With the Positions of Mayor and Two City Commissioners Up for Grabs, We Let You Know the Who, What, Why and Where of This Year’s Election
Every two years the citizens of Coral Gables elect their mayor and two of their four city commissioners; the other two commissioners sit it out until the next election (in two years). Together with those now up for election, they form the five-person city commission, each with an equal vote on legislation and laws in Coral Gables – though the mayor sets the agenda, runs the commission meetings and has certain executive duties.
This year is a crowded race, with more candidates than ever. Originally 14 signed on, twice as many that ran in the last election (2019). One withdrew, but the remaining 13 are still a third higher than the earlier records of 10 candidates (2015 and 2017). The big contest is the race for mayor between Pat Keon and Vince Lago, both of whom are current city commissioners, with a late third entry by Jackson Rip Holmes.
For Group II, there are six candidates vying to fill Keon’s seat: Rhonda Anne Anderson, Tania Cruz-Gimenez, Alexander Luis Haq, Mayra Joli, Claudia Miro and José Valdés-Fauli. Three are attorneys, Miro is a government worker, Haq is a teacher and Valdés-Fauli, is a retired banker.
For Group III, there are four candidates hoping to fill Lago’s seat: Javier Baños, Alex Bucelo, Kirk Menendez and Phillip “PJ” Mitchell. All are attorneys except Menendez, who is a retired sports coach.
This year’s election has been heated up by changes to the city’s zoning code, with most new candidates using this issue to position themselves as anti-development. To help you better understand their platforms, we asked each mayoral candidate to submit a photo and 500 words on why they should be elected mayor, and we asked each commission candidate to likewise submit a photo and 300 words. Responses appear on the following pages, followed by highlights from the Great Candidate Debate (aka the 2021 Candidates Forum) sponsored by the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce in March.
The Candidates in Alphabetical Order:
Jackson Rip Holmes
FOR GROUP II
Rhonda Anne Anderson
Alexander Luis Haq
FOR GROUP III
Phillip “PJ” Mitchell
Currently City Commissioner. Resident of the city for 47 years. Profession: Retired. Former professional nurse then legislative aid for County Commissioner Jimmy Morales.
When I ran for the city commission, my priority was to maintain or improve the standards that have kept Coral Gables one of the most desirable places to live anywhere in the world. As mayor, that priority will remain the same. We are still months away from fully emerging from the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic. As restaurants and retail businesses begin to resume normal operations, we must ensure that public health and safety continues to be our top priority.
I have lived in Coral Gables for almost 50 years. During that time, maintaining the value of our homes and integrity of our neighborhoods have always been of paramount importance. I believe it remains so.
That’s why I have always supported strict zoning regulations and believe that development must be required to adhere to our code. That’s also why I sponsored the legislation that holds banks responsible for the upkeep of abandoned properties they own. If they don’t maintain those properties, we can now force the bank into courtto clean up the home or tear it down and make the bank pay for the work. And that’s exactly what we have done.
Keeping our city financially sound has also been and will remain one of my priorities. I pushed for greater accountability regarding City finances, creating performance standards and performance measures for City departments. As a result, Coral Gables is one of only three cities in Florida that has a AAA rating from all three national financial rating services.
But the City’s primary responsibility is ensuring public safety through police and fire rescue services. And while our public safety services are among the highest rated in the nation, Coral Gables residents demand and expect a lot more from their government than that alone. We expect our government to sustain the very high quality of life for its residents that has defined Coral Gables since it was first developed as a city.
When we choose leaders– from president down to city commission – I believe experience, temperament, and the ability to build consensus are qualities most voters genuinely want today. And I think that’s especially true in our community. Coral Gables is a relatively small city; but its beauty, safety, and financial stability have defined its high quality of life for nearly 100 years. We have done so because our community has demanded it and our leaders have fought to preserve those qualities from one generation to the next.
That’s what I have tried to do as a city commissioner and what I will continue to do as mayor. When voters compare the candidates running for this seat, I hope they’ll decide that my unique combination of public service and raising a family in Coral Gables has given me the kind of experience, temperament, and consensus building skills they want in their next mayor. Coral Gables is a great city and I believe it can be even better. As mayor, I will work harder than anyone else to see that it is.
Currently Vice Mayor. Resident of the city for 15 years. Profession: Vice President of BDI Construction, specializing in the construction of educational facilities and hospitals.
