Coral Gables Group 4 Commission Race: April 9, 2019

4/9 is election day; be sure to check your election-day polling place. 

UPDATE: There will be a candidate forum hosted by the Coral Gables Democratic Party Club at 6:30PM on March 12 at Books & Books. 

What would a progressive candidate for the Coral Gables Commission look like? They would pursue environmental and conservationist policies: building better and safer bicycle infrastructure, expanding local mass transit with electric or hybrid vehicles, and incentivizing rather than inhibiting residential solar-panel installation. They would promote policies that make housing more affordable and protect renters. They would commit to pressing for gun safety legislation, especially in our schools. They would safeguard the rights of all our residents by taking steps to protect undocumented immigrants and combat racial profiling. Such a candidate also would support local labor unions and raise awareness about how the DeSantis Court essentially denied cities the right to set their own minimum livable wagesThey also wouldn’t be afraid to run registered as a Democrat or as an openly progressive independent (Jeanett Slesnick is the only candidate running for a CG race–Group 1 Mayor–who isn’t afraid to run as a registered Democrat).

It is safe to say there is no such progressive candidate in the race this time, but some choices are clearly better than others in the Group 4 race. For my part, the choice really boils down to Carmen Olazabal and Ralph Cabrera. I am leaning towards Olazabal (*caveat: this may change as per the update above, but I want to wait and give Olazabal a chance to respond). I strongly oppose electing Jorge Fors or Jackson Rip Holmes.

Carmen Olazabal comes from an engineering and city planning background. On that score, her credentials are impressive. She holds engineering degrees from MIT and Berkeley and an MBA from Harvard. What really makes her stand out though is her environmental platform. She’s the only candidate in the race who has identified climate change as a pivotal issue. Solar power, green infrastructure, and the preservation of public spaces all feature prominently in her platform. What is concerning is her lack of campaign viability at this stage. She does not seem to be aggressively canvassing, effectively using social media, or sending out direct mail. And the last time I checked, her fundraising seemed lackluster ($27K raised compared to Fors at $84K). To get her green initiatives pushed through the Commission, she will need grassroots support. What are my reservations? For one, she appears to have the support of former Mayor Jim Cason (a Republican diplomat who served under George W. Bush), and she incited criticism as the interim Coral Gables City Manager when she tried to appoint a controversial interim police chief. It’s not clear Olazabal did anything wrong, and the city attorney noted she had authority to make the appointment. Ultimately, it is still exciting to see a CG Commission candidate grapple so directly with the present and intensifying threat climate change poses to South Florida, but aspects of her record as interim city manager give me some pause.

Like nearly everyone who runs for office at the city level except for Olazabal, Ralph Cabrera makes opposing taxes a major issue. His commitment to the local parks and curbing over-development along with traffic abatement policies are attractive. During his previous time on the Coral Gables Commission, he also took strong positions on increased government transparency. Not surprisingly, that’s a key feature of his campaign this time too. He’s canvassing and out in the neighborhoods and seems receptive to constituent concerns—even those that might not overlap with his campaign objectives. In terms of policy, Cabrera isn’t especially progressive, but he is running a strong campaign; he may have the best shot at defeating Fors. Now an independent, he had been registered Republican when he filed for candidacy (see page 15). Cabrera nonetheless is approachable and accessible to voters, and he had some key legislative accomplishments while in office the last time. He also elaborated upon his positions on gun safety and climate change on Twitter, making him more attractive as a candidate. If you value his previous commission experience, then Cabrera might be your candidate.

Jackson Rip Holmes nearly entered the race for mayor; then he switched to Group 4 at the last minute. His campaign website features pictures of himself with politicians and a rehash of some conflict with “personal hero” Jeb Bush that he apparently wants to remind everyone about. Yeah, I’m going to pass.

forsThen there’s Jorge Fors, Jr., an attorney with a lot of connections to the local legal community. His big issue is the annexation of the Little Gables. It’s a little odd since the issue basically got settled last year. But Fors apparently couldn’t pass up the opportunity to impersonate The Simpsons‘ Mr. Burns by taking pictures of Little Gables swales and a trailer park sign to insinuate that our Little Gables neighbors are trashy folk that will ruin our community. The flyer was beyond distasteful and insulting. Also, his claims that annexation will deepen the tax burden for current residents doesn’t pass the smell test (The Miami Herald, in fact, reported that newly annexed areas would net the city $27 million in tax revenue after expenditures over a seven-year period). Campaigns are always an insight into how candidates will govern, so I would urge a hard pass on Fors.

Based on her credentials and platform, I am inclined to support Olazabal over Cabrera. Still, I want to see more life to her campaign; she has less than 20 Twitter followers as of this post. Cabrera appears deft at campaigning, but I’d like to see him embrace Olazabal’s sustainability policies.