilla added that: “There’s too much pie-in-the-sky thinking.” He said the county needs to focus on expanding the bus service people rely on in the district. He’s right.

And Higgins, who actually rides public transportation, pointed to quick solutions like free city trolleys, subsidized by the county’s transportation sales tax. No need for millions to pull that off. She’s right, too.

The winner will be part of the debate to implement Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s 2016 SMART Plan — an ongoing analysis of six potential rail corridors costing $50 million. Only the Baylink corridor, between Miami to Miami Beach, runs through the District 5.

<bullet>Affordable housing: We were impressed with Higgins’ boots-on-the-ground knowledge of the problem and good idea of mandatory inclusive zones to require that developers be forced to either create affordable units in their projects or pay the county to be exempted from the rules. “If they don’t want workforce housing in their fancy buildings, they pay into the affordable-housing trust fund.” The commission already killed a similar proposal two years ago, but the situation has grown more dire. Barreiro said mandatory inclusive zones don’t sit well with her. “I’d hate to do mandatory anything,” she said. And Diaz de la Portilla also opposed it.

But he gamely described a similar framework of workforce-housing rules: mandating set-asides in new projects, then allowing developers to buy their way out of the requirements.

<bullet>Property taxes:Diaz de la Portilla was the only one to rule out voting for an increase in the county’s property-tax rate. ‘Let’s get our house in order before we start taxing people.” Voters will like his fiscal restraint.

Higgins said she would vote against a 2018 statewide ballot initiative that would increase the homestead tax break for a person’s primary residence. And Barreiro said an increase isn’t needed for 2019.

We were impressed with Higgins’ high level of civic engagement and knowledge. for instance, she teaches entrepreneurship to young students and is an anti-gun violence advocate and is part of the Downtown Neighbors Alliance. As a newbie, she would have steeper learning curve on the commission. Barreiro seems well-intended, but she lacked a solid understanding of the challenges and was vague in offering solutions. And she was positively stumped when asked about her own community engagement work. Unfortunately, it seemed as if she would simply be a proxy for her husband, the ex-commissioner. That’s not what the district needs.

Here’s what gives Diaz de la Portilla the edge: his experience in Tallahassee. A member of a well-known political family, he’s not a shiny new penny. In the age of #MeToo, we must mention that in 2010, Diaz de la Portilla was accused by his ex-wife of stalking her after they separated. No charges were ever filed.

Of the four candidates, Diaz de la Portilla is still the most politically experienced, serving in the Florida House from 1994 until 2000, and in the Florida Senate until 2010, with stints as the Majority Leader and Senate President Pro Tempore.

We would like to see a commissioner who’s ready to go on day one, who can help the county get more money from Tallahassee and protect it from legislative intrusion.

For Miami-Dade Commission District 5, the Herald recommends ALEX DIAZ DE LA PORTILLA.