I am running for office because I want to give back to this community, which has given so much to my family and myself. I am running because we need to protect and enhance the quality of life for our residents. I am running because I want our city to continue serving as a global destination for businesses and visitors, while we continue to rank as one of the best cities to live in.
I intend to thoughtfully plan for the future of Coral Gables and transform the city into a magnet of opportunity where residents can live, work and play.
Currently, the City of Coral Gables is facing three main issues – sustainability, quality of life and economic development – that need to be addressed immediately. During my time as a city commissioner, I have endeavored to find solutions that address these challenges, but there is still much ground to cover.
As mayor, I will work with the administration to expand our very successful trolley programto include weekend service. In addition, I will assemble a Coral Gables Water Quality Task Force and a Transportation Task Force to work in conjunction with Miami-Dade County on water and transportation issues. I will also identify funding strategies that would help address these pressing issues which impact the quality of life for residents and our city’s long-term sustainability efforts.
Pertaining to economic development, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit many of our businesses hard. As mayor, I will embark on a “100 Days of Listening” tour across the city, meeting with businesses, residents, neighborhood associations, the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Improvement District and all city stakeholders, to better understand their needs and develop a plan to address them. Together, we will work to restore the economic vibrancy that residents and visitors have come to know and love in our downtown.
Finally, I want to highlight an issue that separates me from my opponents: Transparency. As commissioner, I have made transparency one of the cornerstones of my service to the community. Since 2013, I have remained committed to listening and addressing residents. I have hosted biannual town hall meetings, open door office hours every Friday, advocated for transparency tools on the city website and have circulated monthly newsletters to keep residents informed on city updates and legislative initiatives. As mayor, I will continue following through with these well-received traditions.
My commitment to transparency extends to my campaign as well. Unlike my opponent, I am the chairperson of my political committee and I will not use third party political committees run by out-of-town political operatives to campaign in Coral Gables. I am also making all my donors’ information public, something that my opponent has refused to do, concealing her donors behind more than 30 political committees headquartered in Broward County.
As mayor, I pledge to lead with integrity and will always remain transparent, consistent, accessible and proactive while placing the needs of Coral Gables residents first.
Jackson Rip Holmes: Why I Am Running for Mayor
Currently a commercial property owner and lifelong Gables resident.
My name is Jackson Rip Holmes. I was born and raised in Coral Gables and graduated from Coral Gables Senior High. My grandfather, Roy Rip VanDevere, was an acquaintance of Coral Gables Founder George Merrick, who showed him what property to buy on Miracle Mile in 1930. I am running for mayor to try to reverse the recent approval of the runaway development Coral Gables zoning code rewrite, which I believe so opens the floodgates to developers; it effectively ends Coral Gables as a suburb.
The Citizens United Supreme Court decision gave developers Constitutional rights to spend monies in political campaigns, as a result of which developer money has controlled elections in Coral Gables for the past several years. Example: The Slesnick vs. Valdés-Fauli mayoral races in the past two elections. As a result, city commissioners, including my two opponents, have passed a zoning code rewrite, which allows: 1) Massive expansion of development of residential houses, residential apartment buildings, and residential multi-family buildings and 2) Raising the height of Miracle Mile buildings to four stories, but without parking.
Also, the developer-controlled city commission has done a possible illegal end-run around affected parents of students at Carver Elementary School, to approve a Wawa development likely to increase crime, endangering the safety of our Carver school children. This obvious placing of developer profits over the safety of children exemplifies why I say Coral Gables, as voted upon and approved by my opponents, has essentially ended as a suburb. Voters almost unanimously protested these zoning code changes, turning out over 200 strong at all public workshops finally provided the past few months to discuss them. Voters also turned out for a rally against the zoning rewrite, which drew newspaper and television coverage.
Yet the city commission refused to explain two critically important proposed pro-development giveaways: 1) How much bigger houses, apartment buildings, and multi-family buildings will be allowed in residential areas, and passed the zoning change anyway and 2) The mandatory remote parking for new construction of the four-story buildings being approved, and passed the zoning change on first reading anyway.
A four-story main street, Miracle Mile, with only remote parking, raises questions about whether people will viewCoral Gables as a suburb going forward. Worse, the mandatory remote parking for approved four-story buildings on Miracle Mile is an absolute disaster. For example, do you want to remote park? Or will you quite possibly end up shopping elsewhere, for lack of parking?
