Five have eyes on mayoral seat; three seeking vacant council seat in special election

Featured By David L. Snelling, Laker staff Friday, September 6, 2013

Eight candidates have qualified to run in the mayoral race and for Council Seat 4 during next month’s special election following the arrest of Michael Pizzi on public corruption charges, and another spot was left vacant after a sitting councilman stepped down to run for mayor. 

The mayoral candidates include Councilmember Nelson Hernandez, who resigned last month to seek the top position, Miami Lakes’ founding mayor Wayne Slaton, dentist Dr. David Bennett who ran twice for the Town Council, real estate broker Edwin Romero and high school teacher Luis Espinosa. 

The candidate who receives the most votes will be elected to serve out the rest of Pizzi’s term, which ends in 2016. Vying for Hernandez’s vacant seat are political novices attorney Lorenzo Cobiella; Frank Mingo, who’s employed by a supply-chain management company; and realtor associate Star Rodriguez.

With the abrupt removal of Pizzi, who was suspended by Florida Governor Rick Scott on August 6, all the candidates have a short time to campaign for the October 1 special election.

Nelson Hernandez, a Miami native, was elected to the council in 2010 and created his 5-Point Plan to help address significant town-wide issues such as Fiscal Responsibility, Public Safety, Infrastructure, Accessibility and Beautification. 

He said he gave it much thought and talked with his family and friends before he finally decided to run for mayor.

“As mayor I will keep working with my colleagues on the Council to carry out the 5-Point Plan I presented since being elected in 2010,” he said. “Now I am ready to serve as your next mayor of Miami Lakes. Together we’ll put our town back on the right track.”

If elected, Hernandez wants to ensure property taxes remain low, provide additional tax relief to residents by tapping into outside sources of revenue, continue to combat crime and keep the crime rate at all-time low, and work diligently with the county to ensure the N.W. 87th Avenue Expansion Project is completed expeditiously.

Wayne Slaton, 63, was the town’s founding mayor from 2001 to 2008 and lost to Pizzi in last year’s election following a four-year hiatus. During Miami Lakes’ ordeal, Slaton said he can offer a better solution with both unmatched experience and proven leadership that is honest, trustworthy and “town” focused.

Slaton, a Miami native, said he plans to restore the 5-year strategic plan to get Miami Lakes back on track if he’s elected. As mayor, he helped develop the town’s first two strategic plans that included core values, goals, operating principles, vision and mission statements based on feedback from residents on what Miami Lakes should resemble in the next 5 to 10 years. Slaton said the plans to keep elected officials, town staff and residents on the same page during his two terms as mayor.

“This is a great town, but our standards have been slipping,” he said. “Things are not getting done, done right, or in a timely manner,” he said. “Special interests have too much influence and the citizens too little. Each of us should have the end goal, but how we get there is the difference. We have a great future and I will get us back on the right track because it’s my mission to bring out the very best in Miami Lakes.”

David Bennett said he’s calling for transparency by possibly making public records available on the town’s website. The 55-year-old Chicago native also 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.

“I bring to our residents a deep desire to make our community the best place to live,” Bennett said.

Bennett was a member of the Miami Lakes Ad Hoc Veterans Memorial Committee and Veterans Memorial Standing Committee. 

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, a 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.”

In a three-person race, candidates Cobiella, Mingo and Rodriguez are seeking to replace Hernandez and fill the remainder of his term, which expires next year.

Lorenzo Cobiella, 34, said he decided to answer his calling of running for elected office. He said caring for Miami Lakes is his passion and he didn’t like the direction of the town. Cobiella, a member of the town’s Planning and Zoning Board, said he wants to protect the town from over development, which is out of character for Miami Lakes, and be a champion for senior citizens. 

“It’s part of what I do as an attorney and I care about the senior citizens,” said Cobiella, who served on the Miami Lakes Elderly Affairs Committee. “We want to cater to their needs and get the senior center open for their benefits to enjoy and conduct health screenings. We want to address their needs.”

Cobiella has been living in Miami Lakes since 2007 but grew up in the area. He attended Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic School and Pace High school. Cobiella has been involved in the youth programs at Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Church, Habitat for Humanity and food and toy drives during the Holiday season. He moved his law practice from Brickell to Miami Lakes at the Elias Law firm.

Frank Mingo, 53, said Miami Lakes flirting with the idea of annexing Palm Springs North essentially sealed his decision to run.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Mingo, a supply chain manager for Oliva Cigar Corporation. Mingo said it would cost Miami Lakes a lot of money to bring the unincorporated community’s code up to par with the town’s living standards. 

He said he wants to protect Miami Lakes from any annexation movement, head the effort to create a 30-acre public park, create transparency by placing all municipal contracts online and keep taxes low and be a steward of public funds.

Mingo has been a resident in Miami Lakes since 1986 and knows the community “very” well. He served on the Miami Lakes Economic Development Committee, president of Silvercrest North Homeowners Association and he sponsored the town’s Veterans Day Parade.

Star Rodriguez said the Town Council needs a woman back on the dais and her track record makes her the perfect candidate. She was a member of the Miami Lakes Education Advisory Committee, which helped the town’s schools dramatically improve their marks, and served on the PTA boards for Miami Lakes K-8 Center, Miami Lakes Education Center and Miami Lakes Middle School.

She also was a board member for the Educational Excellence School Advisory Council (EESAC). The 48-year-old Hialeah native has been serving the education community since she moved to Miami Lakes in 1998. Now she wants to make a bigger impact on the town as a councilmember.

“I can make a big difference on the Town Council because I know this community very well and I am not politically-connected,” said Rodriguez, a realtor associate with Coldwell Banker.

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