Five candidates seek to finish unexpired mayor's term

Community By David L. Snelling, The Miami Laker staff Wednesday, September 18, 2013

 

As Miami Lakes is still reeling from the arrest of suspended Mayor Michael Pizzi on public corruption charges, five candidates who are seeking to finish the rest of his four-year term promise to put the town back on track by first regaining the public’s trust and subsequently execute their political platforms that would make residents proud again.   

During the October 1 special election, voters will place much credence in one aspirant to lead the 6.5 square-mile town down a different path, as former Mayor Wayne Slaton, Councilmember Nelson Hernandez, Dr. David Bennett and political neophytes Edwin Romero and Luis Espinosa have stepped up to the plate to bring back honest government and focus on the town’s goals and objectives.  

But it may be a tough task to convince residents to flock to the polls and vote because a local group of people are fed up with government corruption and launched a campaign of their own. 

Some residents have been circulating a petition to create a referendum to abolish the local bureaucracy and place the community back under Miami-Dade County, though their efforts seem impossible.  

Wayne Slaton, 61, was the catalyst for the 1990’s incorporation movement that lasted for six years, and he was elected the town’s first mayor in 2001 and reelected in 2004. He decided not to run for reelection in 2008 and resurfaced last year to challenge Pizzi but lost the race by a large margin. Following Pizzi’s arrest, residents may have voted for the wrong candidate to lead Miami Lakes and Slaton contends he’s the perfect candidate because he has more than 30 years of experience in community and civic services. 

Slaton, an electrical contractor, has lived in Miami Lakes for 40 years and served as president of the Miami Lakes Civic Association for 18 years. He also served as chairman of the Miami Lakes Parks Committee, Street Lighting Committee, president and vice president of one of the Miami Lakes homeowners associations for more than 10 years, served as chairman of the Miami-Dade Police District One Citizens Advisory Committee, Miami-Dade Blasting Task Force, Miami-Dade Opa-locka Airport Noise Abatement Committee, Our Lady of the Lakes Habitat f or Humanity Home Building Teams and chairman of the Miami Lakes Municipal Advisory Committee. 

The Miami native was also a member on the now defunct Miami Lakes Community Council where he served a chairman. Slaton said he moved to Miami Lakes because he was attracted to the unique way the area looked with so many trees, irrigated swales, lakes and parks and how it was being developed and maintained through a master planned community with homeowner associations enforcing higher living standards. 

“Just one year out of college, I remember standing in line to put my name on a pre-construction townhouse and within six months, I was a property owner and taxpayer,” said Slaton. “Being an original owner, I got involved in the resident transition and formation for improving and preserving my neighborhood, then the surrounding community and eventually the entire town of Miami Lakes.” 

Slaton is knocking on doors and presenting his political platform and has learned that a lot of residents are still shaken up by the recent scandal. 

“The issues that spurred the incorporation movement of which I was involved have become more and more apparent over the last few years, culminating in the recent scandal of our town,” he said.  

Slaton said residents are fed up with government officials misleading them and their pleas falling on deaf ears. They want a mayor who will work for them. 

“Residents are tired of misleading and self-serving politicians that seem more involved with the special interests than with the citizens’ best interest,” he said. “They tell me they don’t like the change in the path the town has taken lately. Though taxes are low, taxpayers’ money is being wasted on tourist videos we don’t need and annexation efforts we don’t want.” 

Slaton also said residents are furious over how they were misled on the charter change doing away with the residential districts. 

“Things are not getting done in a timely manner, standards are slipping and they don’t feel safe as they used to feel in Miami Lakes,” he said. “Residents especially don’t like the increasing debt, spending money we don’t have. Government is becoming too bureaucratic and less resident and business friendly.”   

Slaton said he’s running for elected office again to restore the town’s five-year Strategic Plan, which he calls the residents’ plan, with operating principles, core values and goals that are implemented with unyielding respect for all. 

“The plan that is the very foundation of our town should protect our children, residents and businesses,” he said. “Provide good and timely maintenance at a reasonable and efficient price. Provide the service that our residents want and deserve, new capital improvements that the citizens want, when we have the money to pay for them. We must operate our government, the bidding and procurement process, our building, zoning and code compliance in a fair, friendly and helpful manner, without political interference.” 

Slaton said Miami Lakes needs to put the brakes on government wasteful spending all year long. 