The mandatory remote parking on newly approved four-story buildings on Miracle Mile will be catastrophic for attracting either merchants, or shoppers, to Miracle Mile. All of this urbanization brings crime, and crime endangers children. Coral Gables’ greatest asset, its high-achieving residents, will ultimately be forced to choose between keeping their children safe, or remaining in Coral Gables, and will begin moving to true suburbs like Pinecrest, Cutler Bay, Kendall Lakes and so on. We need to undo the actions of my opponents, which is why I ask for your vote.
Candidates for Group II Commission Seat
Rhonda Anne Anderson
Gables Resident: 33 years
For 16 years, I have worked to decrease the impact of development and speeding drivers in Coral Gables and improve infrastructure and sustainability. When I vote, I select an individual whose past actions show that their campaign promises will translate into results. I chose to run because there is no candidate in Group II whose past service on committees or participation in meetings shows that their campaign promises will be kept. My goals are:
Open Door and Full Transparency. Always patiently listen and address residents’ concerns. My door will be open once a week for “office hours,” by appointment and for monthly group brainstorming sessions. Development. Ensure that oversized development decreasing our quality of life stops. Zoning incentive programs encouraging larger buildings with minimal set back must be revised. Additionally, ensure that information regarding planned projects is available and easy to find on the city’s website.
Traffic Issues/Police and Fire. Maintain our world class police and fire departments. Increase traffic enforcement against speeding drivers and traffic calming measures required for new developments must be installed be- fore the buildings are finished, not years later.
Permitting. Ensure that our fledgling electronic permitting system is completed and that residents’ permitting applications receive the same priority as developers.
Pedestrian Corridors, Parks, Tree Canopy, Historic Preservation and Trolley/Freebie Service. Safe, beautiful, shaded pedestrian corridors need to be provided in our Central Business District to make our downtown inviting. When feasible, expand availability of Freebie and trolley services. Protect our historic buildings and maintain and expand our neighborhood parks and tree canopy so Coral Gables remains a special place to live.
Waterways and Drainage. Improve drainage in low lying areas and cleanliness of our waterways.
Fiscal Responsibility. Avoid wasteful spending and maintain fiscal responsibility to insure our property taxes remain low.
Alexander Luis Haq
English T.A. at MDC
Gables Resident: Lifelong
My name is Alex Haq and I am a Coral Gables native and have resided in the city my whole life, including attending school locally at St. Theresa School and the University of Miami where I received a Bachelor of Arts in History/Theater Arts. I am proud to be a resident of the “City Beautiful” and as a student of history can appreciate the stories of its planning and development. I enjoy walking through my neighborhood and the downtown/Miracle Mile area, it is in doing so that I realize that our community is more than the beautiful Mediterranean buildings and lush green spaces, but the people as well.
I am running for city commission in the hopes of merging the vision of George Merrick together with the growth and innovation of the 21st century. It is important to look to the future while remembering the lessons of the past which will enable us to maintain our identity. My desire to become involved in our local community stems from wanting to participate and make a difference. I believe we all can make a difference in the actions we take. My platform hopes to ameliorate the parking situation, curb wanton development and instead invest in the raw talent within our city. Make our City Beautiful an accessible city and finally, work to make Coral Gables carbon neutral to combat the climate crisis. I have no ties to special interests or connections to political families. My campaign and platform are one for the community.
Gables Resident: 14 years
In 2025 Coral Gables will be celebrating its 100th anniversary. What is often missed when many invoke the name of our founder, George Merrick, and his visionary plan for our city, is simply that he had a vision. He had a plan. This past year our community suffered a once in a lifetime event – one that fundamentally changed the way we live, work and play. While we are finally returning to some semblance of normalcy, there are some changes that are here to stay. Traditional retail was failing prior to the pandemic because of online shopping. The pandemic merely accelerated it. Regrettably, numerous businesses in our downtown are gone for good.
Like 1925, when George Merrick founded our City Beautiful, we are entering a new economy, in which technology, mobility and sustainability will be at the forefront. Architecture and design must adapt to a post-pandemic world, with more open spaces and outdoor areas for people to gather, nearby locally owned businesses that cater to residents’ needs, and alternate modes of transportation. Similarly, this new economy must also factor the increasing impact of climate change on our community.
