On the same ballot for president in one of the most divisive national elections in American history will be the two candidates vying for
Miami-Dade County Mayor.
After emerging with the two highest vote counts in a crowded seven-way race in August, county commissioners Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Daniella Levine Cava will face off again on Nov. 3. The victor will replace outgoing Mayor Carlos Giménez and lord over a more than $9 billion budget with the power to hire and fire most county administrators and veto legislation.
If Levine Cava wins, she’ll be the first woman to serve as Miami-Dade County mayor and the first Democrat to sit in the chair since Alex Penelas. If Bovo wins, he’ll continue the succession of Cuban American men to hold the seat since 1996.
Bovo, a Republican, has been a county commissioner representing District 13 in northwestern Miami-Dade since 2011. Previously a Hialeah councilman and still a resident, he runs an international consulting business. Bovo is endorsed by the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County.
Levine Cava has been the county’s District 8 commissioner – which covers part of South Dade – since 2014. A lawyer and social worker by training and a resident of Pinecrest, she is the founder of what’s now known as Catalyst Miami, a nonprofit organization that seeks to alleviate problems affecting low-income communities. She’s backed by the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party.
The county’s elected posts, including mayor, are technically nonpartisan races, as are many issues facing Miami residents.
If elected, Levine Cava said she wants to enact sensible COVID-19 policies, expand employment and education, create more opportunities for Black-owned businesses, and speed up the construction of affordable housing and boost homeownership subsidies.
“The county needs somebody with leadership experience. With management experience. With a commitment to listening to the community and involving the community, and to solving difficult problems,” Levine Cava said. “Somebody of honesty and integrity and not beholden to special interests, and all of that is me.”
Bovo said he wants to attract more businesses to Miami-Dade with better paying jobs and improve county services. He also expressed opposition to getting involved in “social issues” such as poverty and affordable housing.
“Let us remind ourselves that what [the Miami-Dade County government does] is we provide service. We provide police, fire. We fix the roads. We make sure the garbage is picked up,” Bovo said. “If we continue to take our county government into the areas of social awareness and try to fix the social issues of our community, I think we are going to fail miserably in the long run. Society needs to address those things.”
COVID-19 and the health crisis
There are more than 716,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state of Florida, and there have been nearly 15,000 deaths. In Miami-Dade County, an area densely populated by Black and Hispanic Americans – groups far more likely to contract the coronavirus and suffer its most dire consequences – the disease has exacted a grim toll.
“Our mayor was very slow, in my opinion, to acknowledge the crisis, to move forward with a testing regiment, to close down at the time we needed to close down, to have a universal masking requirement and many, many more things,” Levine Cava said.
She believes Giménez didn’t put enough emphasis on the testing, contact tracing and isolation needed to control the disease, nor did the state or federal government.
“It’s been pitiful. The state has been so far behind in implementing [contact tracing]. I pushed and pushed the mayor to do it at the county level. He resisted,” Levine Cava said.
In May, Giménez relented and committed to hiring up to 1,000 contact tracers.
Bovo laments how local government’s reaction to COVID-19 has adversely affected the economy.
“We need to understand that unless there is a vaccine, we’re going to be living with this virus for a while. That means I would rather sit with businesses and have a conversation and just point-blank ask them: ‘How are you going to open and keep your customers and employees safe?’ and then hold them to it. It’s very simple, in my opinion,” he said, adding that he’ll also consult with health care experts.
To encourage small businesses shuttered by the pandemic to reopen, Bovo is in favor of suspending “some” regulations.
“The only way we can recover is to get [people] back to work as quickly as possible,” he said.
Levine Cava, on the other hand, developed an intricate plan to help the economy bounce back called RECOVER Miami-Dade that includes reinvesting in small businesses and ensuring that at least 5% of county contracts are obtained by local businesses under 5 years old – with special consideration for businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans – among other things. But first, she asserted, the community must be confident it will be able to safely patronize businesses.
Jobs and the economy
Public safety and quality county services are imperative to helping Miami-Dade County’s economy, Bovo insisted.
“If we provide services like police and fire, keeping safe streets, I think that brings investment – and those investments bring better jobs in the long run,” Bovo said.
Part of that equation is diversifying the economy beyond the tourist and hospitality industries, which traditionally offer only low-paying jobs.
“We need to work extensively to help draw different types of businesses here. … We can create programs and incentives to bring different companies here,” Bovo said.
To make sure the county’s poorer residents, particularly youth, can get access to those better jobs, Bovo said he wants to leverage “educational opportunities” in Miami-Dade, which in turn will help alleviate poverty.
“We have a good foundation of education in Miami-Dade County and I think that is something we need to build upon,” he said. “We need to help our young people to not settle for the job that pays them $10 an hour. We need to help them create the job skills that command [at least] $25 an hour.”
Like Bovo, Levine Cava sees education and expanding the economy beyond tourism as avenues of raising salaries and lifting people out of poverty.
“Working with our school system, we have to make sure that our children are ready for school, and that they are provided the support they need to stay in school, do well and be motivated. To have a sense of a brighter future,” she said.
As mayor, she wants to forge partnerships with the school system and private companies to create “internships and apprenticeships linked to future job opportunities.” She also has plans to enhance investment in Black-owned businesses, including expanding Miami-Dade County’s Economic Advocacy Trust grant program. She also wants to encourage Black entrepreneurship, promote investment in predominately Black-owned businesses, and even create an office of equality and inclusion.
