Kevin Marino Cabrera wins District 6 seat on Miami-Dade Commission
Kevin Marino Cabrera's top priority is bringing relief to tax-burdened homeowners. Image via Kevin Marino Cabrera.

Cabrera-pic
He’ll replace longtime Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who must leave due to term limits.

Lobbyist Kevin Marino Cabrera has won a runoff contest for the District 6 seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission.

With all all votes counted early Wednesday morning, Cabrera had 61.5% of the 52,725 votes cast compared to 38.5% for Coral Gables City Commissioner Jorge Fors Jr.

“I’m humbled and honored by the overwhelming level of support from the voters of District 6, Cabrera told Florida Politics in a statement. “Our campaign has always been about putting our Residents First. I look forward to representing the residents of District 6 and ensuring they have a voice at County Hall. “

Fors was gracious in defeat.

“I am beyond proud of the race I ran,” he told Florida Politics. “It was based on truth and it was backed by family and friends. I wouldn’t do it any other way. At the end, I respect the result and the will of the people. I congratulate Kevin and wish him success as he assumes this new roll.”

After months of campaigning and mounting animosity, the technically nonpartisan race between the two Republicans concluded on Election Day.

By then, they had spent nearly $3 million combined for the right to succeed term-limited Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who has served in the District 6 seat since 2001.

Sosa endorsed Fors. Cabrera, meanwhile, carried a lofty endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

Trump remains popular in the district, a Hispanic-majority area covering all or part of Coral Gables, Hialeah, Miami, Miami Springs, Virginia Gardens and West Miami that leans heavily conservative. Voters there chose him over Joe Biden by a 20-point margin.

But Sosa also is quite popular there. She won re-election for a fifth time in 2018 with a whopping 76% of the vote.

The district also contains Miami International Airport, one of the county’s two top economic engines, and a Miami golf course being redeveloped as a stadium complex for the city’s Major League Soccer team.

Post-Primary face-off

Neither candidate secured enough votes in the Aug. 23 Primary Election to win. Miami-Dade election rules requires a County Commission candidate to receive more than half the votes cast. Cabrera fell short of that threshold by about 7 percentage points.

Fors, who scored 23% of the Primary vote, said he believed the General Election results would look “completely different.”

“I expect to get the lion’s share of the votes (Democratic candidate Victor Vázquez received as the third-place candidate) — we’ve already secured his endorsement, by the way — and we expect more than double the number of voters that came out in August, including more than triple the amount of independents and more than double the amount of Democrats,” he told Florida Politics.

But the “math doesn’t lie,” argued Cabrera, who campaigned and fundraised like the contest’s presumptive winner. Through early November, he amassed almost $2.23 million between his campaign account and political committee, Dade First PC — a titular nod to Trump’s super PAC, America First Action.

A huge portion of Cabrera’s fundraising came from the real estate sector. He also enjoyed $240,000 worth of donations from Miami-Dade Rep. Anthony Rodriguez, who won a seat on the County Commission in August.

Fors, meanwhile, raised nearly $967,000.

Hostile tactics

He also sued Cabrera and others for defamation over campaign mailers and attack media, including a since-decommissioned website, portaying Fors as a criminal and fraud who accepted campaign funds from human trafficking operations. (He didn’t.)

“Cabrera showed us he will do or say anything, even outright lies, to get elected,” Fors said in a statement accompanying the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges, without offering supportive evidence, that Cabrera “is or was a member” of the neo-fascist Proud Boys group. That assertion stems from an October 2018 incident in which Cabrera, then working as a lobbyist, was caught on video participating in a protest alongside members of the Proud Boys and the Miami-Dade Republican Party outside the office of former Democratic U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala.

In the video, Cabrera can be seen pounding his fist on Shalala’s door while holding a rudimentarily drawn poster opposing communism.

Cabrera has maintained he was exercising his First Amendment rights and denounced the Proud Boys and “any group that espouses any sort of hate.”

Of Fors’ complaint, Cabrera told Florida Politics by text, “It’s a frivolous lawsuit, that’s what losers do.”