The current number of closures on Miracle Mile offer us a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a vision for a resilient post-pandemic city. This vision should respect our city’s unique history, seeing it as a driving economic force rather than as an impediment to progress. It must include plans for a thriving business district that caters to residents and that harnesses the talent in our own University of Miami.
As someone who lives, works and plays in Coral Gables, I am truly invested in our community. If elected, I will work with all stakeholders to forge a resilient vision for our city’s next 100 years that preserves our quality of life for all generations.
Gables Resident: 17 years
It is high time to end high rise development in Coral Gables. Unchecked development increases the population density for the purpose of benefiting the developers financially and generating more tax revenues for the government to waste on pet projects and unnecessary expenditures, like silly art in public places.
We don’t have the necessary infrastructure, road system, electrical grid, parking, sewers, mass transit. We have a trolley system and that is great, but when you constantly encourage and approve unfettered high-density development, you are going to destroy the style of living Coral Gables is known for. We do not want high rise New York-style developments in Coral Gables. Even when you limit this sort of thing to the city center or high traffic roadways, how are these people going to get to where they need to go? They are going to cut through our once quiet Coral Gables neighborhoods. We are going to have increased traffic which no one is going to be able to control.
There are so many negative aspects of development; but the most important thing is loss of our lifestyle. Who wants to live in a high-density environment when you are paying taxes like we are? Too many septic tanks polluting the environment; we need to bury our power lines and other pole-strung utilities. It is ridiculous having high-voltage lines and clumps of cable and antiquated phone lines running through our lovely oak trees and then having to butcher the foliage to prevent contact with the electrical wires. Commissioners are allowing these billionaires to construct these ugly, monolithic high rise stucco covered boxes. It is high time for new leadership! No more high rises! We must redevelop our city infrastructure, not over-develop our neighborhoods.
Gables resident: 20 years
I am a banker – and a community banker, to be more specific. For over 35 years, I ran several banks in the Miami market. To lead a business, I was required to ensure fiscal responsibility and a strong return on our shareholders’ investment. Still, we also had to offer so much more to ensure our organization’s collective success and the community we served.
Vision, partnerships, and strategy were vital. My success depended on others’ accomplishments, and I, therefore, had to work collaboratively with various stakeholders, including colleagues, board of directors, regulators and customers. When others prospered, we flourished. I always felt teamwork coupled with a vision of leadership was an excellent recipe for success.
I find myself uniquely qualified to bring a different perspective to the commission with my financial and business expertise. The commission needs a diversity of experience, and I believe my financial expertise will be valuable to help preserve the quality of life our city deserves. With your help, I will ensure that the city optimizes its resources to invest in our infrastructure and provide a long-term strategy for our city’s health.
I also value good health, informed citizens, green spaces, the cultural arts and historic charm. My community service has been on numerous governing boards of numerous organizations focusing on education, health and cultural arts. I am committed to community parks, a walkable and scalable community, traffic safety, and conservation to keep our planet healthy.
I am running for the Coral Gables City Commission to bring financial acumen to the commission and ensure that the local community remains at the heart of our actions.
I pledge to govern collaboratively, prioritize communication with the local community and focus on financial oversight during my tenure as your next commissioner. I hope to earn your trust, confidence and vote.
Marketing Director for Miami-Dade Library System
Gables Resident: 15 years
I am running for office to give say on what happens in Coral Gables back to the residents where it belongs. As commissioner,I will bring transparency to the issues that are top concerns for our residents, bring accessibility by keeping weekly office hours where residents can come find solutions to their concerns in person or via Zoom, and will implement much needed community programs that will benefit our city’s most vulnerable, our seniors.
To achieve transparency and increase resident awareness of proposed construction projects, I would propose the implementation of alternate commission meeting schedules to accommodate residents who work during the day or have other daytime commitments to allow them to participate in the process. To further that transparency, I would move to eliminate the use of acronyms such as TDR and FAR during public meetings, further requiring all city officials to communicate in layman’s terms so all our residents can gain a better understanding of proposed changes and, more importantly, how those changes potentially affect them. I would initiate programs for our seniors, providing alternate access to online programs such as signing up to receive a COVID vaccine and establish a homebound meal delivery program.
