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Behind The Scenes With Two Young Campaign Managers On Opposite Sides Of The Miami-Dade Race For Mayor

(Left) Miami-Dade County Mayoral candidate Steve Bovo with Campaign Manager Mark Gomez. (Right) Miami-Dade County Mayoral candidate Daniella Levine Cava with Deputy Campaign Manager Manny Orozco.
Mark Gomez/Manny Orozco
(Left) Miami-Dade County Mayoral candidate Steve Bovo with Campaign Manager Mark Gomez. (Right) Miami-Dade County Mayoral candidate Daniella Levine Cava with Deputy Campaign Manager Manny Orozco.

Manny Orozco and Mark Gomez are campaign workers on opposing sides of the Miami-Dade County mayoral race, but they have a lot in common.

They’re both in their 20s and playing key roles in trying to get their candidates elected.

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Orozco is a deputy campaign manager for Democrat Daniella Levine Cava, and Gomez is a campaign manager for Republican Esteban "Steve" Bovo.

WLRN spent some time with the young political operatives to hear more about their path to civic engagement.

On How They Got Interested In Politics

Both of them knew early on that they wanted to be involved in politics.

Orozco was 14 years old during the 2008 presidential elections. He said he didn’t understand what it meant to be a Democrat or a Republican at that time. His perspective was shaped by his admiration for his mother.

“I didn't understand policy, but I think I understood it through the eyes of my mom, what it really meant … to be a fighter and to be resilient and to overcome a lot of a lot of the issues that women have to overcome in a male dominated world,” Orozco said. “I saw that same fight in Hillary Clinton.”

Orozco recalls hearing pundits talk about former president Barack Obama's policy, while talking about Hillary Clinton's outfit or demeanor. He said it angered him as a little kid.

“I knew then that I wanted to be a part of that history-making moment that was electing the first woman president,” Orozco said. “When she lost in 2008, I was so heartbroken. I always said if she ever ran for president again, I would stop whatever I was doing to get involved and help her win … fast forward eight years … I was in college and I said, ‘alright, I'm going to stay true to my promise.’”

Manny Orozco speaking to a crowd about Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava's campaign for Miami-Dade mayor.
Manny Orozco
Manny Orozco speaking to a crowd about Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava's campaign for Miami-Dade mayor.

That was the start of Orozco’s role as a campaign worker for various national races. He also worked as the Florida campus director for NextGen America, a progressive nonprofit political action organization that mobilizes young voters.

“It was mainly about ... how amazing of an opportunity I had to work for this candidate that I truly believed in,” Orozoco said. “Not only that, but my work was geared toward getting young people out to vote and helping young people find their political power by making them realize that they, too, can make a difference in their communities and in their state and country.”

Gomez was 9 years old when he went to his first political rally for George Bush in 2004. He said his parents were big supporters.

“Ever since then I fell in love with the vibe,” Gomez said. “I fell in love with the love of country. So I was like, 'you know what I want? I want to pursue something in this. I want to at least look into it.'”

Gomez said he became a political buff, paying attention to what was going on in local and federal politics. As he became a young adult, he became even more involved. He interned for two Congress members before transitioning into a more local role as a commissioner aide for Miami-Dade Commissioner Bovo.

“When I interviewed to get a job at Commissioner Bovo's office, one of the first questions out of his mouth was, ‘Are you willing to make any problem that comes in through that door, your own? Are you willing to handle it as your own?’” Gomez said. “I'd rather not be called a politician when I get there. I'd rather be called a public servant because that's probably the most impactful way that we can use this career.”

On What It’s Like To Work For A Local Campaign

Orozco said he was glad he took the opportunity of working for a local campaign instead of being involved in a presidential campaign.

“While being here, I learned firsthand how local politics can directly impact the quality of life for its residents,” he said. “We are making a difference—or trying to make a difference—that's going to directly impact the lives of people. Versus at the national level, you're so disconnected from folks on the ground and from policies on the ground.”

As campaign managers, both Orozco and Gomez juggle a lot of responsibilities. Their jobs focus on administrative duties as well as contributing to campaign operations. Gomez said his day starts early in the morning. By 6:30 a.m. his team is on the way to the precincts.

