In what’s likely to be his final formal address as Miami-Dade mayor, Republican Carlos Gimenez congratulated his Democratic successor, Daniella Levine Cava, and then offered a warning about party politics.
“It’s all about collaboration and results,” the incoming member of Congress said at a farewell ceremony for the county’s outgoing elected officeholders. “People want their elected leaders to work together for the greater good. They don’t want us to get stuck in partisan, broken potholes.”
Term limits voters imposed in 2012 are days away from forcing retirements, creating a churn in power atop county government not seen since the 1990s. Along with a new mayor after Gimenez’s nine years in office, Miami-Dade will see five new commissioners take office Nov. 17, and a sixth set to arrive by early 2021 once Levine Cava’s seat is filled.
That still leaves seven incumbents until the next wave of open seats arrives with the 2022 commission elections. In a county where incumbents rarely lose, the turnover has no precedent under the modern system of Miami-Dade government created in 1992 when a judge abolished countywide commission elections.
Dennis Moss won a seat in the first elections in the new system, representing Homestead and other parts of South Miami-Dade in District 9 since 1993.
At Monday’s three-hour farewell ceremony held in a cavernous Port Miami terminal, Moss recalled a teenage intern asking for a meeting. Moss agreed and the young man told him: “One day I’m going to be sitting in your seat. And I’m going to be the District 9 commissioner.”
Kionne McGhee was right. Now 42 and the outgoing Democratic leader of the Florida House, McGhee won the District 9 seat Tuesday with Moss’ endorsement.
“I know people have some angst at times about the transition. But I’m very optimistic,” Moss said in his farewell address. “We’ve got people coming in that have experience. They know how government operates…I think we have left enough footprints in the sand for them to follow.”
Three sitting elected officials take commission seats on the 17th.
They are McGhee; Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, replacing Barbara Jordan, who has held the District 1 seat for 16 years; and Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon, replacing board Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson, who represented downtown Miami and neighborhoods north of it for 15 years as the District 3 commissioner.
The other two new commissioners held office before: former school board member Raquel Regalado, replacing Xavier Suarez after nine years as the District 7 commissioner representing parts of Miami and areas south of the city; and René García, a former state senator replacing Esteban “Steve” Bovo Jr., leaving the Hialeah-area District 13 seat after nine years.
A TIE BETWEEN REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS FOR NOW
The regional, single-member districts ordered by the federal court 28 years ago were designed to give Black and Hispanic residents more representation on the 13-seat commission. Tuesday’s elections mostly preserve the demographic balance in the current board: four Black commissioners will still hold seats, as will six Hispanic commissioners.
Non-Hispanic white commissioners will see seats contract from three to two once Levine Cava’s resignation from her District 8 seat takes effect hours before she becomes mayor on the 17th. The new commission may either appoint someone to serve the remaining two years of her term or call a special election.
If a Democrat gets the seat, the party will reclaim its majority on the nonpartisan board. Regalado’s win to replace Suarez, an independent, gives the GOP an extra member on the board, which will be split between six Democrats and six Republicans.
Levine Cava won the mayoral election against Bovo, a Republican, in a contest that saw both candidates amplify party loyalty. With more Democrats voting, Levine Cava won with a comfortable margin after the Democratic Party rented office space for her across Miami-Dade and shared expenses for advertising and campaign workers.
She wasn’t included in Friday’s speaking program for the three-hour event organized by Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, whose District 6 seat doesn’t come up for election in 2022.
Though Levine Cava was required to resign her seat to run for mayor, as a commissioner from an even-numbered district she still had two years left in her second term before being required to leave. Sosa said the farewell tributes were only for term-limited commissioners. Suarez did not attend.
The mayoral race mostly divided along party lines: Bovo’s endorsements came from Sosa and other Republicans on the board, as well as Suarez. Levine Cava won support from Democrats.
Gimenez, who won Florida’s 26th Congressional seat on Tuesday, got his start in county politics as the District 7 commissioner in 2004. He described the current board as one that’s been able to put aside differences to advance legislation the county needed.
‘STILL MAD ABOUT FORMULA ONE’
His fiercest critic on the board in early 2020 was Jordan, who called Gimenez “her biggest disappointment” for pushing a Formula One race at Hard Rock Stadium that she and residents around the stadium opposed. “I always appreciated our back and forth,” he said. “You know what? We’re friends. We respect one another…It’s OK to have differences of opinion… That’s what my hope is. Able to come to back together again… and listen to each other.”
The event was the first time since March that commissioners gathered together in the same space, with attendees wearing masks and seated on folding chairs spaced out from each other. A cleaning crew took the stage after each speaker to wipe down the lectern.
“I had to relearn this morning how to walk in heels,” Jordan told the audience. She picked up the harmony theme, too, but added “I am still mad about Formula One.”
‘JUST DON’T RAISE MY TAXES’
She recalled after a storm getting a call from Jose “Pepe” Diaz, the District 12 commissioner whose term-limit date doesn’t arrive until 2022. “He said, ‘I’m on my way,’ ” Jordan said of Diaz, who is running to be the next chair of the commission in 2021. “I said: ‘On your way where?’ He said, ‘I’m coming to your district with supplies.’ And he did…We truly support and care for each other.”
Bovo spoke last, and had advice for the first batch of Miami-Dade commissioners to take office together facing a mandated exit in eight years. “Let’s get things done. Let’s not talk about things,” he said. “That’s what our residents want. They don’t want us attacking each other. They want unity.”
“Be bold,” he continued. “Just don’t raise my taxes.”