You will find me hard at work with the Business Improvement District (BID)to help businesses overcome pandemic economic pressures, work to find solutions to revitalize Miracle Mile and ensure Coral Gables gets every dollar of available COVID relief funding necessary to help our businesses get back on their feet.
I would insist on bringing back civility and decorum to our meetings while remaining humble, accessible and approachable to all our residents.
Lastly, I am uniquely qualified to serve, holding a master’s degree in public administration solidified with over 20 years’ experience working in the public sector. I know how to get the job done.
Candidates for Group III Commission Seat
Gables resident: Lifelong
As a lifelong Coral Gables resident, I recognize the importance of preserving and enhancing the city’s exceptional quality of life. My experience as a member of the Code Enforcement Board has provided me not only with a sense of responsibility for preserving the unique beauty and livability of the city, but also with an understanding of residents’ issues and interests.
Serving as a commissioner would be a privilege, as well as an opportunity to give back to a place that has been an integral part of my life. I look forward to serving the city as part of the next generation of leaders who will bring a new energy to government. I intend to build on the achievements of past and current leaders to continually improve services and strengthen the city’s economy.
As commissioner, I will focus on:
Traffic: Install traffic-slowing measures and increase police patrols in areas where speeding is a problem. Development: Maintaining current limits on building heights, scale, density, parking etc. and respect the city’s traditional business district while fostering economic growth.
Pension/Retirement Board: Support policies that will keep pension investments growing and ensure that pension obligations are fully funded within the next 10 years. Transparency: Maintain an “open door” policy for residents and hold officials accountable for enforcing regulations.
Environment: Address the needs of homes below sea level and expand electric charging stations in city parking garages. Public Safety: Maintain financial support for police and firefighters and strengthen programs to keep crime rates at an all time low. Parks: Continue to create “pocket parks” and green spaces and continue to improve parks and other public facilities. Historic Preservation: Provide information to homeowners on the benefits of historic restoration and pursue federal and state funding for the maintenance of historic properties.
CPA & Attorney
Gables Resident: 11 years
My wife and I moved to the City Beautiful 11 years ago to build a home with our children in the premier historic enclave of South Florida. Coral Gables symbolizes the best combination of attributes, where residents can enjoy lush greenery, parks, open spaces, great schools and wonderful entertainment. However, this idyllic neighborhood that offers the best quality of life to our residents continues to be under threat by the baser instincts of unmitigated development, avarice and a continual encroachment of traffic as the natural growth of population transforms our county into one of the most popular destinations of the nation.
The goal of my campaign is to be a voice for moderation, to curtail the abuses and preserve the original vision of the City Beautiful, while expanding and improving city services. My over 20 years of experience as a Certified Public Accountant and attorney, as well as the manager and advisor for over 100 small businesses, including my own, puts me in the unique position to best serve the interests of Coral Gables residents.
After more than 15 years on city boards, I want to continue my service as an advocate for residents and change the conversation in the commission to focus its legislative priorities on the financial.
Retired Sports Coach
Gables resident: Lifelong
I am a lifelong resident of Coral Gables since 1962 and a graduate of Coral Gables Sr. High School, Class of 1980. I coached at the Coral Gables Youth Center for over 25 years and I have served on the Board of Directors of the Coral Gables War Memorial Youth Center Association since 1992. My nearly 40 years of unwavering service to our community is a direct result of the support my mother and I received from the Youth Center family and our Coral Gables community when my father passed away suddenly in 1973.
Through my decades of volunteer service at the Youth Center, Church of the Little Flower, St. Theresa Catholic School and the Knights of Columbus, I have always given back to the community that was there for me when I needed community most.
On a professional level, I have extensive experience in intergovernmental affairs advocating before local, state and federal government to bring legislative and financial relief to South Florida. I also have significant experience drafting resolutions and ordinances as well as serving as a liaison between members of the community, elected officials and government administrators. I bring a clear understanding of how government works, and at times, how government, unfortunately, fails to serve the best interests of the people.
As commissioner, I will brush politics aside and focus on serving our community as a humble public servant. As commissioner, our kids will have ample parks to play in, our seniors will never be alone, our residents will have a “seat at the table,” our septic tanks will stop contaminating our aquifers, our residents will not be priced out of city services and our Coral Gables community will overcome the “progress” all around us. “Before you can lead, you have to learn how to serve.”