“Every person who works for this town should be a public servant with a philosophy of “How may I help you” and never, “It’s not my job,” Slaton said. “In a small town that is as new as Miami Lakes, it is important that the mayor has a history of involvement, a knowledge of why we became a town, what our town should and should not be, and how we are going to get there. The mayor should be experienced with a track record of sound judgment and integrity beyond reproach. I believe my record of 25 years of voluntary community services and 12 years of elected public service demonstrates my candidacy as the best qualified for the mayoral seat.” 

Slaton said residents should vote for him because Miami Lakes will have a great future with him back at the helm. 

“I will get us back on the right track, moving forward,” he said. “It’s my mission to bring out the very best in Miami Lakes. Now, more than ever I ask for your vote and your help in restoring Miami Lakes for the people.” 

Slaton has been married to Margaret for 35 years and they have an 18-year-old daughter Grace, who’s a freshmen at Florida State University. 

Nelson Hernandez, 27, is  executive director of the Florida Hispanic Foundation, a nonprofit organization (affiliated with the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus) which provides college scholarships to high school students.  Hernandez was the youngest person elected to the Town Council in 2010 and was a member of the town’s Economic Development Committee for five years, including serving as the secretary. 

He was also a member of the town’s Youth Activities Task Force and worked for State Senator Rene Garcia and other members of the South Florida State Legislative Delegation. 

“In that capacity, working in conjunction with the Governor’s Budget Office, I analyzed and advised on health care financial models,” Hernandez said. 

Hernandez is also a founding member and past president of the Hialeah-Miami Lakes Republican Club, which was created in 2011. His family moved to Miami Lakes 11 years ago and he loved the community from the moment he saw it. 

“Growing up, my father took an active role by coaching my soccer and baseball teams at the Miami Lakes Optimist Club,” Hernandez said. “My family raised me in Miami Lakes because of its people and their values, Individuals like the president of the Loch Ness Homeowners Association, Sergio Campos. He is selflessly dedicated to serving his neighbors. People like him ensure that Miami Lakes is a great place to end your day and spend your weekends. I have always loved living in this community and it would be an honor to represent Miami Lakes as its new mayor.” 

Hernandez said Miami Lakes means a lot to him and his family. He said the town is a “very” special place where residents can live, work and play in a safe and beautiful environment. 

“In working with South Florida’s State Legislative Delegation and learning about the various communities that they represent, it confirms that our town is truly unique,” said Hernandez. 

He said Miami Lakes is a tight-knit community, where neighbors and friends are considered family members and engage in community activities. 

“Families like the Russo and Lam families unite to organize a block party during Halloween so that children can enjoy the night like our parents’ generation used to do,” he said. “Children still play in our local parks. One may be able to find nice homes in a safe community, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find another community like the town of Miami Lakes.” 

Hernandez said in light of the vacant mayoral seat, and as a senior member of the Town Council, he felt a calling and responsibility to come forward and run for mayor. He said he received so many phone calls and emails from residents urging him to run. 

“The answer became crystal clear,” he said. “Town residents elected me to lead their government and the former mayor not only betrayed us, he embarrassed our community. As an elected official and community leader, it’s my duty to come forward and offer my service as mayor to this community, and if I am elected, I will work quickly to restore a transparent, civil and ethical environment at Town Hall.”  

If elected mayor, Hernandez would like to continue his 5-Point Plan that has been a success and keep the property tax rate low while operating a small budget. His 5-Point Plan that helps address significant town-wide issues includes Fiscal Responsibility/Responsibility, Public Safety, Infrastructure, Accessibility and Beautification. While on the campaign trail knocking on doors, Hernandez has been hearing from residents that they want an ethical and transparent local government. 

“They are enthusiastic about my candidacy for mayor and the prospect of having an energetic leader in the town who shares their values – integrity, civility and humility,” Hernandez said. “Town residents want honest and hardworking leaders who they can trust to work coherently with other members of the Town Council.”  

If elected, Hernandez said he plans on keeping his open door policy available by cellphone, email, Facebook and Twitter and meetings at his Town Hall office. 

“We live in a time where having an open door is no longer enough,” he said. 

Hernandez said residents should vote for him because he has experience on the state level, three years as a councilmember and a strong background in finance. 