Mark Gomez (far left) speaking to tktk at the campaign's office.
Mark Gomez
Mark Gomez (far left) speaking to volunteers that were phone banking at the Bovo campaign's headquarters.

“We're getting people to understand Commissioner Bovo’s message throughout the day, while they're voting,” he said. “Just going out, making sure that everybody has the resources they need … yard signs, pamphlets, you know, the usual.”

Gomez said the day doesn’t end when the polls close. His team goes straight back to the campaign’s headquarters to wait for the numbers to come out.

“While we're doing that, we're reassessing what we did, making sure that we maximized the day of and hope that we do the same the next day.”

On Campaigning During A Pandemic

Both campaign managers took on their role at the beginning of the year—pre-pandemic. Their teams had to change their strategies fast when the pandemic began.

Gomez said back in December, Bovo’s team was going door to door every weekend.

“One day to the next, we just had to stop that operation and change it for the needs of the people … It's just been phone calls and social media, right. That's what this campaign has really become.”

Although the pandemic brought new challenges, Orozco said there’s an upside to campaigning virtually.

“I joke with our team, we laughed that we feel like pioneers figuring out how to navigate a pandemic while running a massive operation here,” Orozco said. “I think one of the biggest pluses to it is that we've been able to be at many places much quicker than if we were doing in-person events.”

What both campaigns have been doing in person is much smaller than before. Orozco said he still misses those big events.

“We pride ourselves in being more responsible, that we are not encouraging those rallies,” he added. “But there is no feeling like speaking in front of 5,000, 10,000 people and feeding off of that energy. That's kind of what keeps the candidate going and what keeps staff going … on these very long and hectic days.”

On Taking Key Positions In Campaigns At A Young Age

Both of them are decades younger than their candidates. Orozco, who is 26 years old, said he’s used to having to figure things out.

“There's many moments that I have found myself in where it's like … I haven't done this before, I don't know what to do,” Orozco said. “I kind of just have to go off of instinct or my gut feeling.”

Orozco said he’s always been the youngest person in the roles that he’s held. He says his age gives him the advantage of a unique perspective that helps him bring new ideas to the table. Gomez also sees his age, 25, as an opportunity.

“Sometimes you feel tiny in this sea of giants, but you just make a name for yourself,” Gomez said. “Being able to work with some of the people that I've admired over the last few years, like, ‘oh man, I want to be like that person.’ And then all of a sudden I'm sitting around the table with them, so it’s been pretty cool ... and it’s been teaching me a lot cause I, God willing, one day want to run for office.”

They both said that each of their candidates has shared their wisdom and experience, while also being open to learn from them. Orozco said working on Cava’s campaign has made him think hard about the role of a public servant.

“Government is like customer service,” he said. “It is our job to provide good customer service to the people of this community because they hired us to work for them.”

Gomez echoed that sentiment.

“It reminds me of a conversation that I've had with my parents a long time ago. If we're not living for the other, then what are we living for?” Gomez said. “That stems from home and then I hear it here at the campaign, and it’s just been like our campaign is one for the people.”

On How They View The 2020 Elections

Orozco said his bread and butter when it comes to politics has always been to empower and mobilize the country's youth.
Manny Orozco
Orozco said his bread and butter when it comes to politics has always been to empower and mobilize the country's youth. Orozco pictured here at a Black Lives Matter protest earlier this year.

They both say it’s critical that their peers vote in this election.

“This is the most important election of our lifetime and it doesn't matter how old you are,” Orozco said. “My hope is that young people will turn out in historic numbers and that they will own this moment and that they will find their political power.”

Gomez also wants his generation to own this moment and their role in making changes where they live. He said his generation can’t be afraid of being involved and making themselves known.

“At the end of the day, on November 4th, we're going to have to go back to living together,” Gomez said. “And no matter what differences we have, we're still residents of the same county. So we've got to make sure that we keep that in the back of our minds and make sure that we work together.”

Natalia Clement is a freelance journalist and former summer intern for WLRN, South Florida’s public radio news outlet. She enjoys producing multimedia content that covers community news and current topics of interest.
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