Editorials

Send all the incumbents back to the Miami-Dade County Commission — except one

Five of the 13 Miami-Dade County commissioners up for re-election this year are facing challengers. Only Commissioner Sally Heyman automatically won her final four-year term when no one filed to run against her.

This election signals a new day for the commission. The incumbents up for reelection are running for their final four-year term. In 2012, voters approved term limits on commissiners, and they are kicking in for the first time this year. They will have to step down in 2022 if they win this year. Commissioners are now limited to serving two consecutive terms.

Here are our recommendations for five Miami-Dade Commission seats in play:

District 2

Dorrin Rolle is trying, yet again, to reclaim the District 2 seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission. He lost it to incumbent Jean Monestime in 2010, when a financial scandal tarnished Rolle’s tenure. Rolle tried again in 2014, losing to Monestime again.

As they did in those elections, voters should tell Rolle that No means No.

Monestime has taken his position seriously, successfully getting laws passed and bringing projects online that directly address the challenges that many residents and small-business owners face in his district. Monestime was concerned about the high rate of unemployment among his constituents. Because of legislation the he sponsored, applicants for a county job not longer are asked up front whether they have a criminal background. Answering Yes too often immediately shut the door on an applicant’s chances. Now, applicants are asked about prior convictions l

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Monestime

ater in the hiring process, once they’ve shown themselves to be promising potential employees.

The commissioner also sponsored the expansion of an program that provides loans to first-time home buyers by dropping geographic restrictions on the assistance. Originally, home buyers could only purchase homes in areas designated “slum and blight.” But now those first-time buyers can purchase a home anywhere, as developers and more affluent residents invest in low-income neighborhoods in District 2 and drive up the price of property.

Monestime has helped jumpstart economic development: A Holiday Inn is slated to reopen on 79th Street and Northwest Seventh Avenue, he told the Editorial Board, and a Walmart and Ross are coming.

Rolle, the former commissioner, who remains popular among some residents, did not participate in the Board’s candidate interviews. He lost the commission seat he had held for 12 years following the bankruptcy of the James E. Scott Community Association, a financially troubled nonprofit that he ran while on the commission. After the organization imploded, the county was on the hook for a $300,000 federal housing grant. Rolle blamed the misfortune on JESCA managers who predated him.

The incumbent commissioner has been laser-focused on his district’s challenges and is actively finding solutions. The Herald recommends JEAN MONESTIME for the County Commission, District 2.

DISTRICT 6

The race in District 6 pits veteran commissioner Rebeca Sosa, first elected in 2001, and political newcomer Maryin Vargas.

It’s a David-and-Goliath race with Sosa outgunning Vargas with campaign donations, enough to pay for television ads. But Vargas’ grassroots efforts, infused with enthusiasm and cockiness, make up for the lack of campaign funding.

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Sosa

A former banker and advocate for the rights of condo owners, Vargas has a ollowing on social media and was prompted to run by condo owners she has helped. She is a millennial candidate with a practical view of what needs to be fixed. But she has an uphill battle as Sosa, a well-respected commissioner closing out her career on the commission, seeks her final four-year term.

Sosa, an educator and former West Miami mayor, has the distinction of being the commission’s first Hispanic chairwoman in 2013-14.

Both are vying to represent a district that includes West Miami, parts of Hialeah, Miami Springs, Miami and Coral Gables. But Vargas needs a bit more experience on the front lines. Sosa has won the respect of many constituents. “I never talk about me, I talk about ‘we.’ I’m here to serve the people of my district,” said Sosa, who is known to knock on doors even when it’s not election season.

For her experience and responsiveness to constituents in her district, the Herald recommends REBECA SOSA for the Miami-Dade Commission, District 6.

DISTRICT 8

Daniella Levine Cava often has been the contrarian on the County Commission. She speaks and votes her convictions to make her district — and the entire county — places that serve the residents, not developers; that preserve the Everglades, not bring it closer to extinction; shouldn’t be the federal government’s immigration enforcer.

She is the commission’s so-called “liberal voice.” However her stances on providing workforce housing, protecting the environment and creating jobs for her constituents are non-partisan issues — and on point. She told the Editorial Board that, since she has been on the 13-member commission, “We have passed more than 300 pieces of legislation in a bipartisan, nonpartisan manner. We forged coalitions and had to count to seven, or nothing would get done.”

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Levine Cava

Her opponent Gus Barreiro says partisanship on the nonpartisan commission is part of the the problem. Barreiro, a former state legislator, entered the race at the last minute. His half-brother, Bruno, resigned is commission seat to run for Congress. Gus Barreiro entered the race as it looked like Zoraida Barreiro was about to lose the commission race to replace her husband, Bruno. We hope commission candidate Barreiro isn’t cynically playing the name game.

