For over an hour, incumbent Miami-Dade District 8 Commissioner Lynda Bell and opponent Daniella Levine Cava exchanged occasional opposing views on July 21 during the first of three Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations candidate forums.
Then the evening’s most raucous response erupted as the session wound up with one-minute final remarks.
Stressing Bell often took credit for “other people’s accomplishments” such as Mom and Pop business applications duplicated by the Beacon Council and an ordinance extending a ban on ex-county officials from lobbying, Cava concluded she would “do away with ‘Pay to Play’ politics.”
That comment — an inference to a headline-making charge when Bell pushed legislation to lift a ban in unincorporated Miami-Dade County on front lawn chainlink fencing before disclosing her daughter and son-in-law owned a fencing company — drew a wild burst of applause from Cava backers who packed a nearcapacity crowd in the Kendall Village Center Civic Pavilion.
“That’s utter nonsense, and totally unfair,” retorted Bell who used part of her 60-second rebuttal to defend her presence, saying, “I was told I would be mistreated but I came [to this session] anyway; I am a public servant.”
Earlier, the two opponents traded views on more than a dozen subjects with newcomer District 10 commission candidate Marina Meadows, appearing without the presence of incumbent Commissioner Javier D. Souto, reported unable to attend the session for personal reasons.
Also making a solo appearance was Lawrence (“Dr. O”) Orihuela, FIU and Miami-Dade College mathematics teacher for 20 years, challenging three-term office holder Marta Perez for the Miami-Dade School Board District 8 seat that covers a portion of Kendall.
Stressing his educational credentials, Oriheula said, “I decided to run because one of my former students asked me to.”
He later added, “I think it would be a distinct advantage to have someone on the school board who knows how to structure curricula programs.”
A parade of county and circuit court judicial candidates as well as a quick appearance by congressional candidate Ed MacDougall, now mayor of Cutler Bay, preceded question and answer sessions, moderated by KFHA vice president Libby Perez and president Michael Rosenberg. All candidate appearances involve races on the Aug. 26 primary ballot that precedes the Nov. 6 general election.
Asked for reaction to the current county budget, Cava criticized Mayor Carlos Gimenez for presenting “false choices” between union concessions and layoffs of county employees to close a budget shortfall, complaining she has tried several times to get detailed answers without response.
Bell retorted that Cava simply failed to pay attention “because the budget is online,” reminding Cava that she voted against returning 5 percent healthcare contributions county employees received earlier this year to help balance the budget.
“We’re not being honest with the public,” Cava responded. “It’s not a 5 percent raise, it’s a five percent restoration.”
Another clash developed when Cava accused Bell of voting to move the Urban Development Boundary, a charge the incumbent commissioner belittled as a change for a 20-year-old rock bed parking lot.
All three candidates expressed cooperation to locate a soccer complex in Miami-Dade (without “using a penny of public funding”, said Cava) and all supported expanding Animal Services funding aimed at mass spaying or neutering homeless cats and dogs.
They also agreed that more study was needed before approving moving the Youth Fair to make way for FIU expansion; a penny sales tax to support Jackson Memorial Hospital, and a proposed Cuban Exile Museum on “Parcel B,” once a second choice for the David Beckham group’s soccer venue.
An endorsement from the Sierra Club was Cava’s answer to a query about candidate support to save water resources while Bell told of a recent first-hand experience to learn more about Everglades preservation by taking an airboat trip through the Everglades.