Gentrification, inflation and deteriorating quality of life are the top campaign issues as two Hialeah city council members face opponents in the upcoming primaries.
In the Tuesday Nov. 7 elections, council president Monica Perez is facing off against immigration paralegal Elias Montes de Oca on one race, while in the other contested race veteran city council member Vivian Casals-Munoz is being challenged by nurse and small business owner Angelica Pacheco.
City council members Jesus Tundidor and Jackie Garcia-Roves are both running unopposed, assuring that they will each win another four-year term. City council members receive a salary of $44,000 a year.
After the primaries, the general election is slated for Nov. 21; the contests are non-partisan.
Kevin J. Cooper, vice chairman for the Miami-Dade County Republican party’s executive council, said the most pressing issues for Hialeah voters are the same ones that concern many other locals: the economy, housing, traffic and quality of life.
“People are looking to local government for additional support,” Cooper said in an interview. “You also want leaders who understand the community, who come from your community…who (are) going to be responsive to the concerns of the community and who understand the concerns.”
Monica Perez vs. Elias Montes de Oca
Perez, 41, up for her second term as Council president, has been serving on the panel since 2019. She also works as a teacher at West Hialeah Gardens Elementary School. Perez said at a recent campaign event that if she wins another term she wants to lower taxes, provide more housing options and reopen parks and recreation programs.
“We want to make Hialeah a place where people not only live, but they work, they play and they learn here,” Perez said in an interview at her campaign rally at Sambor’s Cafe on Sept. 9.
Elected months before the start of the COVID pandemic, Perez said her first term in office was marked by several challenges, including business closures, an immigration crisis and housing issues.
“We’ve had to combat (COVID) and work together and be creative on ways to make it safe for people to live here and for businesses to function,” she said.
Her opponent, Montes de Oca, 24, is a recent FIU grad, majoring in international relations and having worked at the immigration law firm at Paradise Services as a paralegal. Montes De Oca said he is focused on combating gentrification and expanding opportunities for young people in Hialeah to stem the brain drain of educated residents.
“The youth vote is a bit difficult to come by, given (that) especially a lot of our youth in Hialeah end up leaving, especially when they study,” said Montes de Oca. “I believe it’s due to lack of opportunity. Just in Hialeah, only 18%…have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and it’s not like we don’t go to college, it’s just that we’re not here to see the results.”
Montes De Oca said that’s the main reason he decided to challenge Perez.
“I think it’s important that (young people) have that representation, and that we’re doing more than just having that representation in what is our vote — but in office,” he said. “Seeing someone who…knows your lived experience and is running, I think is something that can change that.”
Montes De Oca said that because of his concerns about gentrification he has refused contributions from developers, including Prestige Builders, a prominent developer in Hialeah. Prestige Builders could not be reached for comment.
Vivian Casals-Munoz vs. Angelica Pacheco
Casals-Munoz, who has served on the Council since 2006, with the exception of being voted out for one term, said the biggest challenge for Hialeah is bringing in new development for families, including housing and entertainment.
“In the last five or six years, we’ve had an increase in new builders coming in, new ideas,” she said. “There’s a lot of young families moving into Hialeah. What people remember about Hialeah is that it’s usually for seniors and it’s not.”
Casals-Munoz, 56, added that 49th Street “was entertainment. You had banquets, you had bowling, you had theaters. We had an ice skating rink. There were so many things we had in the city of Hialeah that throughout the years we’ve lost, so that’s what I’m focused on.”
Citing the re-opening of the Hialeah Park Casino in 2013, Casals-Munoz said she wants to continue that revitalization, including attracting new entertainment venues on Palm Avenue, as well as developing new affordable low-rise housing on East 4th Avenue for young families.
“I’ve been working campaigns in Hialeah since ‘81, so I’ve seen a lot of changes, and every change we have is an opportunity for betterment and growth,” she said.
Her opponent, Pacheco argues that Casals-Munoz has been more focused on businesses than families, citing her 2015 vote to approve high-density housing, despite community opposition. Pacheco claims that Casals-Munoz was lobbied by Prestige Builders for her support.
“They’re bringing to Hialeah luxury apartments...where a studio starts at $2,000 a month,” said Pacheco, who has proposed rent stabilization measures. “This is obviously not being marketed to residents of Hialeah; this is being marketed to outsiders.”
She added, “I believe that we need authentic leadership in Hialeah. When politicians receive huge donations….They have commitments that they have to fulfill and those commitments come before their duty to serve the public, to serve the people that trusted them with their vote.”
Casals-Munoz denied any wrongdoing, stating, “My votes have never been sold. I have received contributions from many builders in the city of Hialeah… [Prestige] being one of them. When you are in a position as an elected official and you are running for office, you get contributions, normally from people that you know, mostly. I’ve lived in Hialeah since 1972, so I most of the businesses and builders, and people do donate. A donation does not mean you’re going to vote their way.”
Elections also are being held Nov. 7 for city commissioner seats in Miami, Miami Beach mayor and commissioners, and Homestead mayor and City Council, as well as a special Florida legislative race, House District 118, in southwestern Miami-Dade County.
Council President Monica Perez, running for her second term in office for Group 1. (Photo from hialeahfl.gov)
Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz, running for reelection in Group 4. (Photo from hialeahfl.gov)
Angelica Pacheco, running against Vivian Casals-Muñoz for the Group 4 seat. (Photo from Pacheco’s campaign’s YouTube page.)