Majority of City Commission at stake in Miami election Tuesday
Miami City Hall.

The candidate facing bribery, money laundering and unlawful compensation charges raised the most money.

More than half the seats on the Miami Commission are at stake Tuesday when voters decide between 15 candidates vying for three elected posts at City Hall.

Each race includes an incumbent Commissioner, though one no longer holds the seat for which he’s running.

The other contests will determine whether a short-term official elected in February will keep her position through 2027 and another heavily favored Commissioner can do the same.

The election comes at a tenuous time for Miami. Three of the city’s six elected officials are under investigation for misusing their positions for personal benefit or vendetta. Housing prices are at crisis levels. Flooding continues to be a significant issue and promises to worsen.

Those and more issues should weigh heavily on residents’ minds as they cast ballots.

To win outright, a candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote in each race. If no one in each contest does so, the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff culminating on Nov. 21.

The winners will join Commissioners Christine King and Joe Carollo, one of the three officials being investigated for alleged wrongdoing alongside Mayor Francis Suarez.

District 1

The third official under legal scrutiny is Alex Díaz de la Portilla, a former state lawmaker and the immediate past Miami Commissioner for District 1.

He’s running to win back the seat from which Gov. Ron DeSantis removed him in mid-September after his arrest and indictment for bribery, unlawful compensation and money laundering, among other corruption charges.

Alex Díaz de la Portilla is running to regain the seat Gov. Ron DeSantis ousted him from less than two months ago. If he wins, nothing is stopping DeSantis from giving him the boot again. Image via AP.

Rather than fill the seat by appointment or call a Special Election to replace him, the remaining members of the Commission opted to leave the seat vacant until the General Election.

Four candidates hope to keep Díaz de la Portilla out of office: auto parts dealer and former Miami Zoning Board member Miguel Gabela, private investigator Francisco “Frank” Pichel, Miami-Dade County administrator Mercedes “Merci” Rodriguez, and local investor Marvin Tapia, who chairs the Miami-Dade Hispanic Affairs Advisory Board.

Regarding funding, Díaz de la Portilla outpaces all of them combined tenfold.

Since he defeated Gabela for the District 1 seat with 61% of the vote in a runoff, Díaz de la Portilla has amassed nearly $2.8 million between his campaign account and political committee (PC), Proven Leadership for Miami-Dade County PC. A third of the $1.6 million the PC collected between January and early October came from 13 developers; most have active projects in the city, according to an analysis by The Real Deal.

Most of them also gave generously to his campaign account through a variety of subsidiaries.

Díaz de la Portilla did not create a campaign website and remained largely uncommunicative with news media in the lead-up to Election Day.

Some of his key contributions while in office, the Miami Herald said, include his sponsorship of an expansion of COVID-relief gift cards, his push to regulate motorized scooters in the city, and a successful effort last year to get Miami to drop its years of opposition to medical marijuana dispensaries.

Gabela raised nearly $61,000 this cycle; roughly half came from his bank account. The rest came from residents and businesses in and around Miami, including at least $4,000 from Maximo Alvarez, a gasoline and real estate magnate who frequently gives to local GOP candidates.

Miguel Gabela’s path to Election Day wasn’t easy. Image via Miguel Gabela.

Gabela had to fight to stay on the ballot this year after Miami’s reshaped voting map cut his home from District 1. He sued. The city countersued. In late September, a judge ruled he was qualified to run in the district.

If elected, Gabela’s priorities would include hiring more police officers, improving resident benefits and services, enhancing public transportation, and creating more affordable housing options.

Pichel, a former cop, has been a regular in local elections in the last few years. He’s also gotten into legal trouble during each of his runs for public office.

While running for Mayor in 2021, he was arrested in Key Largo for impersonating a police officer while allegedly surveilling a house where Suarez was vacationing with his family. Prosecutors ultimately dropped the case due to a lack of evidence. Pichel took 2% of the vote that year.

He was arrested again late last month on charges of aggravated assault with a firearm following an altercation with a campaign worker for Díaz de la Portilla.

Pichel wrote of the incident on his campaign website, “I was arrested. I’m Innocent of the charges of Aggravated Assault with a Firearm. I’ve been accused of threatening a moan with a gun over campaign signs, which is false.”

