Category Archives: Miami

Elections Have Consequences Dept.

So far, the major consequence of electing two new somewhat anti-establishment commissioners to the five-person Coral Gables Commission is that the Mayor of Coral Gables, their chief target, is acting kinda grumpy (or worse).  A motion to fire the City Manager (we have a weak-Mayor system, so the City Manager is the most powerful official in the City) failed 3-2.

I lost confidence in the manager when I read about the secret attempt to put a Wawa and gas station across from Carver Elementary, and his intervention in a zoning application by a private developer.  After a long period of thinking he was great, I’ve also started to wonder about the Chief of Police.  But don’t expect any movement on either front until someone peels off a third vote on the Commission.  Of course, the next Mayoral election is now less than two years away.

Is there an anti-establishment candidate in the wings?

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Castro Wins Big in Coral Gables

The final results from the Coral Gables Commission runoff election for Group IV are in, and it’s a more-than-1000 vote margin for Melissa Castro over Ivette Arango O’Doski. Given the paltry turnout of 17.54% that is a very decisive result. Thank you neighbors!

In addition to being a personal win for Ms. Castro, this has to be seen as a significant defeat for Mayor Vince Lago, who organized a slate and large sums of money to support it in a losing effort for Groups IV and V.

It remains to be seen how much of this vote was against developers, how much was against Lago himself, how much was against the idea of candidates running on partisan slates, and how much was against the sleazy tactics funded by that money.  I’d imagine it’s some of each, but that a decent amount of the blow-back will land on Lago.  Where once he used to say he’d never even run for Mayor if only because his wife wouldn’t let him, the last few years have been consistent with eyes on higher office.  This won’t help one bit.

It’s not that Lago doesn’t have a good side — I like his endorsement of solar power, and the generally pro-environmental bent. But I can’t help but wonder if the City comes first in all these other policies that, conveniently, are the sort you might take if you wanted to build up ties to (monied) folk who might be supporters for a move to a bigger stage.  And the development, while some of it was needed, has gone overboard in method and substance.Then again, it might be selfless but given the results that is only a little better.

As someone thinks bureaucracy is necessary, and bureaucrats get an unfair rap, it pains me to say it but there are some troubling signs that the staff at the City has some issues with politicization, opacity, and corner-cutting for the right developers.   Castro and Group V Commissioner Ariel Fernandez will be two votes out of five on the Commission. That likely will make Rhonda Anderson the swing vote, or very occasionally Kirk Menendez. I don’t expect Mike Mena to start causing trouble, but I’m always happy to be proved wrong about that sort of thing.

(Still amazes me I can write that headline above…30+ years ago you could get firebombed for doing something like that around here.)

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A Rare Good Mailer in a Coral Gables Commission Election

Local elections produce a lot of mailers, big colorful oversize cards with smiling candidates, often surrounded by family or carefully diverse constituents.

Most of them fit one of two templates: The first type are boringly generic about how The Candidate loves Coral Gables, has lived/worked/dreamed of the City for eons, and will fight to “preserve” it or “protect” it from crime and other unnamed horrors.  They’re for trees (parks) and against high property taxes and red tape–even thought that’s Coral Gables’ middle name, and indeed strong zoning and competent and honest enforcement of planning and construction rules is what drew many residents to buy here.  Pretty much 100% of these are substantially indistinguishable and amount to a waste of paper.  I’ve gotten a bunch of these from the O’Doski campaign. Yawn.

The other common template is a hit piece by some shadowy group that doesn’t file state paperwork so we can know their donors until after the election (the fines for late filing are laughable). These commonly have grainy scary pictures of the target, and accuse him or her of something heinous.  When the charges are not simply made up, they are almost always based on something ancient or something taken out of context.  For me and I suspect many other voters, the primary effect of these mailers is to raise the stature of the target: if the dark money wants to attack them, they must be doing something right.  There were some of these in first round, but I haven’t gotten any in the runoff, perhaps because they utterly failed to work the first time around.

But every so often, there’s a mailer that breaks the mold.  It acknowledges being from a campaign, not some pseudonymous cut-out, and it says something true and relevant.  I think this mailer from Melissa Castro does a a very effective job:

When I first looked at it, I thought it was one of the hit-job type of mailer–it took me a few seconds to get that, in this case, “zero” is good. And indeed, these three zeros are at the heart of why I recommend voting for Melissa Castro.