Among the duties Levine Cava envisions for that office will be making sure that Black-owned businesses obtain a fair share of county contracts.
According to a 2014 county report, less than 2% of construction contracts, 1% of architecture contracts and 6% of professional services contracts were given to Black-owned businesses. Jacqui Colyer, CEO of the Colyer Thomas Group and a business consultant, said the fact that so few county contracts were awarded to minority-owned businesses is “troubling.”
“That is not how you build any type of equity, nor is it how we build a sense [of equality] moving forward,” she said.
Bovo said the situation can be corrected by making sure that “everyone has access to an ability to bid on contracts.” As mayor, he said he would lower bonding requirements that “make it prohibitive to small businesses” to bid on contracts.
“I do believe we can help small businesses, whether they are Black or white,” he said.
What Bovo isn’t in favor of is a “set-aside” or “quota” program, “because I don’t believe in that.”
In fact, Bovo is anxious about the county spending too much time and money trying to solve society’s problems, rather than focusing on providing services.
“We can’t turn to the taxpayer … and say ‘Give me more money so I can fix these problems,’” he said.
Bovo prefers to limit county involvement in providing affordable housing as well. Although 48.4% of Miami-Dade County’s households are cost burdened, according to a recent report by Florida International University’s Jorge M. Pérez Metropolitan Center, Bovo is against the county directly building more affordable housing or providing subsidies for the development of affordable housing rentals. Instead, he’d rather create incentives for developers to create those units.
“I have seen instances where the private sector, given a certain incentive, they can address these issues better than us,” Bovo said. “But we can do things. We can bring our county land in place. We can do red tape-cutting to make the process more efficient to be able to develop … and we can negotiate those things in the beginning before we allow somebody to build, and then we can go ahead and get the units that we need to bring the price down.”
Levine Cava said the county can use funds it already possesses for the construction of more affordable housing units, and she wants to explore changing density requirements to encourage developers to construct more. She’d also like to streamline the process of permitting and building to make development of affordable and workforce housing more cost effective, and to encourage developers to construct apartment buildings with both market-rate and affordable housing, as a means of fostering economic integration.
“We need to put out 10,000 new units per year … that are within affordable limits for the majority of our workforce,” she said.
She complained that the county isn’t tapping into surtax dollars dedicated toward providing assistance to low- and moderate-income individuals and families to buy their own homes, which is something she aims to change if elected.
“We also need to provide more subsidies [for homeownership] since the price for homes is higher than what the current program allows,” she said.
Providing more affordable housing will make a huge dent in lifting people out of poverty, since a large sector of Miami-Dade’s population spends more than 50% of its income on housing, Levine Cava explained. And, she vowed, alleviating poverty will be a priority of her administration.
“I have spent a lifetime getting people out of poverty,” said Levine Cava. “The challenges are great and the solutions vary. Obviously, salaries are low, expenses are high and opportunities are diminishing, and we have to address all of those things.”
Crime and police reform
Colyer, who is a community activist, past candidate for District 5 City of Miami commissioner and former regional director of the state’s Department of Children and Families, said she wants a mayoral candidate who can address gun violence.
“We have to make sure we take the bad guys off the street. We do have folks that need to be prosecuted,” she said, adding that the next mayor of Miami-Dade can’t be afraid of police reform.
“We have to have some type of re-imagining of the police department and police in general in certain communities,” Colyer said. “I live in [the upper eastside], where policing is protecting the community. When I lived in Overtown, policing was really to keep people in what [residents] thought of as ‘in line.’ There is a way we can do this that is different.”
Levine Cava said she in favor of revamping Miami-Dade’s police department to ensure it is effective at both dealing with and preventing crime.
“Obviously we have a problem with violence throughout our society, and some neighborhoods are more affected than others,” she said. “That being said, we have crimes to solve. We have unsolved murder cases, unsolved rape cases. Economic crimes that are on the rise without adequate numbers of police detectives to solve those crimes.”
Levine Cava supported the creation of an independent law enforcement review panel. She sees it as a key to establishing trust between police and the community by making sure that “neighborhoods that have complaints and concerns about police misconduct” have a place to “take their concerns.”
“I know we need to invest in more training to help police learn to deescalate these situations to avoid becoming violent, and mediation techniques,” she said, “and also to partner with social service agencies to help deal with the underlying conditions.”
Bovo insisted that the MDPD is the most well-trained and integrated police force in the southeast United States. However, he also said his administration won’t tolerate an officer who “uses excessive force with any individual.”
“I condemn when I see a police officer who overreaches or oversteps his duties and his responsibilities, especially when it is costing the life of somebody,” he said.
Bovo asserted that he’s determined for the county to tackle “the issue of Black-on-Black crime” as well.
“It’s a problem in our community that gets brushed away by the liberal media on many occasions and is not addressed,” adding that “We will speak loudly when a police officer violates the protocols and his or her training, and we will speak loudly when we see issues of gun violence where the community does not step up and is not outraged and is not ready to condemn and turn over those who are responsible for the shootings.”
Lionel Lightbourne, community CARE coordinator at Gang Alternative Inc., a Little Haiti-based community outreach organization that deals with crime and violence in the county, said that when one Black civilian kills another there’s often a conviction, but when a white police officer kills a Black civilian “there’s comparison.”
“He [Bovo] needs to be made aware of the difference between homicide at the hands of a white police officer and homicides that [involve a Black victim] at the hands of a Black citizen,” Lightbourne said. “There’s a big difference.”