The website contains no platform or policy proposals. A campaign sign atop its homepage features the call to action, “Help me stop the fraud,” and the common police slogan, “To serve and protect.”

Francisco “Frank” Pichel has become something of a staple in Miami elections. Image via Francisco Pichel.

Pichel also ran against Díaz de la Portilla in 2019, taking a 5% share of the vote in the General Election.

This cycle, he raised $34,500 by the time Election Day was two weeks away. Ninety-three percent of it was his money. The rest came from local businesses and people.

A career government administrator who began with the city but now works for the county, Rodriguez turned in the second-best fundraising for District 1, with more than $133,000 collected by October’s halfway point.

She benefited greatly from South Florida residents and businesses, many from the real estate industry. She also nabbed a $1,000 contribution from the PC of retired Judge Martin Zilber, who ran unsuccessfully for the District 2 seat in February.

Mercedes Rodriguez would bring substantial government experience to the City Commission dais. Image via Mercedes Rodriguez.

Her platform includes improving resident safety, promoting economic development, supporting equal representation in government, and boosting citizen participation. She also wants to enhance government transparency and promote initiatives that “protect our environment and improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of District 1.”

Tapia expressed similar aims regarding transparency and resident representation at City Hall. He also wants to address Miami’s affordability crisis, stop overdevelopment, and devote more resources to keeping the district’s streets and rivers clean.

In private life, Tapia owns and operates Franco Investment Group, a company named after his son that invests in local businesses. His community involvement includes leading a county advisory board and serving as the spokesperson for Viernes Culturales, a street festival held monthly in Little Havana.

“Mr. Miami Marvin” Tapia has garnered prominent supporters in his first run at elected office, including documentarian and frequent City Hall speaker Billy Corben. Image via Marvin Tapia.

Tapia, nicknamed “Mr. Miami Marvin,” raised more than $20,000 since jumping into the race on Aug. 31. Nearly all his donations came from Miami residents, most for three-figure amounts or less. He also lent his campaign $1,000.

District 1 covers the neighborhoods of Allapattah, Grapeland Heights, the Health District, and parts of Little Havana.

District 2

After defeating 12 other candidates for a nine-month stint representing District 2 on the City Commission, former TV journalist Sabina Covo will try to fend off seven challengers and keep her seat for a full term.

And she’s been fundraising like her life depends on it. Since her victory in February, Covo amassed more than $608,000 between her campaign account and political committee, Dream Miami.

Roughly 65% of that sum came from land use attorneys, marina operators, architects, and builders, including two Miami development firms with projects in the city for which Covo did public relations work, The Real Deal first reported.

On Tuesday, voters will choose between her and home restorer Michael Castro, real estate agent Gabriela Chirinos, local retailer Alicia Kossick, lawyer Eddy Leal, banker and longtime community activist Damián Pardo, production designer and marketing consultant Christi Tasker and telecommunications business management director James Torres.

Several of them ran against her in February.

Sabina Covo has been productive during her short Commission tenure. Image via Sabina Covo.

Before winning office in Miami, Covo worked for one year as a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services under former Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. She also boasts nearly 20 years of Spanish-language journalism experience.

Fried now leads the Florida Democratic Party, which backs Covo’s campaign.

In her brief time on the dais, Covo established an “ECO Squad” to deal with draining issues in her district, which is prone to flooding. She also secured $3.5 million for affordable housing and sponsored legislation to create a heat mitigation plan for the city.

Her campaign website lists public safety, environmental protections, and housing affordability as key issues she wants to tackle. She’s also vowed to fight overdevelopment, invest in infrastructure, and end “dysfunction and broken promise” at City Hall.

Covo’s tenure as an elected official isn’t unblemished. In May, she had to recuse herself from a vote concerning the Melo Group, a local developer for which she does communications work.

Her first Commission meeting in mid-March got off to a rough start after she was unable to recite the Pledge of Allegiance when asked to lead the chamber in doing so. The incident drew national headlines.

Covo’s closest competitor in fundraising was Pardo, whose community involvements go back more than three decades.

Through Oct. 20, Pardo’s campaign account raised $226,000, including more than $165,000 in self-loans. Almost everything else came through personal checks from mostly South Florida residents.

Damián Pardo has been contributing to his community longer than some people running for the City Commission this year have been alive. Image via Damian Pardo.

