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Levine Cava Wins Miami-Dade Mayor's Race, Becomes First Woman To Hold Mayoral Seat

daniella_levine_cava.jpeg
Miami Herald Archive

Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava has declared victory in the Miami-Dade mayoral race, after a blistering campaign that mirrored national anxieties.

This post was updated Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 11:25 p.m.

In a race that will realign local politics in Florida’s most populous county, Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava has declared victory in the Miami-Dade County mayoral race over her opponent Commissioner Estaban “Steve” Bovo — based on unofficial results Tuesday night.

The victory could prove to be the only strong point for Democrats in Miami-Dade, where Republicans showed out in strong numbers, impacting many down ballot races.

Levine Cava's victory makes her the first woman to be elected mayor in Miami-Dade County history and also the first non-Latino mayor since Stephen P. Clark left office in 1993.

"Tonight, we made history together," Levine Cava said in a statement. "There’s no place in the world like Miami-Dade. I’m honored to be the next Mayor of such a vibrant and special place."

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Her opponent Esteban "Steve" Bovo has conceded the race. With 842 of 866 precincts reporting, Levine Cava has about 54% of the vote.

Technically a nonpartisan race, the mayoral contest played out along explicitly partisan lines. Bovo, one of the most conservative voices in Miami-Dade politics, sought to capture the conservative vote, especially within the county’s majority Latino community.

Bovo repeatedly accused Levine Cava of being a "radical" leftist whose policies would destroy the county and put businesses and property at risk.

Levine Cava has long been one of the most progressive voices in local politics, pushing for things like paid sick leave and higher wages for county contractors, as well as environmental issues. Her campaign relied on heavy support from unions and sought to turn out the more traditionally Democratic voters in a presidential election year.

"I think people are very worried in this pandemic. They’re worried about health issues and they’re worried about the economy," said Levine Cava. "And I think they saw that I am a person who truly cares about everyone in our community and will work as hard as I’ve always worked to address these problems."

The county has voted for a Democrat in every presidential election since George H.W. Bush won it in 1988.

But before claiming victory, Levine Cava became the first registered Democrat to advance to a run-off election for the mayor’s seat in more than a decade, a profound irony in one of the state’s Democratic strongholds.

"I am so thrilled that Daniella Levine Cava will be the next mayor of Miami. Not only will she be the first female mayor of Miami Dade, but also she will be the innovative, compassionate leader this County needs," Terrie Rizzo, the chairperson of the Florida Democratic Party said in a statement. "I can not wait to see the phenomenal work she does as Mayor to help uplift every member of this community, combat the climate crisis, improve transportation, and so much more."

As mayor, Levine Cava will be working with what could be a majority Democratic-leaning board of county commissioners, depending on how commission races shape up.

Several longtime members of the commission were forced to retire this cycle, as term limits newly went into effect.

Levine Cava has signaled that with the new make-up of the commission and her at the helm as mayor, major policy changes could soon be coming on things like affordable housing and the environment.

Miami-Dade County is by far the largest local government in the state, with a $9 billion budget passed for 2021. The county also has its own charter and home rule privileges that impact enough Floridians that the state government has to pay it mind.

Yet, in recent years, the Miami-Dade mayor and Floridas governors have all been Republicans. So when disagreements have happened, things have mostly stayed friendly — if only for appearances’ sake.

With a progressive Democrat in an executive position leading the county, observers expect that the county could play an increasing role in pushing back against the Republican-dominated state government.

"I’m very proud that I do have bi-partisan support in my race. Obviously, many Republicans and many independents as well," said Levine Cava. "The problems in Miami-Dade County are not partisan ones. So, as I’ve always approached things as from a common sense perspective and [will] continue to do it as Mayor."

The state legislature has prevented Florida’s local governments from setting a variety of its own policies, from affordable housing mandates to plastic bag bans to whether or not local governments have to assist the federal government for immigration enforcement.

“One of the biggest issues we’ve dealt with over the last few legislative sessions has been preemption and taking away local rule,” said State Sen. Gary Farmer, a Broward Democrat. “I think having a strong Democratic mayor in Dade County could be impactful there and help.”

WLRN's Chris Remington contributed to this report.

Danny Rivero