Miami Herald: Levine Cava takes office ahead of Ludlam Trail vote

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Daniella Levine Cava jumped ahead of formality Tuesday and took the oath of office as Miami-Dade’s newest county commissioner in a small ceremony a block from County Hall.

The oath-taking officially sets the stage for the champion of liberal causes to take the seat of ousted Commissioner Lynda Bell before a contentious development vote on Wednesday.

“Someone suggested I should ‘walk softly and carry a big vote,’” Levine Cava told a small crowd gathered in the county courthouse for the swearing-in. “That’s what I intend to do.”

Levine Cava and five reelected incumbents (Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Sally Heyman, Jean Monestime, Rebeca Sosa and Javier Souto) will be publicly sworn in next week, though the county charter sets Tuesday as the start of their four-year terms.

County Clerk Harvey Ruvin administered the oath of office to Levine Cava, and said he expected to swear in at least four other commissioners Tuesday. (Diaz, who was traveling on a county trade mission to Brazil, was not on Ruvin’s schedule.)

Levine Cava plans to take her seat on the commission dais for the first time Wednesday to consider a commercial-development plan for six miles of abandoned railway that park advocates want converted to a grassy stretch called the Ludlam Trail.

On Tuesday, during Levine Cava’s first interview as a commissioner, she said she had not made a final decision on the Ludlam Trail issue.

“I think they’ve gone a long way towards addressing the concerns,” she said of developer Florida East Coast Industries. “But I’m not sure it’s enough.”

The pending clash between preservationists and FECI offers a high-profile debut for Levine Cava.

Local unions and the Democratic Party backed her campaign to unseat Bell, a pro-growth conservative who counted FECI and other developers as top campaign contributors.

The victory of Levine Cava, a veteran nonprofit director, is seen as shifting leftward the balance of power on the 13-member commission.

Levine Cava rose to prominence as the founder of the Human Services Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy organization and social services provider that is now called Catalyst Miami.

She resigned as chief executive in 2013 to run for Bell’s seat, which she won in the August primary. Bell won four years earlier in an upset after Katy Sorenson, an environmentalist and reliable anti-developer vote, retired from the commission.

FECI owns the land known as Ludlam Trail, which once had a rail line that ran between what is now Dadeland Mall and Miami International Airport. FECI, the company behind the new South Florida rail venture called All Aboard Florida, says it is OK with using Ludlam for parkland provided it can win a legal change to allow for denser development along parts of the trail.

Park advocates say the construction would ruin the land’s potential as a green corridor in the heart of Miami-Dade suburbia.

FECI donated $11,000 to Bell’s reelection effort, making her the Coral Gables company’s top pick in the Miami-Dade commission races, according to a Miami Herald analysis of campaign records. Overall, FECI and its development arm, Flagler, donated about $34,000 to incumbent commissioners and none to Levine Cava.

Before her swearing in, Levine Cava said she had not meant for the event to be public, and invited only a small group of future staffers, her grown son and some supporters.

One notable attendee: Nancy Lee, the Eye on Miami blogger who savaged Bell during the campaign and supported Levine Cava. The new commissioner described Lee as an invited guest and “a friend.”

Ruvin had warm words for Levine Cava before the ceremony in his second-floor office in the county’s civil courthouse. “History bends to modern times,” Ruvin, a fellow Democrat, said to the new commissioner. “It’s an amazing opportunity for you.”

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