Kevin Marino Cabrera, Jorge Fors Jr. head to runoff for District 6 seat on Miami-Dade Commission

Election-Day---Cabrera-v.-Fernandez-v.-Fors-v.-Vazquez
The technically nonpartisan race for District 6 attracted more than $2M in donations through mid-August.

Government relations specialist Kevin Marino Cabrera and Coral Gables Commissioner Jorge Fors Jr. will compete in a runoff election to determine which of them will represent District 2 residents on the Miami-Dade County Commission. Neither received enough votes to win office outright.

With early and mail-in voting totals tabulated and all 82 precincts reporting by 10 p.m. Tuesday, Cabrera had 43% of the vote while Fors had 26%. Miami-Dade law requires a County Commission candidate to receive more than half the votes cast during the technically nonpartisan Primary contest to win office.

The winner on Nov. 8 will succeed term-limited Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who has served District 6 uninterrupted since 2001.

For the other two candidates in the race, Tuesday marked the end of the road this election cycle. Miami Springs Councilman Victor Vazquez, the lone Democrat in an otherwise Republican-heavy field, took 18% of the vote. Entrepreneur Dariel Fernandez got 13%.

The nonpartisan race for District 6 attracted more than $2 million in donations through mid-August.

No candidate drew more money and heavyweight GOP backing than Cabrera, who entered Primary Election Day with more than $1.2 million raised and an endorsement from his former boss, Donald Trump.

District 6 covers a north-central portion of Miami-Dade, including part or all of the cities of Coral Gables, Hialeah, Miami, Miami Springs, Virginia Gardens and West Miami. The district also contains Miami International Airport, one of the county’s top two economic engines, and a Miami golf course being redeveloped as a soccer stadium complex for the city’s Major League Soccer Team.

Trump remains popular in the district, a Hispanic-majority area that leans heavily Republican. Voters there chose Trump over Joe Biden by a 20-percentage-point margin in 2020.

But so is Sosa, who won re-election for a fifth time in 2018 with more than 76% of the vote. She chose Fors, whose $731,000 gains this election cycle placed him second in fundraising, as her preferred successor.

Fernandez and Vazquez respectively raised $86,000 and $33,000 and had far fewer endorsements to lean on. As such, they ran at a marked disadvantage compared to the race’s two presumptive front-runners.

Cabrera, who is married to Coral Gables state Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, is a senior vice president with the public strategy firm Mercury. He worked on the campaign teams of several notable Florida Republicans, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Supreme Court Justice John Couriel and former U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

In 2020, Cabrera led Trump’s re-election effort in Florida as state director. His campaign says he led a voter-contact program of more than 200 staffers and delivered the state to the incumbent President.

Cabrera held public office once before as an elected Councilman on a Miami-Dade land-use zoning board.

He promised, if elected, to cut “red tape” in county services, protect the environment by addressing potential saltwater intrusion into the local aquifer and preventing developmental encroachment into the Everglades, boost unemployment and small businesses, and support first responders, including creating a “county task force” to patrol neighborhoods.

He also floated creating a trust fund for exclusive use by District 6, lowering tolls, using trolleys to “create connectivity amongst all municipalities in District 6” and advancing the eight-year-old SMART Plan to expand transit solutions along six key commuting corridors across the county.

In addition to Trump, Cabrera received endorsements from U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, state Reps. Daniel Perez and Anthony Rodriguez, Hialeah Mayor Steve Bovo, Miami City Commissioners Joe Carollo and Alex Diaz de la Portilla, and Hialeah Council members Brian CalvoVivian Casals-Muñoz and Luis Rodriguez.

SEIU Florida and AFSCME also threw their support behind Cabrera’s campaign.

A lawyer in private life, Fors won election to the Coral Gables Commission in 2019 by just 173 votes but has since earned endorsements from the majority of his peers on the city dais. He also sits on the board of directors of the Miami-Dade League of Cities.

Fors ran a “family first platform” promising to fight property tax hikes, maintain county programs that benefit seniors and children, fund law enforcement and improve the quality of public space.

