This past month, Coral Gables Vice Mayor declared his intention to run for mayor, a full 18 months before the election. We recently sat down with the vice mayor to ask him why he declared now, and how that office would extend the agenda he has pursued as a city commissioner.
CG: Why did you jump in the race so early?
Ever since I decided to run [for public office] six years ago, I’ve looked for opportunities to get my platform out there, to really speak with the residents. Obviously, being in public office, I’ve taken it to the next level [and] have decided to implement a really transparent form of government, one that is based on giving residents real access to their public officials.
CG: So, this gives you a longer time period to communicate with voters?
Yes. Because what I’ve done is something that a lot of other elected officials are not willing to do – which is give up a lot of my time, to ensure that people have access to me as a public official. We hold town hall meetings multiple times a year, and we have crafted those meetings to be mostly about public input. We also hold open door Fridays, where you can just come in and there is no need for an appointment.
CG: What past legislation are you most proud of? As a city commissioner you have been highly active in promoting sustainability…
I’m incredibly proud of insuring that our downtown is financially stable but, yes, I’m proud of our plastic and polystyrene bans, and I’m proud that the city has the largest electric car fleet in the state of Florida.
CG: So, you will probably continue that…
People say that sustainability is an environmental issue. But it’s also a financial issue. Imagine if we don’t have clean water and clean air, what do you think is going to happen to the beautiful homes [on our waterfront] that pay 25 percent of our budget? Their value is going to go down… and having an electric car fleet that doesn’t require gas lowers our maintenance costs.
CG: What will be your priorities as mayor?
I will continue to push for financial responsibility. I am a firm believer in ensuring that our city is financially viable…. I want to make sure we are cautious when we hand out increases in salary, or pension benefits. I’ve told our three unions that I’m in favor of giving employees what they deserve, but I’d rather give it as a cash bonus – a check. What I don’t want is to add more to our unfunded liability.
CG: The unfunded liability is basically pension and benefits the city is committed to?
Yes, these are basically pension [commitments], and we’ve knocked it down to about $210 million when it was at $250 million. But it is still a major albatross around the city’s neck, and we need to continue to lower it – because I will not raise taxes. I believe in us living within our means.
CG: What would be your other priorities as mayor?
To continue to expand our portfolio of public parks… We’ve seen so many young families moving to the city of Coral Gables, and they want places to take their children. They don’t need massive programs with basketball courts and football. They need a simple pocket park in their neighborhood, where kids can go play under a shade tree. I think that is a big deal. My eventual goal is that every individual who lives in the city can walk within five minutes to an open space.
CG: Is that the top of your list, after the city’s financial wellbeing?
What is always the most important in my opinion is public safety, ensuring that our police and fire have all the necessary resources. You know we are investing $52 million in a world class facility for public safety, which is going to be the home to our police and fire and a few other departments of our city – along with revamping our two existing fire stations and then finding another fire station along Sunset. I think we also need to continue to invest in neighborhood safety aids, which I think has paid significant dividends. That’s why you are seeing the lowest crime rates in the last 14 years, this year. And I think that has to do with more vigilance, more eyes and ears on the street, including bringing in those neighborhood safety aids – and we have a full complement of police officers now at 191, and we’re growing.