Phillip “PJ” Mitchell
Gables Resident: 20 years
I am a local attorney and small business owner who has served our community for two decades in the public and private sectors. I have utilized my passion in the law to make a difference in people’s lives. My goal is to continue to serve the City of Coral Gables by establishing effective public policy as the next city commissioner in Group III. I believe that we need to keep our City Beautiful free from development not in line with our values. I will stand with the residents and oppose projects that substantially alter the fabric of our community.
I will ensure that our police and fire departments are fully funded in order to continue to provide the residents with professional and exceptional service. I believe small business is the cornerstone of our local economy. It’s imperative we continue to support our local businesses, especially in these challenging times. In order to reduce the use of cut-through traffic in our neighborhoods, we will add additional traffic calming measures. Additionally, I will encourage the use of alternative transportation.
I support our parks, museums and cultural projects throughout the community. I will seek additional ways to improve our city services, and preserve, restore and honor our historic landmarks for future generations.
On April 13, 2021, the residents will have a clear choice. They can elect one of the other three candidates that are supported by special interests and developers, or me, a candidate that shares the residents’ values. As a small business owner, I am concerned about our direction. Historically, I have dedicated my time to improving the community by helping those in need through Coral Gables Bar Association, an organization that utilizes the efforts of its members to improve the local community. I am not a politician nor beholden to any special interest.
Highlights from the Great Debate
In partnership with the University of Miami, the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce held its Candidate’s Forum this past March 11. Moderated by Dr. Gregory Koger, professor and chair of the political science department at UM, it consisted of three one-hour sessions: For Group II City Commissioner, for Group III City Commissioner and for Mayor. Here are highlights from the three, paraphrased and edited for clarity and brevity, based on some of the questions asked.
Group II Commission Candidates: Rhonda Anderson, Tania Cruz-Gimenez, Alexander Haq, Mayra Joli, Claudia Miro, José Valdés-Fauli
Q: If Elected, What Would Be Your First Piece Of Legislation?
CRUZ-GIMENEZ: To bring the city into the 21st century with online permitting.
HAQ: To make the city’s website more user friendly.
JOLI: To stop all commissioners’ pet projects and to make no zoning changes.
MIRO: To make all building projects transparent, and to ban use of acronyms.
VALDÉS-FAULI: To revise the budget from bottom up to increase efficient use of funds.
ANDERSON: To contain the size of any new projects and eliminate loopholes.
Q: Would You Continue To Support Public Art?
JOLI: I would leave arts to the side and use the money for police and fire pensions.
MIRO: I would support any art project, or anything that enhances the arts.
VALDÉS-FAULI: I am on the board of Illuminate and the museum, and am all for it.
ANDERSON: I applaud Illuminate and the museum. It is essential to support art.
CRUZ-GIMENEZ: I would encourage pop-up galleries and collaboration with UM.
HAQ: I support the Arts Cinema and believe the arts are vital for the city.
Q: How Would You Help The Senior Population?
ANDERSON: Longer traffic lights, more special parking, more recreational facilities.
CRUZ-GIMENEZ: Greater accessibility for seniors – such as lower steps on the trolley.
HAQ: The median age is 39 in the Gables, but the elderly are important.
JOLI: The elderly don’t want special access, they want companionship, home programs.
MIRO: We have many people over 95; we need a home delivery program for hot food.
VALDÉS-FAULI: Improve (or even build) sidewalks throughout the city for the elderly.
Q: In Closing, Why Should People Vote For You?
VALDÉS-FAULI: I will be a team player who brings successful business experience.
MIRO: I am a resident not connected to politics, but with experience in the public sector.
JOLI: The city needs someone to be the voice of the people.
HAQ: I am a lifelong resident who will bring new ideas to attract young families.
CRUZ-GIMENEZ: I will focus on the new economy, and make outdoor dining permanent.
ANDERSON: I will continue my 16 years as an advocate for what the residents want.
Group III Commissioner: Javier Baños, Alex Bucelo, Kirk Menendez, Phillip Mitchell
Q: What Did You Learn During Your Campaign For Office?
BUCELO: That development and traffic are the top issues. We can have mixed-use, but with height restrictions and walkability.
MENENDEZ: That many people feel left out of the decision-making process in government, exhausted by toxic divisiveness.
MITCHELL: I run daily and find people very concerned with over-development. Peaceful lives are preferred to 17-story buildings.
