Commission candidates prepare for upcoming Coral Gables election

When Coral Gables voters choose two new city commissioners on April 11, the city’s major issues of development, public safety, taxes and preserving community identity will be on the ballot as well. 

Early voting started April 1 and ends on April 8.

While Coral Gables residents normally would be voting on the mayor’s seat as well, they won’t be doing it this year because no one filed to challenge incumbent Vince Lago when qualifying closed in February.

“I believe this is a testament to all we have accomplished together,” said Lago in a tweet at the time.

As for the remaining six candidates, four are vying for commission seats in Group IV, while the other two have their eye on Group V. They each come from different backgrounds and focus on different social and political issues.

Four candidates are running for one seat in Group IV, seeking to replace current commissioner Jorge Fors Jr., who isn’t seeking reelection.

Ivette Arango O’Doski (Group IV)

A Coral Gables resident for decades, Arango O’Doski was the first candidate to file for the race. She holds a law degree from the University of Miami yet currently focuses on running her own government relations firm Ivette O’Doski Consulting, which was founded in 2015.

Among the main issues Arango O’Doski says she’ll tackle if elected: investing in public safety, creating and maintaining family-friendly amenities, protecting the environment, and combating traffic and overdevelopment in Coral Gables.

“We don’t want to be Brickell — we want to remain Coral Gables — but at the same time, we have to be open to growth and development,” said Arango O’Doski in an interview for Florida Politics.

Arango O’Doski has raised $134,115 for her campaign since August 2022 and has spent $16,928.60 With 173 contributors, more than half of her campaign donations come from individual entities.

Melissa Castro (Group IV)

With a background in psychology and behavioral analysis, Castro is a data-driven candidate. She became greatly involved with Coral Gables after taking care of MED Expeditors Inc., her mom’s permit expediting business in 2020, and has since looked for ways to stay connected to the community. 

Castro says her main values and concerns as commissioner would include supporting firefighter, police and first responders, avoiding raising property taxes, advocating for residents’ safety when driving, and preserving the historic nature of Coral Gables.

“With my expertise, my proposals will make accountability, organization, and transparency a priority,” said Castro in her website.

Castro has raised $12,550 for her campaign since February 2023 and has spent $7,673.11. These donations have come from 40 contributors, with 85 percent coming from individual entities.

Jackson Rip Holmes (Group IV)

Born and raised in Coral Gables, Holmes knows his city and says he wants to make some changes. He currently works as a real estate agent.

A firm believer in the people’s choice, Holmes recently started a petition to enact the requirement of voter referendum to approve major development projects in the city.

“We believe voters, not developers and not elected leaders, should control major development decisions in Coral Gables,” said Holmes in his petition.

Holmes is also known for the U.S. v. Holmes trial, where he was charged with threatening to kill Jeb Bush, former Gov. George Bush’s son, in 1988. He has since apologized for his remarks, saying that his mother plotted the incident to ruin his reputation.

This election marks Holmes’ fourth run for city commissioner, the last one in 2019.

Holmes says he hopes to lower taxes, revitalize the Miracle Mile and Ponce de Leon business areas and stop runaway development if he is elected.

Holmes has raised $2,323.68 for his campaign since May 2021 and has spent $2,248.68. With 11 contributors, more than three quarters of his donations have come from his own pocket.

Sean Patrick McGrover (Group IV)

With a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Central Florida, McGrover says he would bring a new perspective and diversity to the Coral Gables commission, which he says is often run by lawyers.

“What I’ve seen in the past few terms is every time a seat becomes available, it’s taken by a certain career and that career is attorneys,” said McGrover in a YouTube video detailing his campaign values. “My background is not in law, it’s in business and finance and that’s what I want to bring to the city.”

McGrover’s four-point plan for Coral Gables includes tightening the city’s budget to fight recession, creating new revenue by attracting new businesses to the area, creating a crypto token unique to the city, and implementing a grant program for first responders and health care workers. 

McGrover has raised $5,500 for his campaign since July 2022 and has spent $3,059.94. His campaign has had 16 contributors, with 88 percent being individual entities.

Candidates for the Group V commission seat will be replacing Mike Mena, who was first elected in 2017 and then was reelected without opposition in 2019. Here’s a look at the candidates:

Alexander Luis Bucelo (Group V)

A lifelong resident of Coral Gables, Bucelo says he wants to preserve Coral Gables’ unique quality of life. Some of his other projects would focus on preserving green spaces in the area, ensuring neighborhood safety, and lowering tax rates. 

“We live in Coral Gables because it’s the greatest place in South Florida to live, work, and raise a family,” said Bucelo on his campaign website.

Bucelo has a law background and owns his own firm. He’s also a member of the Cuban-American Bar Association as well as the Miami-Dade County Bar Association. During his first 100 days in office, he would want to advance Coral Gables’ permitting process to make it more effective.

Bucelo has raised $143,205 since August 2022 and has spent $103,737.44. His campaign has had 126 contributors, with over half being individuals.

Ariel Fernandez (Group V)

Fernandez first ran for commission in 2015. He has been a resident of Coral Gables for over 12 years and is co-founder of Gables Insider, a digital newsletter distributed to over 30,000 residents in the area. Aside from that, he is also the host of Leaders & Coffee, an interview program where he discusses issues around the community.

Some issues important to Fernandez include stop granting favors to developers in the area, ensuring Coral Gables has the necessary number of police and fire personnel, and preventing financial mismanagement. 

“It all comes back to residents being the priority,” said Fernandez. “If we make residents the priority at City Hall, the rest will fall in order.”

Fernandez has raised $28,455 for his campaign since August 2022 and has spent $12,825.83. His campaign had 148 contributors, with 97 percent being individuals.

Sofia Colignon is a senior at Florida International University double majoring in English in the writing and rhetoric track and digital communication and media in the digital journalism track. After completing her studies next summer term, she wishes to pursue a career within the entertainment field.