Miami Lakes council race was close at the ballot box, but not the bank

Miami Lakes Councilwoman Marilyn Ruano won reelection recently with a campaign budget that was nearly double that of her opponent, but the small margin of victory left first-time candidate Ray Garcia optimistic about his future in the public sector, he said.

Although Ruano raised over $18,000 more than Garcia did, less than 200 votes separated the two candidates in what was one of Miami-Dade County’s closest races. According to the county elections website, Ruano got 50.58% of all votes, winning the Seat 3 race by slightly over one percentage point.

After the results were in on Election Day, Ruano, 43, thanked her supporters for the win through a video posted to Facebook and Instagram.

“I promise to serve you with integrity,” she said. “I promise to do a good job. I will always look out for your best interest. Thank you for this vote of confidence.”

In an interview before the election, Ruano said her priorities for the town are to mitigate traffic congestion and to help small businesses suffering from COVID-19 restrictions. Garcia, 47, said he had similar plans.

Although he lost, Garcia said he is proud of the campaign he ran and doesn’t regret a thing. He said going around his community and getting to know the residents was one of the best experiences of his life.

“I kept it clean and talked about the issues,” he said. “I made it about them — because it was about them — and they responded.”

Besides raising money and meeting thousands of residents, Garcia said he believes the support he got from existing councilmembers made his near-win possible. He said he was humbled to have the support of Mayor Manny Cid and Councilmen Jeffrey Rodriguez and Carlos O. Alvarez.

Ruano also had support from fellow members of the council. Both Joshua Dieguez of Seat 4 and Luis Collazo of Seat 5 made contributions to her campaign. She also received donations from political committees across the state, such as People for Accountable Government, the Conservative Leadership Fund and the Florida Conservative Action Fund.

Ruano’s extended reach was evident through her campaign’s financial reports, which were all filed by the Oct. 30 deadline. From a grand total of $30,420, only $600 came out of her own pocket. Excluding her self-loans, 56% of the contributions came from addresses outside of the town.

Garcia, on the other hand, had less support. His financial reports, which were also filed by the end of October, indicated a total of $18,067 — about one-third of which was his own money. Of all the funds he gathered from supporters, 37.2% were donated by people or businesses apart from Miami Lakes.

Still, Garcia said he will continue to spark change from outside of town council. He said he is currently volunteering by giving away food at his local Methodist church on Saturdays. He is also considering joining the Blasting Advisory Committee, he said, which was proposed by Ruano back in 2018.

“I’m not ruling anything out,” he said. “I plan to continue to be involved. We’re still in a crisis right now, so anything I can do to help — any little bit helps.”

Samantha Morell loves to write, draw, take pictures, dance and travel. These are interests she aims to incorporate in her career and lifestyle. She is studying journalism and philosophy at FIU because she believes both subjects make her receptive to new information, as she hopes to always be learning.