It’s been one of the worst-kept secrets in South Florida politics for a while, but the man at its center has edged closer than ever to removing all doubt: Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz is keen on running to again become the Mayor of Sweetwater next year.
Diaz, a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps who served as Sweetwater Mayor from 1999 to 2002, told Florida Politics that while he hasn’t officially filed for the race, he hopes to once more seek election to the top office of the city he’s long called home.
“If Sweetwater accepts me back, I would love to be their Mayor again,” he said. “Once you’re a fireman putting out issues in the political world, it becomes addictive. You want to stay in it one way or another, and I could not find a greater venue to do that in than the city where I grew up.”
Diaz has been one of 13 members of the Miami-Dade Commission since 2002 and has led the local legislative body as its chair since last year. But due to term limits voters approved in 2012, he and four other long-tenured commissioners — Sally Heyman, Jean Monestime, Rebeca Sosa and Javier Souto — must leave office in November.
That would give him more than four months to qualify for the May 23, 2023, Sweetwater election.
If re-elected in Sweetwater, Diaz would be one of only a few strong Mayors in the county, a position granting him powers and responsibilities of a city manager in addition to serving as the city’s figurehead. A strong Mayor does not have a vote on the City Commission but reserves the ability to veto items it produces.
Though Diaz still has more than half a year left in his current role, there has been a significant uptick in fundraising activity since November 2021 by his political committee, We the People, which last year gave about $275,000 to seven sitting county commissioners.
In the last four months, the PC has accepted more than $310,000 in donations. Over the previous year, the PC raised just over $16,000.
In addition to sponsoring myriad measures of countywide benefit, Diaz has scored several noteworthy wins for his hometown. None recently surpasses an effort he led in December to allow Sweetwater’s annexation of a high-value commercial sector nearly doubling the city’s size and lowering taxes for residents.
The city of Doral had previously applied to absorb the area, which contains distribution centers for Amazon, Goya Foods, UPS and John Deere, as well as Telemundo’s headquarters, Topgolf, Home Depot and many other businesses. It generates more than $1 million in tax revenue.
But the County Commission blocked Doral’s request through a measure Diaz sponsored. It then approved Sweetwater’s annexation ordinance, which Diaz also backed.
A lawyer representing Doral said the city will pursue a legal challenge of the annexation.
Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez, who is competing with former Sweetwater Commissioner Sophia Lacayo to replace Diaz on the Commission, decried the move as “inappropriate” and akin to “changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
In August, Diaz successfully underwent surgery to remove a noncancerous tumor. He returned to government work after a brief recovery period.