South Miami Mayor Philip K. Stoddard lifted a bottle of clove oil to the fluorescent ceiling lights and examined the substance. The sound of water bubbling from fish tanks echoed in the room.
Stoddard peered into the bottle, wearing a navy blue lab coat and sky blue gloves inside a biology lab at Florida International University, where he has worked since 1993. His current project is exploring why some dengue-carrying mosquitoes in South Florida are resistant to certain toxins.
He took the liquid, transferred it to another bottle, placed it into a container, wrapped aluminum foil around the container and smiled slightly.
“I am a biology professor by day and a politician by night,” he said.
For a decade, Stoddard has been both an academic and mayor — work in the latter position being arguably more resistant to the scientific method. He is on his fifth term, holding the record for the longest sitting mayor in the city, but will be retiring from public office in February 2020. He plans to continue at the university.
Stoddard has been handed several awards while working both jobs. In 2018, the CLEO Institute chose him for a place in its Expert Advisory Council. He also received an Osprey Award in 2017 from the Florida Sierra Club, as well as excellence in teaching and distinguished service prizes.
“It’s exhausting,” said Stoddard. “The university normally pays me for three things – to teach, to research and to do service. My thought is to take my university service and move that over to municipal service. There is no rest for the weary. You know everybody calls the mayor.”
Stoddard decided to trade his service for municipal work — the school pays 10 percent of his salary.
In 2010, Stoddard ran against then-mayor, Horace Feliu, winning 59 percent of the vote. Almost immediately, he went toe-to-toe with Florida Power and Light over its nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, located on the edge of the Everglades. He said he has always been concerned about the impact of sea-level rise by the plant and the surrounding region.
Walter Harris, the South Miami vice mayor, also ran for office in 2010. He drew almost the same vote as Stoddard.
“That’s what got us into this in the first place — FPL, ” said Harris. “We both ran to fight the nuclear power plants at Turkey Point. They wanted to make two nuclear power plants over there and that has more or less been stopped. We have dealt with a great deal of abuse by FPL because of that.”
Though he said he plans to step away from politics for a bit, Stoddard is likely to return, said South Miami Commissioner Robert Welsh.
“If he’s needed at the state level, he’s going to be drafted,” said Welsh, who praised his ability to work with people on the left and right. “In 10 years he really broadened his horizons much more than any biology head at a university would do.”
For his part, Stoddard said he’s keeping his options open, noting people have urged him to run for another office.
“‘I really would like to have one job for a while, but I’ve learned too much to just walk away entirely,” he said.
For now, though, Stoddard said he and his wife Gray Read, an FIU architecture professor, will finally be able to spend more time together.