Veteran Miami Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort is ending his political career. He’s term-limited and, as he told the Editorial Board two years ago, his most recent race would be his final political run.
Seven candidates have jumped in to nab this vacant seat, creating a heated race with some drama in which the candidates are overshadowing the district’s issues. Regardless, the race seems destined for a runoff.
Each candidate says that he or she can provide the tender loving care and new vision for a district long represented by Gort. They include Horacio Aguirre, a real estate broker, chair of the Miami River Commission — and our choice for this commission seat; Alex Diaz de la Portilla; Miguel Angel Gabela, who did not meet with the Editorial Board, Verania “Betty” Hermida, an Allapattah community activist; attorney Yanny Hidalgo, whose passion is to help the Grapeland Heights community and stop the soccer stadium; Francisco “Frank” Pichel, a former Miami police officer bearing heavy baggage, including suspension and surrendering his police certification, part of a plea deal when he was accused of selling steroids and Cialis; and Eleazar Meléndez, a former chief of staff for Commissioner Ken Russell.
Diaz de la Portilla has the most familiar name as a member of a well-known political family. Diaz de la Portilla is the brother of Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a former Miami-Dade County commissioner and state senator and another brother, Renier Diaz de la Portilla, is a former Miami-Dade School Board member.
Diaz De la Portilla, who served 16 years in the Florida Legislature, has healthy campaign coffers and obviously wants a return to the dais — any dais. He is running his fourth campaign in eight years.
In his most recent effort, a special election in 2018 for the Miami-Dade Commission, Diaz de la Portilla failed to make the runoff for an empty seat eventually won by Eileen Higgins. This Board recommended him in that race. But we remain concerned about his temperament. A recent outburst with another candidate at a TV station calls to mind his arrest in Boston for acting “belligerently;” his now ex-wife accused him of stalking her after they separated; he also has been a magnet for controversies and allegations that leave us skeptical.
The shame of it is that he is among the most knowledgeable candidate when it comes to District 1, especially Allapattah.
It’s a district of multiple personalities that stretches from the medical buildings surrounding Jackson Memorial Hospital to the Blue Lagoon area near Miami International Airport, south of State Road 836. It also takes in Grapeland Heights, where the city is negotiating with the Mas brothers and David Beckham to build a Major League Soccer stadium.
Meléndez is a well-financed candidate, and a controversial one. Russell, his former boss who is up for re-election, has donated $150,000 to Meléndez’s campaign from his committee, Turn the Page, to Meléndez’s committee, Vision with Action. The other candidates rightly are upset that Russell is meddling in this race, putting his thumb on the scale and introducing partisan favoritism into a nonpartisan contest. Meléndez, now is a political consultant for the Democratic Party, which has publicly gotten behind him.
Though engaging, Mélendez has a reputation for throwing his weight around at City Hall and will vote in lockstep with his benefactor, Russell.
We see the need for a more independent commissioner, which is why we recommend Aguirre.
He knows Miami. A commercial real estate broker, Aguirre is chairman of the Miami River Commission and helped lead the impressive revitalization of Miami’s working waterway, adding mixed-use facilities and entertainment venues, without obliterating the vital maritime use of the river.
He says that he wants to bring that same sense of balance to other parts of the district, allowing development, business, new residents in condos and long-time residents in single-family homes to co-exist, staving off sweeping gentrification and displacement.
He is, at heart, a planner and knows that Miami and its inhabitants too often are at the mercy of this poorly planned city. “Without a master plan, what we’re going to get is a hodgepodge — no cohesiveness, no plan for aesthetics and no plan for lifestyle experiences,” he told the Herald.
Aguirre is the son of the founder of Diario las Américas, the oldest Spanish-language newspaper in South Florida. If elected, he will have a big say in crafting what happens next with the soccer stadium deal. Aguirre wants more police presence and affordable housing in his district
District 1 has the chance to elect a representative who already has shown the know-how to get big things done, while keeping the needs of residents a priority.
Aguirre is the most qualified to be that representative.
The Herald recommends HORACIO AGUIRRE for Miami City Commission District 1.