Penelas visits UM to talk plans for Senate

The UM Council of Democracy welcomed Mayor and U.S. senatorial hopeful Alex Penelas to the Rat last Monday.

Penelas, a UM alumnus, has served as Miami-Dade County mayor for eight years.

His municipality includes UM, and his administration recently appointed Miami-Dade’s first black police chief, Robert Parker.

“I interned at the mayor’s office for two semesters,” David McCombie, organizer of the event, said. “The mayor is approachable – he’s just a nice guy.”

With an audience comprised of about 80 students and guests, the mayor outlined plans for his senatorial campaign, focusing on four issues of concern to him: education, health care, security and teacher salaries.

Education, Penelas said, is vital for children. He feels that the earlier education begins in a child’s life, the better it will be for the country’s future.

“We are paying for failures now,” Penelas said. “We spend billions of dollars for remedial education for children, and that money could be saved with earlier childhood education.”

Penelas believes if teachers were paid more, it would advance the interest of others to enter the field. When asked what he felt contributed to the staggering problems with education, the mayor replied that some issues stem from single-parent households and immigration.

“When a parent or parents don’t speak English, their children fall behind,” Penelas said.

The mayor also commented on the policies of the standardized Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test [FCAT] administered in public schools. A student is held back if he or she does not pass the FCAT in the fourth, eighth and 10th grades.

“I don’t support the testing policy that holds children back just because they can’t pass a test,” Penelas said. “One test should not hold children back when they are good in other areas.”

Tyler Simmons, who attended the event, was glad that Penelas addressed education issues.

“One of the things that the mayor said that touched me were his views on education,” Simmons said. “I really think it needs to be fixed.”

On the topic of health care, Penelas stated that medical care costs taxpayers millions of dollars every year. He doesn’t like that the federal government was barred from entering into negotiations with pharmaceutical companies to lower drug costs, which has forced some citizens to buy medications from Canada.

“Health care is a big issue in Miami-Dade,” the mayor said. “There are 42 million people [in the nation] without health care insurance. There are working people who can’t afford health insurance.”

If successful in his bid to become senator, Penelas said he would propose the Health Kids Care program to provide health care for children who are below the poverty line. For working adults, he would introduce Health Fax Prima, a program in which the employer, employee and the government would contribute to the worker’s health care costs.

Penelas again criticized federal policies when security issues were discussed.

“When the security alert goes up to yellow or orange, it costs the taxpayers millions of dollars a day,” Penelas said. “I’m not knocking security – I know it will cost a lot, but it must be dealt with better.”

For more information on Council for Democracy events, e-mail

Judith Hudson can be contacted at