Coral Gables elects new mayor, but commission races go to runoffs

After more than a year of campaigning, Vice Mayor Vince Lago, 43, will be Coral Gables’ next mayor. He bested Commissioner Pat Keon, 72, and 69-year-old real estate agent Jackson Holmes. 

Lago served as a commissioner for four years and vice mayor for two years. He captured nearly 60% of the vote, city officials reported Tuesday night. 

The contentious campaign to replace retiring four-term Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli was marked with numerous attack ads and, notably, a claim by Lago that Keon had sent campaign funds to the propaganda arm of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. Keon denied the claim.

And on April 8, the Miami Herald revoked its endorsement of Lago over a letter he signed that was sent to the Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart saying the school’s attempt to address racism was anti-Catholic. This, in turn, led to claims Lago was racially biased and anti-Semitic. Though the editorial board did not say that Lago’s action was itself racist, its members were troubled by the content of the letter and did not find his responses fully credible. 

A little more than 10,000 of the city’s 36,010 registered voters cast ballots. Lago received slightly more than 6,000 votes while Keon received slightly less than 4,000. Holmes ran a distant third place, gathering only 463 votes. 

The vote count was similar to the candidates’ financing. Lago raised close to $400,000 for his campaign, while Keon raised a little over $200,000 and Holmes just $2,653.

Before the election, Lago said that if he won, he was going to embark on a 100-day listening tour, talking to residents about any issues or concerns they had regarding the city. He pushed land-use and zoning issues as part of his campaign.  

“I want to continue to add to the transparency that we have been implementing and pushing forward,” he said. 

A total of 10 candidates ran for the seats Lago and Keon vacated to run for mayor, but none received more than 50% Tuesday, pushing those races to an April 27 runoff. 

In Group Two, Rhonda Anderson, a lawyer and community activist, and retired banker Jose Valdes-Fauli received the votes to get to the second round.

Anderson, who could not be reached, led with 1,636 more votes than Valdes-Fauli, the brother of the outgoing mayor. 

“I have a great deal of financial experience that I think the city could use,” Valdes-Fauli said on election night. 

In Group Three, attorney Javier Banos and Kirk Menendez, a community activist and public affairs expert, were the top two in the race. But it was close: Banos led with just 120 votes.

In an interview before the election, Banos said he had knocked on more than 7,000 doors since his campaign started.

“I did a listening tour for the first three months of my campaign, I knocked on doors and asked the residents what concerns them,” said Banos.

Adriana Calderon is a senior majoring in communications journalism. After her studies, she will go on to pursue a career as a news reporter.