The election is this Tuesday.  If you have an absentee ballot you didn’t mail in, you can take it with you to your polling place and they will let you vote a regular ballot unless they have a dropbox, in which case you will be able to drop it off there. Don’t try to mail your ballot at this point, as it won’t count unless received by 7pm Tuesday. Postmarks don’t matter.

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Vote Castro in the April 25 Coral Gables Runoff (Can You Say that in Miami?)

May I suggest a vote for Melissa Castro in the runoff election for the upcoming Coral Gables Commission election? The reasons haven’t changed from my earlier recommendation: although Ivette Arango O’Doski is the sort of youngish, smart, person it is good to see get involved in local politics, she’s running with, and bankrolled by, the wrong crowd–her supporters and backers are more pro-development than I feel comfortable with.  Plus, while the election in the first round of Ariel Fernandez to the seat in Group V is a blow to the attempt to create a pro-development Mayoral electoral and money machine, it would be good to finish the job.

Absentee ballots have dropped. If you are planning to vote by mail, I’d send yours back right away given the state of the mails. Far better, though, I think to vote early, or drop off your ballot in person at the early voting site.  The early voting and early drop-off opportunities are at the War Memorial Youth Center,  405 University Drive.  Early voting and dropoff will be next weekend only: Saturday, April 22, and Sunday, April 23 from 7a.m. to 7p.m.  I’m very happy to report that instead of hiding the drop box on the back side of the building as they had done a year ago, for the first round of voting this year at least it was right on the front side, just a bit East of the main entrance, on University Drive. Much easier to find!

If you plan to vote in person on election day April 25, 2023, here is the Coral Gables General Biennial Runoff Election Polling Place List.

Turnout in the main election was an uninspiring 20.92%.  Normally turnout drops significantly in run-offs. That means that if you do vote, your ballot counts that much more than usual.

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Coral Gables Commission Election Results

All the votes are in!  Registered Voters: 33,002; Ballots Counted: 6,903; Voter Turnout: 20.92%
Click for larger imageCongratulations to Ariel Fernandez who is elected Commissioner in Group IV for a four-year term.  Let the fireworks begin?

Ivette O’Doski led the pack in Group IV, but with 47.26% that is not quite enough to prevent a run-off election against Melissa Castro who–despite having a much smaller campaign budget–managed to get 39.43% of the vote (that’s just under 8% less than O’Doski).  There will be a runoff between the two on Tuesday, April 25, 2023.  So either way, there will be a second woman on the five-person Commission.

Here’s the voting info from the City’s web page.

  • Coral Gables General Biennial Runoff Election Polling Place List
  • Voter Registration Due (Runoff Election Only): Monday, March 27 (Register online) [Yes, it does seem weird to have the deadline fall before we knew we’d need a runoff.]
  • Request for Vote-By-Mail Ballot Due (Runoff Election Only): Saturday, April 15 (Request a VMB ballot online) [That’s in 4 days, folks!]
  • Runoff Election (Early Voting/Mail-in Ballot Dropoff): Saturday, April 22, and Sunday, April 23 | 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. | War Memorial Youth Center, 405 University Drive

Notably, in Group IV, Jackson Rip Holmes was leading Sean McGrover by a vote just before the last tranche of vote-by-mail ballots got counted.  That would have been something.

Overall, I think these results are something of a rebuke for the idea of a developer-financed slate as organized by Mayor Lago–and for the politically ambitious Mayor himself. Although if O’Doski wins the runoff, I guess it will be fairer to call it a partial rebuke?

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Thoughts on the Coral Gables Commission Election April 11, 2023

TL/DR: I’m voting for Melissa Castro in Group 4, and Ariel Fernandez in Group 5, in the upcoming Coral Gables Commission election. Please don’t forget to vote.

Absentee ballots have dropped for the Coral Gables Commission election that is due to take place on Tuesday, April 11, 2023: Residents can vote early or drop off mail-in ballots at the Coral Gables War Memorial Youth Center, 405 University Drive, on April 1, April 2 and April 8 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — or in person on Election Day at your assigned precinct.

Three seats on the five-person commission are up this year, but one of the seats won’t be on the ballot as Mayor Vince Lago ran unopposed, so he is automatically re-elected to another two-year term. (Ordinary Commissioners get four-year terms.)

I think that the most important issue this year is the candidates’ stand on (over)development. And, not unrelatedly, the defining feature of the two contested races is a break with the gentility that used to mark Commission elections, in that Mayor Lago’s electoral machine and the state Republican party have set up a slate of candidates, and poured money—much of it from out of town and/or developers—into the coffers of their favored pro-overdevelopment candidates. That’s two strikes against those candidates right there.

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