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Youngest commissioner elected in Pembroke Pines hopes to make government more accessible

Maria Rodriguez is the new District 3 commissioner on the Pembroke Pines city commission.
Maria Rodriguez
Campaign website
Maria Rodriguez is the new District 3 commissioner on the Pembroke Pines city commission.

The race for the District 3 seat on the Pembroke Pines City Commission was a lot closer than Maria Rodriguez would have liked.

During her campaign, the 28-year-old had snagged endorsements from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, as well as many of the state's high ranking members of the Democratic Party. She also estimates she knocked on 15,000 doors.

After all the votes were counted on election night, she came out on top — by just over 50 votes.

Now she plans to lean on relationships made during her time working for Broward County Commissioner Tim Ryan to help solve some of the city's most pressing issues including traffic and waste management.

"Some of the policies that affect us the most are actually what goes on in our own city halls. When our trash is picked up, whether a pothole is fixed, how the traffic is in our own cities actually depends a lot on our local government," Rodriguez told WLRN's The South Florida Roundup last week.

"I really wanted a say in how the city developed, not just for my future, but for everybody's future here in Pembroke Pines."

"I think it's really important for especially young people to get involved in local politics, to get to know their city commissioners, to get to know their county commissioners, state representatives, the whole deal, because those are the people that have a unique impact on your everyday life," she added. "And it's crucial for us to voice our opinions, to voice our concerns, and for these representatives to be held accountable to the communities that they serve."

READ MORE: Outgoing Pembroke Pines mayor looks back on city's growth after two decades at the helm

A Colombian-American who speaks Spanish and French, Rodriguez is also the youngest ever commissioner elected in Pembroke Pines. In a new interview, she told WLRN that among her other priorities are helping young families find their place in the community, and making local government more accessible to those who don't speak English.

"One of my key pillars in my campaign is making sure we have accessible government, and that means meeting people where they are, whether it's at a community event or at their front door," she said.

Rodriguez will be sworn in during a commission meeting next month.

Rodriguez sat down with WLRN Broward County reporter Gerard Albert for an interview. Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

WLRN: Soon you'll be sworn in as the youngest member of the Pembroke Pines City Commission. What led you to get involved in politics?

Rodriguez: After I came back from college, I began working with my dad's company here in Pembroke Pines. I ended up getting involved with local civic organizations. I got involved with participating and volunteering for a couple campaigns and really got involved with the local Democratic Party here in Broward.

In 2021 I got a job with County Commissioner Tim Ryan. And that's kind of how I grew my understanding of the importance of local government. And when this seat became available, I thought to myself, 'Well, we don't have too much youth representation or Hispanic representation in Pembroke Pines.'

On social media, it seems that you were out knocking on doors every weekend, rain or shine. Why was it so important for you to walk through the streets of your district?

One of my key pillars in my campaign is making sure we have accessible government, and that means meeting people where they are, whether it's at a community event or at their front door.

After the new year, I basically walked every single day during the week by myself and on the weekends with a group of amazing volunteers and friends that came out, by the end of the campaign we knocked more than 15,000 doors.

And what did you hear from the residents that you spoke to?

Some of the major things were traffic and the concern for a greener Pembroke Pines. They really wanted to make sure that we were bringing back the recycling and maintaining this quality of life that we've had so far. I also thought it was really important to be able to speak to people in their own language.

I was really excited when somebody opened the door and they're like, "Oh, I don't speak English," but I was able to quickly switch into Spanish and talk to them. They felt heard. They usually don't get to talk to candidates in Spanish because there haven't been too many.

Your district is almost 45% Latino and many people in the city are young families trying to navigate an increasingly unaffordable housing and rental market. Are you planning to advocate for more affordable housing with Spanish language messaging from the city as well?

Yes, most definitely. I think it's really important for us to understand how to have sustainable development and growth in a city where the mean age is under 40 years old. A lot of the families are like myself... and the challenges that we're facing are completely different than a lot of our older generations.

And having someone on the dais that comprehends that and comprehends that uniquely, because it is my lived experience on a day to day.

I think it's going to be important for me to advocate and make sure that this increase in housing doesn't negatively affect our, the residents by increasing traffic. So making sure we're mitigating both the traffic, but also assuring that people who want to live here are able to.

You'll be joining the commission at a time when Pembroke Pines is dealing with somewhat of an identity crisis. It's an older city with a huge population and it's almost totally out of land to build on. Meanwhile traffic and public school closures are a huge issue for voters. What are some of your priorities on the commission?

Well, one of my priorities is sustainable development. We don't have too much space to build, so there's definitely some opportunity to redevelop, make sure we're having mixed use housing and really making sure that we're building a city for the future and not just for right now.

Although we are a suburban area, I think we can definitely work on some things to make our community a little bit more interconnected and more feasible for younger families to live in.

You can hear more from Maria Rodriguez on the March 22 episode of The South Florida Roundup.

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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