Doral voters are set to elect their first woman Mayor and two fresh City Council members in a runoff election following an indecisive General Election two months earlier.
More than 15,000 residents of the West Miami-Dade County city cast votes by Nov. 8 to fill four of five seats on the City Council, including the successor of founding Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez.
But after election officials tallied the ballots, only Digna Cabral secured more than 50% of the votes cast in her race to earn re-election outright to Seat 4 on the Doral Council. For the other three races, the two candidates in each contest who secured the most votes headed to a runoff that culminates Tuesday.
The winners will join Cabral and Seat 3 Councilman Oscar Puig-Corve to lead Doral into its 20th year of incorporation.
According to the Miami-Dade Elections Department, 3,211 voters in Doral submitted mail-in ballots ahead of the election Tuesday.
Click here to view the list of six polling sites open Tuesday.
The runoff for Doral Mayor is a faceoff of longtime residents with histories of public service seeking to become the first woman to serve in the city’s highest elected office.
In one corner is 35-year-old Christi Fraga, a former Doral Council member who in 2020 won a seat on the Miami-Dade School Board, a position she vacated to run for Mayor. In private life, she is the owner and managing partner of South Florida Small Business Solutions, a bookkeeping and property management firm.
Her opponent, 48-year-old Claudia Mariaca, has served on the City Council since 2016 and also holds a seat on the Miami-Dade and Florida leagues of cities. In an interview with the Miami Herald, Mariaca, who boasts academic accreditations in finance and economics, said she would treat the mayoralty as a full-time job since her husband’s income enables her to not need outside employment.
Fraga took 40.9% of the vote in the General Election, while Mariaca received 30.4%. That put them past third-place candidate Peter Cabrera, the longest currently serving Doral Council member whose term ends Tuesday, and pastor Haim Otero, who received 27% and 1.8% of the vote, respectively.
The winner will replace Bermudez, who was serving in his second stint as Mayor when he won election to the Miami-Dade Commission in August. He and former Mayor Luigi Boria are the only two people to hold the office since Doral became a city in 2003.
The two candidates’ platforms have several overlapping priorities. Both want to improve public safety and quality of life, enforce government transparency and accountability, and address traffic congestion.
Fraga’s campaign website also targets assistance for senior citizens and people with special needs, controlling local real estate development, improving the city’s existing infrastructure, keeping taxes low, expanding education opportunities, enforcing homeowners’ association compliance and repealing a measure city officials passed in January 2021 giving themselves post-service pensions.
Mariaca, meanwhile, wants to remove the county’s Covanta trash incinerator from the city — a popular issue among Doral candidates this cycle — while completing a $150 million plan to upgrade the local park system.
She carries an endorsement from Bermudez, who weighed in on each of Tuesday’s races. In terms of fundraising, Fraga carries the heavier stick. She raised more than $486,000 between her campaign account and political committee, Next Generation Leadership, since filing for the race in January. As of Dec. 8, she had more than $70,000 remaining.
Both candidates accepted a blend of grassroots and corporate donations.
Fraga’s largest business contributors included general contracting firm The Pinecrest Group, millwork company FA Millwork and electrical infrastructure company Ibex Tech Corp., each of which gave $10,000.
Her most generous political donor was Hialeah Mayor Steve Bovo, who gave $24,000 through his political committee, A Better Hialeah.
Mariaca raised about $225,000 since filing to run at the beginning of 2022. She had about $39,000 left last week. As was the case with Fraga, a significant chunk of her gains came from real estate development businesses.
Neither Fraga nor Mariaca has been shy in taking political stances. As a member of the School Board, Fraga supported several conservative measures, including an item celebrating the National Day of Prayer. She was also one of three members to oppose the appointment of Superintendent Jose Dotres — she supported state Education Department Chancellor Jacob Oliva for the job — and was the only member last year to vote against recognizing October as LGBTQ History Month.
Mariaca attracted attention in October for comments she made about a candidate forum hosted by media website Doral Voice. In declining an invitation to participate, she called the website “fake,” alleging it is “one of those fly-by-night organizations that show up during an election season with no other purpose than to spread bad information.”
Juan Carlos Esquivel, the president of Doral Voice and an unsuccessful candidate for the City Council this year, took exception with that characterization. He described the outlet as a “community service” he ran at a financial loss but did not dispute that he donated to Fraga’s campaign. Fraga also endorsed him.
Doral Council — Seat 1
The runoff for Seat 1 on the Doral Council features two veterans of government service angling to succeed Mariaca, whose departure from office this year to run for Mayor in accordance with Florida’s resign-to-run law triggered an election to replace her.
One candidate is 62-year-old Susie Castillo, the director of corporate relations at Florida International University who served for eight years on the Miami-Dade School Board through 2020. She led the contest in November with 43.6% of the vote.
Her opponent is management consultant Rafael Pineyro, 38, a former county parks manager and Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Doral who took 32.4% of the vote to outpace third- and fourth-place candidates Carlos Pereira and Frank Gamez.
Castillo, whom Bermudez endorsed, is running on a platform whose priorities include relocating the Covanta incinerator, reducing traffic congestion and ensuring government transparency and fiscal responsibility.
She raised $118,000 between July 1 and Dec. 8. As of last week, she had $27,000 left.
Pineyro, whose government employment also includes nearly three years as a county case manager in Texas, raised $64,000 since filing for the race in January. By Dec. 8, he had less than $2,000 remaining.
His platform focuses on neighborhood safety, supporting the police, reducing traffic congestion, improving public transportation, fighting tax and fee increases, attracting “quality businesses” to Doral and preserving the city’s parks.
Doral Council — Seat 2
Two lawyers are running to succeed Cabrera on the city dais: Ivette González Petkovich, a former Assistant State Attorney whose eponymous criminal defense firm has offices in Doral and Coral Gables, and Maureen Porras, the immigration legal director of the Doral-based Church World Service.
González Petkovich led the race in November with 43.3% of the vote. Porras took 38.1%, while logistics CEO Juan Manuel Sucre was eliminated from a runoff after earning 18.5%.
González Petkovich, 43, is running with endorsements from Bermudez, Cabral and Puig-Corve. Since launching her campaign back in November 2021, she amassed close to $49,000, spending all but $300 by last week.
Her platform includes supporting “thoughtful development” within city limits. She also cited her work with the Doral Community Coalition and Commission on the State of Women as noteworthy to her candidacy.
Porras, 33, ran on a platform focusing on strengthening small businesses and the local workforce, updating the city’s infrastructure and sustainability practices, supporting Doral’s immigrant community and improving traffic conditions, public safety and education.
She raised more than $89,000 since filing to run in July 2021. By Dec. 8, she had $24,000 left.
Both candidates want to oust the Covanta incinerator, which González Petkovich calls a “qualify-of-life nuisance.”