The Miami City Commission race is shaping up to be one of the most contentious of the fall. For starters, former Commissioner Alex Diaz De La Portilla is facing various criminal charges and one of his opponents has had to sue to get on the ballot.
District 1, home to over 180,000 people, encompasses the Civic Center, as well as the neighborhoods of Allapattah and Grapeland Heights. The district is heavily working class, Cuban and conservative — an area that many say has been left behind when compared to the rest of Miami.
The district is one of three commission seats up for election on Tuesday, Nov. 7 with Districts 2 and 4 also holding contests. City commissioners serve a four-year term. The commissioner’s is a non-partisan seat.
Sean Fineman, a political science professor at Barry University with an expertise on local politics, said despite his arrest, De La Portilla’s name recognition and years of service as a veteran politician could help secure the race for him.
“Alex Diaz De La Portilla is so entrenched in Miami politics, that despite being indicted and facing criminal charges, he has a lot of supporters out there still helping him to get re-elected,” Fineman said.
“He’s been in office for a long time, now he’s back to being a city commissioner,” he added. “Part of it is name recognition, part of it is getting things done over the years, part of it is these odd dynamics in the city of Miami where you have some coalitions of people who like these guys but don’t like those guys. So (to) some, it’s just supporting your team.”
ALEX DIAZ DE LA PORTILLA
In September, Diaz De La Portilla was arrested on multiple charges, including money laundering, bribery and criminal conspiracy. Diaz De La Portilla was arrested after authorities said he took $245,000 from a company in Delaware in exchange for voting in favor of building a sports complex. He was removed from his seat by Gov. DeSantis and the post remains empty during the election.
Diaz De La Portilla, who could not be reached for comment, has denied any wrongdoing.
“DeSanctimonious should be suspending the left-wing Democrat prosecutor who he hand-picked to file these trumped-up charges,” said De La Portilla in a statement released to the press after his arrest.
The Republican has spent over 20 years representing Miami-Dade County. He served six years in the Florida House from 1994 to 2000, and a decade in the Florida Senate from 2000 to 2010. Diaz De La Portilla was first elected to the seat in 2019, running on a platform of limiting lobbyist influence in Miami politics and alleviating the housing crisis.
According to campaign finance reports, his re-election campaign has raised over $180,000 in donations, a sizable portion from real estate developers and investment firms, according to campaign finance records, but he has reported no contributions since his arrest.
Mercedes “Merci” Rodriguez has been a public servant for 31 years, serving on a number of boards and commissions in Miami-Dade County throughout the years.
If elected, Rodriguez would make history as the first female commissioner to represent District 1. She has raised over $175,00 more than any other candidate, with a significant portion of which coming from real estate firms throughout South Florida, according to campaign finance reports.
“I want to bring awareness to the Miami River — it’s part of District 1,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a big economic engine that provides a lot of jobs, and imports and exports. I want to bring affordable housing. I want to deal with improving our park system for the younger generation. It’s pretty devastating.”
Rodriguez said the district has been left behind through the years- degrading infrastructure and rising homelessness.
“I was born and raised in the district, so I have a different perspective,” she said. “We have flooding issues. We don’t have the right infrastructure in our district. It’s old. We have a lot of potholes. We have issues with things that other people might take for granted.”
Auto parts retailer and City of Miami Zoning Board member Miguel Gabela is running for the seat a second time, having lost to Diaz De La Portilla in 2019.
Gabela, a longtime resident of the district, sued to get on the ballot after the City Commission redrew the district lines in June, putting his home in District 3. After filing a federal lawsuit in August, a judge ruled Gabela was eligible to run in District 1.
Gabela’s campaign has raised over $73,000, roughly $20,000 coming from the candidate himself, according to campaign finance reports.
Gabela’s platform focuses on strengthening law enforcement in the district and improving quality of life, including housing and transportation.
“I’m running because I’ve been in this district for more than 37 years. I’ve been a member of the community for more than that, and I’m running because I see the discontent that the voter, the resident, the taxpayer has in District 1,” Gabela said in an interview with This Week in South Florida on Sept. 17.
“There’s a lack of maintenance, infrastructure, the sidewalks are dirty, the streets are full of potholes, we need more security, more police in the area,” he added. “Affordable housing is another problem we have. At the end of the day, the commissioner has had four years to do the correct thing, and I see that he hasn’t done it.”
Gabela could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.
Former Miami Police Department police officer and private investigator Frank Pichel is running after an unsuccessful run for Miami in 2021, during which Pichel was arrested for impersonating a police officer while surveilling Mayor Francis Suarez in Key Largo.
In an interview with Caplin News, Pichel denied any wrongdoing and alleged that he was targeted as retribution for leaving the police department.
In regard to the campaign, Pichel said the cost of living, stagnant wages and corruption in city government are his priorities. Pichel has raised over $35,000, with $30,000 of that coming out of his own pocket, according to campaign finance reports.
“I tell people, ‘Don’t elect me, employ me.’ Because if you employ me, you can fire me. If you elect me, you can’t fire me, and that’s the problem that all these (expletive deleted) have. They think that, ‘Oh, I’m the boss now.’ No, you’re not. You’re a public servant. Serve. Don’t abuse. Serve. Stop getting rich off of our taxes.”
Known as “Miami Marvin” to many throughout South Florida, Tapia is a community activist and investor involved in several South Florida projects.
Franco Investment Group, which he founded, counts the popular locally-owned chain The Salty Donut among its investments. Tapia also serves on the executive board of the Miami chapter of the United Way and Viernes Culturales, a nonprofit dedicated to showcasing Hispanic culture in South Florida.
A resident of the district for over a decade, Tapia raised over $37,000 in this campaign, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.
“It’s just been involving,” he said of the campaign. “The goal has always been to help, so any time that I’m offered a position, my question is, ‘Is this gonna allow me to help more?’ And if the answer is yes, I automatically get on board.”
“The number one thing I want in my time as commissioner is to represent our residents,” Tapia said. “One of the main things that I’ve heard from our residents is lack of representation. My first thing is to be a present commissioner and definitely have an open door policy. I want people to know who I am. I don’t want there to be any type of doubt in their mind that I’m the person for the people.”