Pardo was the founding Chair of SAVE, which has worked since 1993 to unite and advance LGBTQ causes in Florida. He also served as President of the region’s largest AIDS service organization, Care Resource, and led what later became the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

In 2015, he cofounded 4Ward Miami, a nonprofit group that launched the annual Gay8 Festival.

Pardo vowed, if he wins, to fight to increase opportunities for all residents. He singled out those living in Miami’s historic Black neighborhoods like West Grove as being particularly affected by “rampant development and gentrification.”

He also wants to improve Miami’s public spaces and infrastructure, boost resident safety and affordable housing, and shore up the city’s protections against sea level rise. That includes expediting projects funded through the $400 million Miami Forever Bonds and creating a collaborative task force with the county.

Leal, formerly general counsel to Mayor Suarez, had a larger war chest halfway through last month. But much of it was carry-over cash from his Special Election campaign in February when he placed second behind Covo with 22% of the vote.

Two weeks from the election, he reported raising nearly $19,000 through his campaign account. Another $210,000 sat in Citizens for Prosperity PC, a political committee supporting his campaign.

Most of the funds came from Florida First Forever Inc., a political committee that received a $201,000 infusion in January from a company linked to Miami-based Piquet Realty.

Eddy Leal is no stranger to working at Miami City Hall. Image via Eddy Leal.

Leal vows, if elected, to fight corruption in City Hall, work to make Miami more affordable to residents, stand up to overdevelopment, protect the city’s greenspaces, and improve coastal resiliency.

Torres presides over the Downtown Neighbors Alliance, representing some $30,000 Miami condo residents, stacked close to $50,000 for a shot at the District 2 seat.

He placed third in the February election with 15% of the vote. The funds he collected since were from a nearly equal share of South Florida businesses and residents.

Torres wants to ban campaign contributions from PACs, lobbyists, and vendors and close the “revolving door” of elected officials leaving office only to turn around and represent companies seeking business with the city immediately after.

James Torres leads a condo organization representing some 30,000 Miami residents. Image via James Torres.

His campaign platform also focuses on improving traffic and policing, boosting public transit, introducing whistleblower protections in the city, broadening housing affordability, growing more trees to increase canopy coverage, accelerating the switch from gas- to electric-powered municipal vehicles, and addressing sea level rise.

The Miami Herald revealed Torres faced criminal charges at least four times between 1995 and 2010 in Arizona. Details on the cases were unavailable due to the state’s habit of destroying public records.

Tasker ran in February, too, but did not fare especially well. Undeterred, she raised $5,800 for another run. Seventy-four percent came from her wallet, with six Florida residents and one Miami business chipping in.

A past creative director of Casa Wynwood, Tasker says she’d favor citizen safety and services over “irresponsible, big development” if voters send her to City Hall.

Flooding, infrastructure, and government transparency also rank high on her list of priorities.

Christi Tasker wants to preserve Miami’s historic buildings and tree canopies. Image via Christi Tasker.

Castro runs an entirely self-funded campaign with $5,000 and outlined several campaign priorities on his website. Maintaining his professional purview, a healthy portion addresses construction and related enforcement.

He wants to serve as a “mediator” between builders, investors, city government, and the public to curb overdevelopment and ensure compromises between all parties. He also wants to establish an oversight committee for the city’s Code Enforcement, Unsafe Structures, and Building departments to ensure they’re running optimally and not bogged down with illegitimate claims.

Michael Castro hopes to use his professional knowledge to improve city processes. Image via Miami.

Castro proposed the creation of multiple “eco-programs to educate and encourage basic local gardening in tree-planting.” To improve community safety, he wants to reinstate the Neighborhood Service Center, boost police presence in high-crime areas, and hire new law enforcement supervisors.

Kossick, who owns and operates a local home products and décor company called Polished Coconut, filed to run for District 2 ahead of the election in February but dropped out before Election Day.

This time, she raised over $4,000 through six personal checks, half of which came from outside the county.

Her primary focus is on protecting the environment. She also wants to improve fair housing provisions and honesty in government.

For Alicia Kossick, keeping Miami’s ecosystem healthy is a top priority. Image via Alicia Kossick.

Chirinos raised no outside funds and put $950 into her campaign account. She spent it on signage, photos, and the city’s qualifying fee but no campaign website.

District 2 spans most of the city’s coast and includes the Brickell, Coconut Grove, Downtown, Edgewater, and Morningside neighborhoods.