“Miami Lakes deserves ethical and visionary leadership working on implementing forward-thinking policies,” he said. “That is my pledge to town residents.” 

Hernandez is in a relationship with Yara Lorenzo and looking forward to starting a family someday. 

David Bennett, 55, is no stranger to running for elected office. He made two unsuccessful bids for a Town Council seat in 2008 and 2012, and as a community activist, Bennett became the government’s most vocal critic even pushing as far as filing a lawsuit against the town to force elected officials’ e-mail contact lists to be public records to expose possible corruption.  

The Chicago native wants to conduct an audit to determine if Miami Lakes is actually fiscally strong. Bennett, who has lived in Miami Lakes for the past 12 years, also wants to push keeping the town safe, promote traffic control and efficiency and keep taxes low while improving efficiency. 

Bennett was a member of the Miami Lakes Ad Hoc Veterans Memorial Committee, Veterans Memorial Standing Committee and a condo board member for Costa del Sol Condo. Bennett, director of clinical operations for Concierge Dentistry of Florida in Doral, says Miami Lakes represents the best of both worlds. 

“It’s a small slice of paradise, with a small town feel while being assessable to large city amenities,” he said.  The mayoral candidate said Miami Lakes offers the best quality of living he and his family have been seeking for years. “The tree-lined streets of Miami Lakes are a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of greater Miami,” Bennett said. “Few communities can boast such a pleasant place to live, play and work that Miami Lakes offers. My wife and I fell in love with our community the first time we set eyes upon it.” 

Despite losing two races for the Town Council, Bennett is confident voters will elect him to a higher office because his desire and passion to change Miami Lakes burn more than ever. 

“I have a real desire to change things for the better in Miami Lakes,” he said. “I have been a concerned citizen and activist for many years, I truly think that if we are going to improve Miami Lakes we can’t continue to elect career politicians.”  

Like his two previous campaigns for political office, Bennett is knocking on residents’ doors and presenting his platform. He said they are “very” concerned about the rash of break-ins that have plagued the town for some time now. If elected, Bennett said he would push for more foot/bike police patrols in the area, create a citizen crime watch group to be enhanced by external internet based monitoring safety systems. 

“Many are frustrated with rush hour traffic congestion,” said Bennett, who plans to have an open door policy for residents, via phone, office visits and coffee at Einstein Bagels or Latin America Cafe. “Many feel betrayed by the previous administration and want change away from politics as usual.”  Bennett said Miami Lakes residents should vote for him simply because he brings a deep desire to make the town the best to live for residents. 

“I have eight years of experience with the Town of Miami Lakes government and I have watched closely what has occurred in the past from outside the bubble, so I have a very good understanding of the issues facing the community,” he said. “Miami Lakes doesn’t need career politicians as mayor, it needs a truly concerned citizen that knows the issues affecting us and has the desire and ability to make our town a better place to live.” 

Edwin Romero, who had political aspirations for years, decided now was the right time to run for mayor. 

“First and foremost I love Miami Lakes,” Romero said. “And the current administration needs a new leader. I am here to rescue Miami Lakes, and as mayor, I will lead the town of Miami Lakes into a healthy and prosperous future.” 

Romero, an 37-year-old MBA graduate from the University of Miami, believes strongly in education. “We, as a community, have a vested interest in the future of our children,” he said, “Our children are our most valuable asset, and I will personally work with Miami-Dade Public Schools Office of Intergovernmental Affairs to help our students succeed.” 

Romero added: “Crime in Miami Lakes is high. I will work with our police force to make our community safer. And as mayor of Miami Lakes, I will send a clear message to offenders that our city will not tolerate crime.” 

Luis Espinosa said he has been considering a run for political office since he retired as a lieutenant from the Hialeah Fire Department. 

“I think Miami Lakes is looking for fresh faces in politics,” said the 25-year Miami Lakes resident. 

Espinosa, 51, said he would like to suggest some ideas for the Par 3 golf course and cater to the elderly and initiate an emergency response program in the aftermath of a natural disaster.  

“Our administration has been doing a good job of keeping our taxes low and providing great services,” said the Health Science teacher. “But Miami Lakes needs new and fresh faces.” 

(Editor’s Note: Romero and Espinosa did not respond to a Questionnaire request to outline their campaign goals. The information above was obtained from their campaign materials.)

CrescentPoint Arbor Place