Coral Gables elections begin April 11

Students line up at the Watsco Center to cast their vote for the presidential election on Nov. 8, 2016. Oliver Zaruba // Staff Photographer
Students line up at the Watsco Center to cast their votes for the presidential election on Nov. 8, 2016. Oliver Zaruba // Staff Photographer

Nearly five months after millions of Floridians hit the polls to cast their votes in the 2016 general election, voters in Coral Gables will be lining up to vote again. This time, for Coral Gables mayor and three commission seats.

For those registered and planning to vote April 11, here’s what you’ll find on the ballot:

Mayoral Seat

Jeannett Slesnick

As the current Coral Gables commissioner, Jeannett Slesnick is one of two candidates running to be the new face of Coral Gables. Slesnick, a University of Florida (UF) alumna, won her commission seat in April 2015. The race was one of the election’s most contested, with Slesnick defeating five other contenders for the seat. According to Slesnick’s campaign website, during her time as commissioner she has been consistent in “insisting that commercial developments comply with our zoning code,” “urging that our police department is fully manned and equipped” and “resisting attempts to expend public funds without meaningful, documented input from taxpayers.” Slesnick has been a vocal opponent of the Paseo de la Riviera Project, a large development to replace the existing Holiday Inn across from the University of Miami on US-1.  The project is a $172 million development consisting of the creation of residential, parking and retail spaces.

Raúl Valdés-Fauli

Raul Valdés-Fauli entered the mayoral race after Slesnick, in December 2016, to reclaim a seat he once held. Valdés-Fauli was the Coral Gables mayor from 1993 to 2001. In 2001, Valdés-Fauli lost his seat to Slesnick’s husband, former Mayor Don Slesnick, who held office until 2011. Valdés-Fauli has been a vocal supporter of current Mayor Jim Cason. Though Valdés-Fauli has been away from politics for over 15 years, he is ready to apply his “unique combinations of past experience, significant accomplishments, and a vision for our future” to serve as mayor once again. Before becoming mayor, Valdés-Fauli served as Vice Mayor from 1987 to 1988 and City Commissioner from 1985 to 1989. During the Tulane University alumnus’ mayoral tenure, the Village of Merrick Park and War Memorial Youth Center were built. According to his campaign website, he “reduced crime,” “made strategic investments,” “lowered taxes” and “revitalized Miracle Mile.” Valdés-Fauli also served on the University of Miami’s Board of Trustees from 1985 to 1986 and as president of the Citizens Board from 1984 to 1985.

Commission Group 2 Seat:

Vince Lago

Vince Lago, a Coral Gables resident since 1980, is running unopposed to retain his seat as one of Coral Gable’s city commissioners. Lago has been in office since April 2013. According to the City of Coral Gables website, Lago “has a strong passion for the arts that he will use to enhance culture and public spaces in Coral Gables.” With his focus on the arts, Lago has served as a board member of Locust Projects, “a non-profit contemporary arts organization which supports emerging and mid-career artists.” (needs attribution) Lago also serves as the Commission Liaison to the Board of Directors for the Coral Gables Museum and has previously served on the Planning and Zoning Board for the City of Coral Gables.

Commission Group 3 Seat:

Patricia Keon (Incumbent)

Elected in April 2013, Patricia Keon is running to retain her seat as city commissioner. The Barry College alumna has been active in politics since she worked alongside County Commissioner Jimmy Morales from 1999 to 2004 as an aide. During that time, Keon analyzed policies and drafted legislation. She has been appointed to serve on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board where, according to the City of Coral Gables website, “she spearheaded the redevelopment of the Coral Gables War Memorial Youth Center.” Keon has also served on the Planning and Zoning Board.

Wayne “Chip” Withers

Wayne “Chip” Withers entered the race just before the Feb. 24 deadline to qualify as a candidate. As the challenger, Withers is vying to get back into politics after a seven-year hiatus. Withers served as commissioner for 20 years from 1991 to 2011, during which some of his main focuses included city zoning codes and ordinances. Withers has been vocal, encouraging public input on the Miracle Mile and Giralda Avenue project to add wider sidewalks, new trees, streetlights and parallel parking to the area. Withers has served on the city’s Planning & Zoning, Code Enforcement, Economic Development and Youth Advisory boards.

Commission Group 5 Seat:

Randy Hoff

Randy Hoff is one of four candidates vying for Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick’s seat as she runs for mayor.  Hoff, vice president of the Coral Gables Fraternal Order of Police, is a Miami native who “has personal and professional experience with the Public Works, Code Enforcement, Finance, Building and Zoning Departments,” according to his campaign website. Hoff is campaigning to solve traffic dilemmas within the city. According to his website, “Traffic has become the number one issue that I have heard on the campaign trail … Being a police officer for 30 years and knowing the streets and traffic patterns of Coral Gables, I without a doubt have the most experience.”

Michael “Mike” Mena

Michael “Mike” Mena, a newcomer who has never held public office, is an attorney also vying for Slesnick’s mayoral seat. According to his website, the UM alumnus has promised to complete the following tasks if elected: “implement an aggressive traffic reduction plan,” “lower property taxes and fees,” “prioritize smart development – protect our residential neighborhoods,” “improve our city parks and promote city green spaces,” “continue to evaluate and implement various sea level rise adaptation policy options at the city’s disposal” and “work with our police department to keep our streets safe.” Mena is an advocate for partnering with technology companies, such as Google or Waze, to reduce the city’s traffic.

Marlin Ebbert

Marlin Ebbert, a Coral Gables resident for more than 28 years, is a retired teacher who sits on the board of the Coral Gables Arts Cinema. The April 11 election will be the second time Ebbert runs for a commission seat. In 2013, she ran for the Commission Group 2 seat but lost to Lago. Ebbert has promised to “hold developers accountable to the same rules we all follow” and “prioritize calming traffic and public safety.”

Serafin Sousa

Serafin Sousa, a civil engineer, is another political newcomer looking to claim the vacant seat. In a forum with CBS 4 news anchor Eliot Rodriguez, Sousa said the Paseo de la Riviera and Miracle Mile projects are part of the reason why he is running for city commissioner. Sousa said the city should listen and learn from the public’s reaction to the Paseo project.

Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 11. Students living on-campus or in close proximity to campus can vote at the Watsco Center (1245 Dauer Dr.) or St. Augustine Church & Catholic Student Center (1400 Miller Road).