A plethora of local officials threw their support behind Fors, including Sosa, Miami Springs Mayor Maria Puente Mitchell, Virginia Gardens Mayor Spencer Deno, West Miami Mayor Juan Blanes, West Miami Commissioners Luciano Suarez and Candida Blanca, Miami Lakes Councilman Josh Dieguez, Miami City Commissioner Manolo Reyes, Hialeah Council member Jackie Garcia RovesMonica Perez and Jesus Tundidor, and Coral Gables Commissioners Rhonda AndersonKirk Mendez and Jeffrey Rodriguez.

Several former locally elected officials also endorsed Fors, as did the South Florida Council of Firefighters, Builders Association of South Florida, Association of Realtors, South Florida Police Benevolent Association, Fraternal Order of Police and others.

Fernandez, who owns and operates a software company called Ponemous Group in Coral Gables, was the lone District 6 candidate to have never held elected office. That notwithstanding, he has been a contributory member of his community, serving on the Miami-Dade Cryptocurrency Task Force and the board of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber honored him this year with its “Man of the Year Award.”

Fernandez’s campaign platform was somewhat sparse. He opposed tax increases and supported workforce housing development, enhancing public safety, supporting small businesses, improved access to health care and expanding programs for seniors.

He received endorsements from Medley Mayor Roberto Martell, Florida National University President and CEO Maria Regueiro and Liliam López, president of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber.

Vazquez won his seat on the Miami Springs City Council with 70% of the vote in April 2021. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and lost a leg while on active duty. In private life, he works as a history professor at Miami Dade College and serves as a historian at an American Legion post, according to his city bio.

He vowed, if elected, to increase community safety through “pocketbook-sensitive, locally driven solutions,” develop affordable housing and boost employment and job creation through workforce development and economic diversification programs that also help entrepreneurs, according to his campaign platform.

Other priorities included strengthening oversight of transportation spending to expand rapid transit countywide, protecting local waters and environmentally sensitive lands by supporting “best growth management practices” and seeking federal, state and local investments to reduce fossil fuel use, saltwater intrusion into the county water supply and expedite septic-to-sewer conversions.

While Fernandez and Vazquez had marked disadvantages in funding and support, they were also the only two candidates heading into Primary Election Day around whom little proverbial dirt was kicked.

As Cabrera’s campaign gained steam, a more than four-year-old video of him participating in a protest alongside members of the Miami-Dade Republican Party and the far-right Proud Boys outside the office of former U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala’s office resurfaced. In the video, Cabrera can be seen pounding his fist on Shalala’s door while holding a rudimentarily drawn poster opposing communism.

The incident drew rebukes from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Curbelo, who said he “fully” agreed that the protest was “100 percent wrong” and “disgusting.”

Speaking with the Miami Herald recently, Cabrera maintained he was exercising his First Amendment rights but denounced the Proud Boys and “any group that espouses any sort of hate.”

Fors, meanwhile, is the subject of an attack website, ForsTheFraud.com, highlighting his past property tax evasion and traffic citations he incurred in the early 2000s. The site also notes Fors’ illegal use of a homestead property tax exemption, an issue he has since resolved and paid for.

The website was paid for by Save Our Quality of Life, a Tampa-based political committee that got a $135,000 influx this month from another political committee led by GOP strategist Anthony Pedicini. Pedicini’s political committee, in turn, received $90,000 since mid-July from Cabrera’s political committee, “Dade First PC.”

In what was likely a mistake, a campaign video Fors posted to his Twitter account briefly ran on the Coral Gables city website in early August. Multiple city personnel confirmed with Florida Politics the site had just undergone an overhaul that included a ticker of Commission members’ Twitter accounts. The issue was fixed within minutes, they said.

Fors also took heat for a July campaign mailer that included side-by-side photos of him and Trump and a statement suggesting they were working together in a “great effort to reduce gasoline prices and improve the economy.” The mailer was paid for by Basic Principles, which received a $1,000 donation from Fors in March and gave $3,000 to Fors this month.

Cabrera similarly attracted criticism for mailers sent to District 6 residents in July seemingly meant to trick progressive voters into believing he is a Democrat. Registered Democrats in the District received a blue-hued “Democratic Voter Guide” espousing Cabrera’s credentials over those of Fors, while Republicans received an almost identical one in red that also noted Trump’s endorsement.

Cabrera’s campaign strategy belies a prior affinity he and Fors apparently shared. Before he filed for District 6, both Cabrera and his wife gave $1,000 apiece to Fors’ campaign. After Cabrera announced his candidacy, the couple rescinded their donations.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.



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