BAÑOS: People are tired, angry and frustrated, and feel they are losing their city; that our public art doesn’t fit; and that traffic is choking life.
Q: Some Citizens Have Complained About Miracle Mile’s Zoning Process. What Would You Do?
BAÑOS: You need to bring people in earlier and beware of too many outside influences.
BUCELO: There has to be more engagement with citizens, on a greater scale to hear them.
MENENDEZ: Expand the radius of public notice, so that everyone is part of the solution.
MITCHELL: Communicate the notice of new projects and make it understandable.
Q: What If Residents Wanted Something Bad For The City?
MITCHELL: You have to look at the end goals, and how something will affect residents.
BAÑOS: Let the residents guide you, from the bottom up, as to what’s best for the city.
BUCELO: It has to be a balance between what’s best for the city and what residents say.
MENENDEZ: City Hall has to do more out- reach, and listen to all sides first.
Q: If Elected, What Would Be Your First Piece Of Legislation?
MENENDEZ: My priority would be the sustainability and septic tanks issues.
MITCHELL: To help small businesses by ending curfews and keeping them open.
BAÑOS: Ending loopholes for builders, fixing the pension plans, addressing sea rise.
BUCELO: To help retailers and small businesses with public/private partnerships.
Mayor: Jackson Rip Holmes, Pat Keon, Vince Lago
Q: How Do You Feel About The Miracle Mile Zoning Changes? (These Allowed Developers To Build Without Building Parking Spaces, But Keeping Height To Four Stories)
KEON: It is a good opportunity for the Mile. The owners need to renovate, and they can’t do it with just one-story.
LAGO: It amounts to an unnecessary up-zoning. The downtown is not dead. This actually increases building density.
HOLMES: I would repeal it.
Q: Would You Legislate To Include Female City Commissioners?
LAGO: I’m all in favor of anything to expand female participation.
HOLMES: Yes. If women ran the government, there would be no wars.
KEON: I’m not a minority. We should encourage women, but not dictate by gender.
Q: What Is Your Opinion On Expanding Bike Paths In The City?
KEON: The problem is that residents have assumed ownership of the swales, which they maintain. It will take a grassroots effort.
LAGO: I believe we need them, but the residents [where they would be located] have come out against them.
HOLMES: I support bike lanes, but only if they are relegated to side streets and not main thoroughfares.
Q: What Legislation Are You Most Proud Of?
LAGO: I have initiated literally hundreds of pieces of legislation, so that’s a hard question. Some of the top ones that I am proud to have initiated include: The ban on Styrofoam and plastic bags; getting funding for the Underline in the Gables; eliminating fees for installing solar panels; outlawing hourly hotels; increased funding for parks; the 25 mile per hour speed limits on neighborhood streets; expanding the trolley service; the Leeds ordinance to encourage “green” buildings, etc.
HOLMES: Not having been on the commission, I haven’t initiated any legislation. If elected, I will repeal the recent zoning changes.
KEON: To me, quality is more important than quantity. Among the legislation, I have initiated are water protection, tree protection, child protection and ordinances against bigotry.
Getting the Vote Out
The Low Down from the City Clerk
One of the city’s unsung heroes is City Clerk Billy Y. Urquia, among whose responsibilities it is to supervise the city’s municipal elections. He also maintains all city records, runs the city’s passport office, organizes the city commission meetings and makes sure all city boards operate on time. In other words, he is the city’s nuts and bolts man. “My challenge is to pay attention to details, making sure we meet deadlines – just to make sure everything is done correctly.”
This year Urquia is overseeing an expansion of voting opportunities for residents, with the hope that more citizens will participate. There are currently 36,000 registered voters in the city, but in the last election just 8,572 ballots were cast, less than 26 percent of the electorate.
“Hopefully, as we get close to this election, there will be some election fever,” says Urquia. “We are hoping for a larger turn-out – to pass 10,000 votes – with people taking advantage of ways to vote.”
In the last city election (2019), vote by mail exceeded in-person voting for the first time, 4,526 mailed vs. 4,046 votes on election day, says Urquia. This year notifications for mail-in voting went out in the last week of March, for the election that is scheduled for April 13.
For the first time, there will also be early in-person voting (Saturday, April 10 and Sunday, April 11) at the Coral Gables Library. On election day, all regular precincts will be open as well. If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will face a runoff on April 27, with early voting on April 24 and 25.