A lawyer in private life, Fors also filed an ethics complaint with the Florida Elections Commission over the defamation issue, which pends resolution in court.

Filings in the case show Cabrera hired lawyer Ben Kuehne to represent him. Kuehne is also representing former Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez, whom Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended from office in September over felony charges of unlawful compensation.

Name-calling

Cabrera’s dismissive comments belied a prior affinity he and his wife, Coral Gables Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, had for Fors before the two men sought the same County Commission seat. Both gave $1,000 to Fors’ campaign. After Cabrera announced his candidacy, the couple rescinded their donations.

A government relations specialist now serving as senior vice president of public strategy firm Mercury, Cabrera has worked on the campaigns of several notable Florida Republicans. Among them: former Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Supreme Court Justice John Couriel and former U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Cabrera dropped his county lobbying registration before filing for the Miami-Dade Commission race, but still has an active registration in Tallahassee.

In 2020, he led Trump’s re-election effort in Florida as state director. He held public office once before as an elected Councilman on a Miami-Dade land-use zoning board.

But rather than lean on his résumé, Cabrera has cast himself in campaign ads as a “political outsider” ready to take on “do-nothing politicians.”

“We are a breath of fresh air compared to career politicians and the failed policies of the last 30 years,” he said in an early September interview. He called Fors an “aspiring career politician.”

Fors countered by calling Cabrera “the definition of a political insider” now “trying to take his business model to the next level.”

“His entire adult life has been spent in politics and not serving the public but in a lobbying, political operative capacity — the backroom deals and the parts of government where sometimes the residents’ interests get lost,” he said.

Fors’ campaign hasn’t been without issues. In what was likely a mistake, Fors in August ran afoul of the county’s rules against using government resources to support a political campaign when a video for his Miami-Dade Commission bid appeared on a Twitter ticker embedded in the Coral Gables website.

The problem was swiftly rectified.

One month earlier, Fors received backlash after District 6 voters received mailers supporting his campaign that featured side-by-side images of him and Trump, who by then had already endorsed Cabrera.

Cabrera similarly attracted criticism for mailers he sent to residents the same month seemingly designed 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 noted Trump’s endorsement.

Fors also errantly claimed a homestead exemption on a condo he bought in his early 20s. He said he’s paid the related back taxes, interest and penalties and called the issue an honest mistake.

Priorities and support

Cabrera headed to Election Day with the backing of U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, state Rep. Daniel Perez, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, West Miami Mayor Eric Díaz-Padron and Hialeah Mayor Steve Bovo, a former state lawmaker, Miami-Dade Commissioner and candidate for the county mayoralty.

Many other local officials and organizations, including the Florida chapter of the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, have also endorsed his campaign.

Fors, who won election to the Coral Gables Commission in 2019 by just 173 votes but has since earned endorsement from the majority of his peers on the city dais, is running a “family first platform.” He promised to fight property tax hikes, maintain county programs that benefit seniors and children, fund law enforcement and improve the quality of public space.

Of note, Cabrera supports a push by the city of Coral Gables to annex an unincorporated neighborhood called Little Gables now under county jurisdiction. Fors has long opposed the move, which would hike property taxes for the area’s residents and ease commercial development there. That stance put him at odds with Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago, who endorsed Cabrera.

Both men identified the housing affordability crisis as the No. 1 issue that needs to be addressed. Home prices in Miami-Dade saw another double-digit annual price jump in September — the 130th consecutive month of year-over-year price increases.

Cabrera said expanding transit and freezing property taxes are the second- and third-most pressing problems in the county. Fors highlighted a need for additional public safety infrastructure and personnel, and improved transparency and accountability in government.

His endorsers include Miami Springs Mayor Maria Puente, Virginia Gardens Mayor Spencer Deno, former West Miami Vice-Mayor Juan Blanes, the South Florida Council of Firefighters, Builders Association of South Florida, Association of Realtors, South Florida Police Benevolent Association and Fraternal Order of Police, among others.

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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