Both Levine Cava and Barreiro oppose the proposed expansion of the 836 expressway. Both support extending Metrorail to South Dade to tackle what Levine Cava calls “our Achilles heel:” traffic congestion.

They part ways over the American Dream mega-mall, whose developer is Barreiro’s top campaign donor. Cava opposed it.

There is a third candidate in the race. Johnathan Burke, a Cutler Bay resident, wants to spur young people to engage in their communities, and vote. As for Levine Cava? “I’m very impressed with her work,” Burke said.

Indeed. The Board is most impressed that she was able to persuade her commission colleagues to approve one of her most unpopular piece of legislation. As a result, candidates for local office now are required to disclose when they’re raising money for a political committee. Before the ordinance passed, linking committee donations to a candidate required either a donor or a beneficiary to reveal the connection.

The Herald recommends DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA for the County Commission, District 8.

DISTRICT 10

Long-enduring County Commissioner Javier Souto has been a powerhouse of constituent service, responsive to their requests and complaints. Souto, a Bay of Pigs veteran and former state senator known for his conservative views, has that down pat. He’s also a champion for green spaces in his district. As chair of the commission’s Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee, Souto has pushed for more parks, more lighting, more security.

But after 25 years on the commission, we sincerely think that it’s time for a new commission representative from District 10.

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Garrido

Our issue is with Souto’s performance on the dais, where he first arrived in 1993. He seems unfocused at commission meetings. He goes off on tangents and off point. Other commissioners – and the members of the public who attend the meetings — can’t hide their rolling eyes whenever Souto, 79, has the floor.

He is inadvertently delaying or derailing whatever commission matter is being discussed. And in that way, he is doing his constituents – in District 10 and countywide — a huge disservice.

He has become a distraction, which is why he has drawn not one, not two, not three, but four challengers, more than any other incumbent commissioner in the August primary.

So many challengers for a veteran is an indication of trouble that’s gone public.

His opponents include Julio C. Sanchez, who has an IT firm, Alfred Santamaria, former Miami-Dade mayoral candidate, Robert Suarez Jr., a former firefighter whom Souto appointed to the local Community Council, and Jose Garrido, a former staffer in Souto’s commission office who had a falling out with the boss.

Garrido was the standout. He said that he wants to bring a dose of reality and pragmatism – and more progressive views — to the District 10 seat. Where he sees big-box retail stores sitting vacant, he wants to create mix-used retail, business and affordable-housing units, especially in neighborhoods such as Naranja, where there is high demand for inexpensive places to live.

He called the proposal to expand State Road 836 a 19th-century solution to a 21th-century problem. “We should protect the Everglades. This needs more study,” he told the Editorial Board. Souto supports the expansion: “It will bring good things.”

Both agree that sea-level rise is a problem. Souto said, however, that because of upgrades to the drainage system, flooding in the district is less of a problem.

Garrido, a real-estate consultant, says he’ll fight for equality and has won the backing of SAVE Action PAC, an arm of the LGBT advocacy organization. Garrido points to Souto’s non-vote three years ago when the county tried to establish protections for transgender people. Souto missed the vote.

“We live in different times. We’re not in the 1960s anymore.” Garrido told the Board. He also said that, “Commissioner Souto has done a good job, an honorable one.”

Garrido is running because he thinks it’s time for a change. We agree. The Herald recommends JOSE GARRIDO for the County Commission, District 10.

DISTRICT 12

Of the five commissioners up for re-election, Jose “Pepe” Diaz will be the one who will also be judged for personal failings by the voters he serves in District 12.

For the former mayor of Sweetwater, who was first elected to the commission in 2002, this will be his first bid since his 2015 arrest on a drunk-driving charge in Key West. Diaz, who was pulled over on his motorcycle declined to take sobriety tests and was eventually acquitted in 2016.

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Diaz

The arrest, captured on video, at first appeared to be a career-ender, but Diaz appears to have repaired some of the damage with hard work and mea culpas. His polite appearance on the video also helped.

“The voters will have to decide,” Diaz told the Board. He is right. Diaz remains a champion of his district, which includes Doral, Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Medley, Sweetwater and Virginia Gardens.

Running against him are Rafael Pineyro, a former chief of staff to Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez and Patricio Moreno, who unsuccessfully ran for the Florida House in 2016.

We think that Diaz is still doing good work for his district from the dais — and yes has earned another chance. The Herald recommends JOSE “PEPE” DIAZ for County Commission, District 12.

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