The race for the District 1 seat on the Miami City Commission is headed to a runoff after no candidate secured more than half the total vote share Tuesday to win outright.
Suspended Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla and former Miami Zoning Board member Miguel Gabela — the largest vote-getters with 36.6% and 28.8% of the vote, respectively — will compete for voters’ support through Nov. 21.
They also competed in a runoff in 2019, when De la Portilla won by a 20-percentage-point margin.
For private investigator Francisco “Frank” Pichel, Miami-Dade County administrator Mercedes “Merci” Rodriguez and local investor Marvin Tapia, it’s the end of the road for now.
Rodriguez received 22.2% of the vote, while Tapia took 8.5% and Pichel received 3.9%.
Fewer than 4,300 Miami voters weighed in on the District 1 race by Tuesday.
The election came at a tenuous time for Miami. Three of the city’s six elected officials — Díaz de la Portilla, Mayor Francis Suarez and Commissioner Joe Carollo — are under investigation for misusing their positions for personal benefit or vendetta.
Díaz de la Portilla, whom the Governor removed from office after his arrest in September, is the only one to face charges so far.
Those and more issues weighed heavily on residents’ minds as they cast ballots.
In terms of funding, Díaz de la Portilla outpaced all his opponents tenfold.
Since winning the District 1 seat in 2019, Díaz de la Portilla 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-19-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.
Gabela, who lost to Díaz de la Portilla in a 2019 for the District 1 seat, had to fight to stay on the ballot this year after Miami’s reshaped voting map cut his home from the district. He sued. The city countersued. In late September, a judge ruled he was qualified to run there.
If elected, Gabela said his 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.”
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.
Rodriguez, a career government administrator who began with the city but now works for the county, 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.
Her platform included 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’s campaign platform prioritized transparency and resident representation at City Hall. He also vowed to address Miami’s affordability crisis, stop overdevelopment, and devote more resources to keeping the district’s streets and rivers clean.
In private life, he 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.
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.
Rather than fill the seat by appointment or call a Special Election to replace Díaz de la Portilla following his removal, the remaining members of the Commission opted to leave the seat vacant until voters chose his replacement this month.
District 1 covers the neighborhoods of Allapattah, Grapeland Heights, the Health District, and parts of Little Havana.