From teacher to commissioner to possible Congressional seat, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez is hoping to be the change… and Miami is just the beginning.
South Florida as a melting pot isn’t a new concept. For most who have grown up here, or have children in area schools, seeing (or being a part of) families that merge religions, ethnicities and skin colors is par for the course. But Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez can trump them all.
“My father was Jewish, my mother was Southern Baptist and I married a Catholic from Argentina,” says Rosen Gonzalez. “I hit all the bases because I am a product of this district.”
And that district (Florida’s 27th congressional district) plays a large part in Rosen Gonzalez’s future. In April, the first-term commissioner became the first Democrat to file to run for Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s Congressional seat in 2018, hoping to take her reputation as the “People’s Commissioner” all the way to Washington. But first… some background.
Born of a true Miami Beach love story (her Romanian father met her 42-years-younger mother in the lobby of the Fontainebleau Hotel), Rosen Gonzalez attended Tufts University and spent time working as a journalist before earning a Master’s Degree in Communication at Barry University. After her divorce the single mother made the leap to teaching, spending a year at Miami Central High School, at the time an “F” school with one of the highest AIDS rates in the nation. “It was a learning experience for me,” she says of her time teaching 11th and 12th grade. “It taught me that education is the path to social equality.”
One year later Rosen Gonzalez joined the faculty of Miami Dade College’s Kendall campus, a move that would ultimately fuel her political aspirations. “The year I started working, I went to Tallahassee to lobby because they were cutting Miami Dade College’s budget and our teachers’ pensions,” she says. “We had all this logical data, and all the legislators nodded at us, and then they cut our pensions anyway. I was really upset because policies were being passed that were not in anyone’s best interests.” Motivated by her experience, Rosen Gonzalez dove headfirst into Miami Beach politics. “I put on a backpack and walked the whole city,” she says. “By the end of the campaign, no matter where I was, everyone knew me. The whole city knew me. It was a beautiful campaign, and we were able to win with very little money because we had something the other side didn’t—we had a big heart.”
Since joining the city commission Rosen Gonzalez has put good use to the skills she built in her life as both writer and teacher, explaining that not only is she able to better communicate her own ideas to voters in her district, but to understand what they need from her. “As a journalist you learn to listen, and any good politician knows that listening is one of the most important skills to win a campaign,” says Rosen Gonzalez. Her constituents were at top of mind when she led a 2016 referendum to defeat a potential Convention Center Hotel. “It was a huge, out-of-scale skyscraper that would have flooded Miami Beach with 1,000 extra hotel rooms,” she says. “It is easy to win when you are on the right side of the battle. That deal was bad not just for the residents, but for the entire hospitality industry.”
Looking ahead, Rosen Gonzalez is looking to make climate change and mass transit a priority in her agenda, explaining that as South Floridians “our very existence depends on it.” Says the candidate, “We complain about traffic and congestion and healthcare, but from a macro-level, if we don’t have the funding to install infrastructure throughout Miami Dade County, there will be constant flooding.”
Rosen Gonzalez also prioritizes working toward a more bipartisan Washington, identifying herself in the center and emphasizing the need for “rational legislation,” that includes strides toward clean energy and training for careers, not jobs. “The solutions are all there. We just need to work together to realize them.”
For now, the mom of two is focused on her current projects (“I have two of the most rewarding jobs in the world,” she says.) and on creating a campaign that stays positive. “I dislike it when campaigns are focused on complaining, and I believe that voters are too. I believe in hard work and optimism—it’s a great way to live life,” she says. That positivity is something she vows to retain no matter where her political journey takes her. “When a vote comes before me, whether it concerns the residents of Miami Beach or the residents of an entire congressional district, the right way to vote is fairly obvious. I vote to make people’s’ lives better.”
Reprinted with permission from the Florida Villager.