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Sundial Now: Elections bring a change of guard for Miami-Dade County

David Santiago
Miami Herald

We’re retooling Sundial you’ll now be hearing shorter ‘Sundial Now’ segments that reflect our community, starting today. We want you to be a part of the retooling process as we enter this new era of the show. See how you can participate at the bottom of this story.

Unprecedented changes are coming to the Miami-Dade County Commission.

A big renewal is expected to come out of this election cycle. It all goes back to a term cap referendum that’s been slowly taking effect since 2012. This election cycle it’s forcing out a handful of incumbents that have been in office for decades.

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“This is when the last of the old-timer county politicians who we've had in county government for decades are going to be forced out. And so that makes it kind of the beginning of a new era,” said WLRN reporter Danny Rivero on Sundial Now.

“We're going to have a lot of new faces and new ideas in the county government from top to bottom.”

He also discussed the impact this layer of government has on our day-to-day lives. The county oversees the transit system, the police department and two of the biggest drivers of the South Florida economy, the Miami International Airport and Port Miami.

“In some ways, it's kind of the most important level of government we have in Miami-Dade County. They do things that touch your day-to-day lives,” said Rivero. “It's just a massive amount of policy that is decided at the county level rather than the city, state or even federal level.”

Voters will begin to decide those changes in the upcoming primary election on August 23rd.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

WLRN: Let’s go back to that 2012 referendum. Why did voters make that decision? Take us back to that time. 

RIVERO: This was something that was extremely popular and had passed with more than 75% of the vote. At that time, there was a lot of anger at politicians in the county. It was in the aftermath of the housing crisis. Property taxes were raised by the county commission. It was just a year after voters recalled county mayor Carlos Alvarez after the debacle of the Marlins stadium deal. And this caused voters to be really angry at politicians. They wanted to be able to get new leadership in there. But there was a problem because incumbents, people that have been in office, have just an astronomical rate of getting reelected. In Florida, according to Ballotpedia, about 96% of incumbents get reelected. And so the voters wanted to put a cap on that.

In 2020, the average tenure for a Miami-Dade commissioner was 14 years, as the Miami Herald has reported. And that's going to go way down. For these people who are now coming in or might get newly elected to these seats. What does that mean for them?  

It means that we're going to have fewer lifers. You're going to have less people that are seemingly in those positions for life because now there's going to be an eight-year cap on that. And then you have to do something else. I mean, maybe someone will run for mayor, maybe someone will run for federal office or what have you. But you are going to be capped at eight years. And it really is a very significant moment.

There are five incumbents that are being forced to exit because of these term limits. Tell us a little bit about who they are and their legacy.  

Javier Souto - District 10, which includes parts of Kendall and Westchester, in office since 1993.

He's a former state senator. His legacy, a lot of it, has really just been nuts and bolts, quality of life stuff. He's focused a lot on parks and green space.

Rebeca Sosa - District 6, which includes parts of Coral Gables, Miami, Hialeah, Miami Springs, West Miami, in office since 2001.

She was a former mayor of the city of West Miami and actually was a mentor for Senator Marco Rubio when he was starting off his political career. Sosa has been actually one of the biggest champions of the environment in Miami-Dade County. She's universally heralded as one of the people pushing to make Biscayne Bay cleaner and healthier.

Jose “Pepe” Diaz - District 12, which includes Doral, Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Medley, and Sweetwater, in office since 2002.

He's the chairman of the board of county commissioners. He's very loved by developers and the construction industry. He's done a lot for homelessness with veterans and done a lot for expanding the city of Sweetwater, which is where he's from. He helped [the city] annex some land and expand their footprint.

Sally Heyman - District 4, which includes coastal areas in the northeastern corner of Miami-Dade County, in office since 2002.

She's a former state representative and she's focused a lot on public safety, firefighting, the police department - making sure they have everything in order. It's a very big job, as we have the largest police department in the state.

This race has actually already been decided because there was only one candidate who qualified in time, Micky Steinberg. She's a city commissioner in Miami Beach. And since she was the only candidate to qualify, she didn't even have to be elected. Technically, she just automatically has become the next commissioner.

Jean Monestime - District 2, which includes North Miami, North Miami Beach, in office since 2010.

He was the first Haitian-American member of the commission. And his legacy is really at the forefront of a lot of issues for lower-income residents, immigrants [and] undocumented immigrants. He's been one of the loudest voices in support of those groups in the last couple of years.

This is a nonpartisan election. What should people know about that?

That means that even though it's a primary election, you don't have to be anything to vote in them. You could be Republican, Democrat, third party [or] independent because they are nonpartisan. Anyone who can vote can have a say in those races if you have an election in your district, including if you're in a city like the city of Miami or Miami Beach. Key Biscayne has a mayoral election [and] a lot of cities have city referendums. So there are things to vote on.

Want to be a part of Sundial’s retooling? Tell us, what topics are catching your attention these days? Is there a particular story or subject you'd like us to dig into?

Text us at 786-677-0767.

Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the former lead producer behind Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also worked on visual and digital storytelling.
Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org