Writer: Joshua Andino
4 min read July 2022 — The Miami-Dade County Commission elections are fast approaching. With five term-limited county commissioners leaving office and one facing her first election, voters could remold the County Commission on Aug. 23.
District 2’s Jean Monestime, District 4’s Sally Heyman, District 6’s Rebeca Sosa, District 10’s Javier Souto and District 12’s Jose “Pepe” Diaz are all leaving the dais this year, with both newcomers and experienced politicos alike eyeing seats on the board. At the same time, District 6’s Diane Cohen Higgins, appointed to the Commission in 2020, will be facing her first election.
Commissioners hold a considerable amount of sway over Miami Dade County, with broad powers to establish countywide and city-type services for residents and unincorporated areas. While the county maintains opens in a new window34 municipalities, its opens in a new windowunincorporated area would be the largest city in Florida if it were classified as such. The County Commission is responsible for public transportation, such as the County SMART plan, affordable housing and solid waste removal. The Commission opens in a new windowhas considered the expansion of the county’s Urban Development Boundary (UDB), and opens in a new windowmost recently it has put forward a resolution to protect the county’s assets – particularly Miami International Airport, Port of Miami and highways – from state officials as opens in a new windowFlorida’s home-rule has become increasingly tenuous.
For District 2, the area encompassing portions of the City of Miami, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Opa-locka, City of Hialeah and unincorporated areas of Liberty City, Biscayne Gardens and North Dade Central, Jean Monestine is looking to be succeeded by jockeying candidates Wallace Aristide, principal at Miami Northwestern Senior High, Josephat “Joe” Celestin, the former North Miami Mayor, former county-wide mayoral candidate Monique Nicole Barley-Mayo, Marlene Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, North Miami’s current Mayor Philippe Bien-Aime and William Clark, a retired paramedic and community activist.
District 4, covering the county’s affluent northeast communities of Golden Beach, Aventura, North Miami Beach, North Miami, Sunny Isles Beach, Surfside, Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor Islands, Biscayne Park, Indian Creek, Miami Beach, Miami Shores and North Bay Village, has already been decided. Miami Beach Commissioner Micky Steinberg opens in a new window automatically won the race after the June 14 filing deadline passed, leaving her the sole candidate and winner.
District 6, encompassing the neighborhoods of City of Miami, Coral Gables, West Miami, Hialeah and Miami Springs and the unincorporated communities of Schenley Park, Coral Villas, Red Bird, Coral Terrace, Little Gables and Fontainebleau, seems like it may be the most competitive. Republican-affiliated candidates Kevin Marino Cabrera and Dariel Fernandez have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to opens in a new windowFlorida Politics. Cabrera, a government relations specialist, has secured upwards of opens in a new window$500,000 between his opens in a new windowcampaign account and opens in a new windowDade First PAC. Cabrera has racked up donations and key endorsements from political allies, local officials and organizations, including City of Miami Commissioners Joe Carollo and Alex Diaz de La Portilla, as well as the Hispanic Police Officers Association. Beyond local officials, Cabrera’s campaign opens in a new windowhas touted his ties to former President Donald Trump in both Spanish and English language adverts.
Fernandez serves on the Board of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and secured most of his fundraising through private businesses and associates. Both Cabrera and Fernandez are facing Orlando Lamas, who initially ran for Florida House District 111 but has since switched races, bringing with him approximately $105,000 between fundraising and his own personal funds. Miami Springs Commissioner Victor Vazquez, an Airforce Veteran and local educator, is the sole Democrat in the field.
Providing Cabrera’s biggest challenge in the race is fellow Republican Jorge Fors Jr., a Coral Gables lawyer who, after filing his candidacy in May, has since raised over half a million between opens in a new windowhis campaign and opens in a new window NextGen Florida Leadership PAC. As it stands, Cabrera and Fors are the likely favorites, with financial reports showing them neck-and-neck regarding donations and fundraising. Fors, for his part, has secured the opens in a new windowendorsements of South Florida Council of Firefighters (SFCFF) and the Miami Realtors Association (Miami REALTORS), as well as outgoing Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, opens in a new windowwho said “I am excited to learn of Commissioner Fors’ decision to run, and he has both my support and my vote.”
District 6 is particularly noteworthy as it encompasses Miami International Airport, one of the county’s key economic engines, as well as the Melreese Golf Course, which is to be redeveloped into opens in a new windowMiami Freedom Park – the recently approved soccer stadium complex and eventual home of Inter Miami CF.
At District 8, Danielle Cohen Higgins is facing her first election after being appointed to the Commission in a 10-1 vote in 2020, replacing the then newly-elected Democrat mayor Daniella Levine Cava who had occupied the seat prior. Levine Cava opens in a new windowhas already endorsed Cohen Higgins, as have other outgoing incumbents Heyman, Monestime, Sosa and District 5’s Eileen Higgins. Community Advocate and Hammocks Citizens Advisory Committee Vice Chair Alicia Arellano is her sole contender, with her few thousand dollars of already-spent opens in a new windowcontributions dwarfed by Higgin’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions between her opens in a new windowcampaign account and political committee, opens in a new windowFight for Our Future. Cohen Higgins is favored to coast on to her reelection.
In District 10, a four-way race to succeed the outgoing Javier Souto sees Republican State Rep. opens in a new windowAnthony Rodriguez facing off against Libertarian and cannabis advocate Martha Bueno. Bueno, who in her professional life is a realtor, served as the Vice Chair of the Miami Dade Libertarian Party. Rodriguez, in his capacity as Representative, serves as opens in a new windowVice-Chair of the Regulatory Reform Subcommittee in Tallahassee, a member of the Public Health Board of Trustees for Jackson Health Systems, and is a past member of the Miami River Commission as well as the Unsafe Structures Board of Miami-Dade County. Political newcomers Susan Khoury, a former federal law enforcement officer, and IT company owner Julio Cesar Sanchez are also running.
Finally, District 12, covering west Miami-Dade’s Doral and the municipalities of Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Virginia Gardens, Medley, Sweetwater and a large part of the county’s unincorporated area, sees Sophia Lacayo, tax services professional, running against the popular founding and current Mayor of Doral Juan Carlos Bermudez. Lacayo has self-financed the majority of opens in a new windowher campaign and has spent over opens in a new window $209,000, compared to Bermudez’s modest $18,223 for the month of May. opens in a new windowLacayo was forced to resign her post on the City of Sweetwater’s Board of Commissioners in 2020 having been found guilty of perjury after claiming to live in the city.
With five term-limited incumbents on their way out and a sixth facing her first test at the ballot box, Miami-Dade County and its voters have a chance to totally reshape the dynamics of the County Commission. Current members Joe Martinez and Eileen Higgins will be the seniors moving forward. Whatever the case may be, the new commissioners will have opens in a new window their hands full as the county continues to grapple with public transportation, affordable housing and balancing community and environmental concerns with the constant pace and increasing demand for redevelopment.
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