Miami-Dade Commissioners were in full agreement Tuesday when they selected interim Chair Oliver Gilbert III to keep his post permanently through late 2024. They weren’t as united in electing their new Vice Chair, Anthony Rodriguez, revealing potential alliances and rivalries that could impact future votes from the dais.
The 13-member board voted unanimously for Gilbert, a former Miami Gardens Mayor who since winning his County Commission bid in August 2020 has worked to be a consensus maker. Shortly after taking his seat two years ago, the board elected him Vice Chair, a role he kept until term limits prompted the departure of former Chair Jose “Pepe” Diaz and several other long-tenured Commissioners.
But while Gilbert’s influence and popularity among Commissioners was enough to see him clinch the Commission’s top leadership spot unopposed, it was insufficient in delivering the Vice Chair seat to his preferred second-in-command, Raquel Regalado.
In nominating Regalado, a fellow lawyer and former Miami-Dade School Board member who joined the County Commission at the same time he did, Gilbert appeared to know Regalado wasn’t a shoo-in. He referenced her outspoken and sometimes confrontational style of legislating, which has proven less popular than his more tempered approach.
“Some of the things that I heard about her, somebody said, ‘Well, she’s abrasive,’ and I said she’s no more abrasive than any man on the dais,” he said. “She’s intelligent, and she’s passionate, and she’s zealous about the future of this community. She’s well-read in a way that most people aren’t, (and) sometimes she leads too loudly with her heart.”
Almost before Gilbert finished speaking, Danielle Cohen Higgins threw Rodriguez’s name into the proverbial hat. She and Regalado had verbally sparred over a recent expansion to the county’s Urban Development Boundary. Cohen Higgins opposed moving the boundary, which protects agricultural and environmentally vulnerable land like the Everglades. Regalado, who originally voted to block the proposal, changed her position after developers agreed to donate twice as much sensitive land as they used for construction.
“Especially in the political times that we find ourselves in,” Cohen Higgins said, “(we need) a leader that is able to unite us and unite the issues and continue to lead in a capacity as a Commissioner or Vice Chairman of this board … with the highest and utmost level of respect.”
The Commissioner then voted.
Voting for Rodriguez were Cohen Higgins, René García, Eileen Higgins, Kionne McGhee and new Commissioners Kevin Marino Cabrera, Micky Steinberg and Rob Gonzalez, whom Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed to replace Joe Martinez as he faces felony unlawful compensation charges. Rodriguez voted for himself as well.
Gilbert, Keon Hardemon and Commission newcomers Marleine Bastien and Juan Carlos Bermudez sided with Regalado, who voted for herself after already learning she didn’t have support necessary to win.
Gilbert and Rodriguez were sworn in minutes later.
Rodriguez, a former state Representative who announced plans in June 2021 to depart Tallahassee and seek local office this year, spent hundreds of thousands on the races of several of his County Commission peers.
The Florida Division of Elections shows Rodriguez’s political committee, A Bolder Florida, gave $270,000 to Cabrera, $20,000 to Steinberg and $10,000 to Cohen Higgins. All sought election this year.
Rodriguez also threw $10,000 to Bermudez, a former Mayor of Doral who nonetheless voted for Regalado. He gave the same sum to former North Miami Mayor Philippe Bien-Aime, who took Bastien to a Nov. 8 runoff, and kicked $1,000 to former Coral Gables Commissioner Jorge Fors, who ran against Cabrera in the County Commission’s nastiest race this cycle.
Later Tuesday morning, in one of his first actions as a Miami-Dade Commissioner, Rodriguez moved to rescind numerous allocations previously approved under his predecessor in District 10, Javier Souto.
Regalado motioned to apply the board’s 4-Day Rule allowing Commissioners to punt to the next meeting any item added to an agenda fewer than four days before a meeting.
She warned Rodriguez against taking such a step, suggesting he instead “take some time” to examine the allocations. Many of the set-asides were for local organizations and school grants, she said, and the money may have already been spent.
“For the new Commissioners, we were once new Commissioners too,” she said. “A lot of us come to this position after someone having it for many, many years … and to simply pull (these allocations) back without having a conversation with those organizations really can do a lot of damage to that programming.”
Rodriguez fired back, angrily accusing Regalado of “dabbling into each other’s personal district (allocations).”
“I can play at that same game as well,” he said. “So, if that’s what we’re going to create on our first day on the dais here, with the (six) new Commissioners, then we can do that.”
Gilbert interjected and advised Rodriguez to not take it personally but acknowledged the procedure for applying the 4-Day Rule should be reviewed to better allow for discussion.
“It seems very personal now. It’s really not,” he said. “This is just something that happens. But what we cannot do, and what we will (do is) take a tone that is unworthy of this board and this community…. We’re going to be cool, alright? Alright.”