District 4

While the other two City Commission races may go to a runoff, the election for District 4 is a two-person race and will have a clear winner Tuesday night. And there’s a clear favorite in the contest.

Defending is Commissioner Manolo Reyes, an economist and former Miami city administrator, county budget analyst, and small business owner who now teaches high school math and economics.

His challenger is Andres Vallina, a partner manager at technology company Telarus, who raised less than $1,000 — all of it his — for his third run at elected office.

Vallina is active in his community. He served as Chair of the Miami Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and founded a nonprofit called Florida Wildlife Kids Conservation Foundation, which connects children with nature and introduces them to exotic animals.

But he’s a long shot to unseat the incumbent.

Andres Vallina hopes to play David to Manolo Reyes’ Goliath. Image via Andres Vallina.

Reyes, who won his seat in 2017 and coasted into re-election unopposed two years later, is well-known in the district.

He’s also well-financed. He took in more than $285,000 through his campaign account to keep his seat this cycle, much of it from South Florida-based real estate companies Century Homebuilders Group, MOA Offices, the TREO Group, and Florida East Coast Industries, the parent of Miami-headquartered inter-county rail service Brighline.

Reyes also enjoyed support from several fellow Miami-Dade politicians, including Sen. Ileana Garcia, Miami-Dade Commissioner Kevin Marino Cabrera, and former County Commissioner Juan Zapata, as well as ample support from local firefighters and police unions.

While Reyes has fared better in avoiding negative attention than Suarez, Díaz de la Portilla, and Carollo — who in June lost a $63.5 million judgment in a First Amendment lawsuit two business owners brought against him — he hasn’t avoided it entirely.

Manolo Reyes is facing his first challenger for elected office in eight years. Fortunately for him, his opponent is grossly underfunded. Image via Manolo Reyes.

In early 2021, then-Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo accused Carollo, Díaz de la Portilla, and Reyes of corruption and repeatedly tried interfering with law enforcement affairs.

The three men, Acevedo wrote in a searing memo to Suarez and City Manager Art Noriega, publicly discussed confidential investigation information, defunded police positions he created to clean up the department, and threatened further budget cuts unless he rehired officers he’d fired for misconduct.

The City Commissioner fired Acevedo about a month later. Acevedo sued the city, Noriega, and the three Commissioners for violating his First Amendment right and Florida’s Whistleblower Act.

Like Carollo and Díaz de la Portilla, Reyes has denied any wrongdoing. In an interview with the Miami Herald last month, he described himself as “incorruptible.

District 4 covers Flagami and parts of the Coral Way, Silver Bluff, Shenandoah, and Auburndale neighborhoods.

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.


  • Earl Pitts "All Politics Is Local" American

    November 5, 2023 at 8:53 am

    Good mornting to all Miami voters planning to vote Tuesday in your City Commission Election,
    You may wonder what is a “World Wide Political Influncer” such as the famous Earl Pitts American’s intetest in little ‘Ole Miami?
    Well my fine upstanding citizens of beautiful Miami the old saying that “All Politics Is Local” is 100% true.
    So lets begin with what and who we know in our quest to move forward.
    You know the incumbants:
    So do a mental inventory of everyone seeking re-election. If there is any question whatsoever in your mind that they may lean Dook 4 Brains Leftist in their political decisions including how they voted in any particular issue which whizzed you off in the past VOTE THEM OUT OF OFFICE.
    No need to waste your time doing a deep dive into their past votes … you will know, by following my sage advice, of just relying on your memory.
    Dont worry about it good citizens of Miami. What we are doing is taking step 1.
    Just like cleaning up your own home 1.) throw out the trash. 2.) that sends a message to keep it clean. 3.) whoever takes the ousted Dook 4 Brains Commissioners places knows 100% that if they go too far left they will be $hit-canned by the all-powerfull voters of The Beautiful City of Miami, Florida.
    In order to take back your City you must take the above “First Step”
    Thank you good citizens of Miami,

    • Rick Whitaker

      November 5, 2023 at 5:34 pm


  • Rick Whitaker

    November 5, 2023 at 5:39 pm

    being tied to desantis should be a red flag for any candidate mentioned in this article. serving all of the people in their districts, instead of just desantis approved people should be a must

Comments are closed.


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