Danielle Cohen Higgins defeats two challengers to keep District 8 seat on Miami-Dade Commission

Cohen Higgins went to Election Day with many advantages.

Danielle Cohen Higgins has successfully fended off two challengers to hold onto her seat representing District 8 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.

With early and mail-in voting totals tabulated and all 87 precincts reporting by 10 p.m. Tuesday, Cohen Higgins had 57% of the vote to secure her seat outright and avoid a Nov. 8 runoff. 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.

Her challengers split the remainder. Former nursing director Karen Baez-Wallis took 23% of the vote, while Realtor and community activist Alicia Arellano got 20%.

Heading into Primary Election Day, Cohen Higgins held the edge in experience, fundraising, name recognition, community support and the backing of her peers on the dais.

lawyer by trade, Cohen Higgins is running to hold onto the seat she took by appointment in early December 2020, when the County Commission selected her over six other candidates — including Arellano — to replace Daniella Levine Cava, who vacated office to become Miami-Dade Mayor.

Following Cohen Higgins’ win Tuesday, Levine Cava sent out a statement congratulating her successor, whom she called “a strong champion for District 8.”

“Commissioner Cohen Higgins has the experience, compassion, and dedication to deliver for South Dade and tonight voters elected her to a full term as our County Commissioner,” she said. “I look forward to our continued work together for South Dade and to keep moving forward towards a safe, healthy, and prosperous future.”

Considered a political newcomer when she filed to run for Levine Cava’s seat in June 2019 — the County Commission ultimately forwent holding a Special Election seat, citing its $1 million-plus cost — Cohen Higgins nonetheless boasted numerous community and political bona fides, including board service with Ruth’s List Florida, the Florida Justice Association, South Florida American Heart Association and Take Stock in Children. She is a current board member of The Children’s Trust.

As a Commissioner, she sponsored or co-sponsored hundreds of measures, including items creating a county Cryptocurrency Task Force to examine how the county can best leverage digital money, toughening penalties for animal cruelty and connecting two South Miami-Dade municipalities by building a long-planned bridge — a project staunchly opposed by one of the two cities.

For her 2022 election effort, Cohen Higgins raised about $940,000 — more than 26 times what Arellano and Baez-Wallis collected. As of Aug. 5, Cohen Higgins had more than $512,000 left, including rollover funds from her prior County Commission bid.

More than a third of her donations came from companies associated with South Florida’s booming real estate industry.

Cohen Higgins’ government webpage lists her policy priorities as “innovating government to be more proactive rather than reactive, addressing severe housing affordability challenges, which are pricing families out of Miami-Dade County, supporting commonsense environmental sustainability measures, and bringing effective transit solutions to the residents of District 8.”

She received endorsements from Levine Cava, fellow Miami-Dade Commissioners Jose “Pepe” DiazOliver Gilbert IIIJean MonestimeSally HeymanEileen Higgins and Rebeca Sosa, former Miami-Dade Commissioner Dennis Moss, every elected official from Cutler Bay, three members of the Homestead Council and many others.

Her organizational backers include the South Florida Police Benevolent Association, Transport Workers Union Local 291, International Association of Firefighters, Hispanic Police Officers Association, South Florida Council of Firefighters and SEIU Florida.

Seeking something of a rematch to a contest that voters never had a say in, Arellano faced an uphill battle in securing support this election cycle. Since initially filing to run for the District 8 seat in April 2020, she raised just $2,470. Of that, she had $47 left by Aug. 5.

Arellano is Vice Chair of the Hammocks Advisory Committee, a neighborhood watch group. Her campaign cited her successful effort in 2021 to stave off a 213-townhome development in her community through petition signing.

In interviews with the Miami Herald, she and Cohen Higgins opposed expanding the county’s Urban Development Boundary, which acts as a buffer between potential developments and protected lands, including the Everglades.

So would Baez-Wallis, who said she wants “responsible growth.”

She filed to run for the County Commission in late June, raising $33,000 since. She had about $6,000 left by Aug. 5.

Baez-Wallis quit her job as director of the trauma center at Jackson South Medical Center for a run at the County Commission. In June, the Village of Palmetto Bay formally recognized her work with trauma patients.

She ran on a platform to find innovative solutions to fix traffic issues, create jobs by attracting businesses to the area, create a veterans administration to help retired military personnel in South Miami-Dade and work with municipalities and local leaders on ensuring there is appropriate infrastructure in place to protect homes and maintain safe water standards.

District 8 covers much of Miami-Dade County’s southern portion, including the municipalities of Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, Homestead and the unincorporated neighborhoods of Redlands, Falls, Princeton, Naranja, Leisure City and parts of West Kendall.

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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