A former state senator and an auto parts dealer will face off in two weeks for the right to represent the City of Miami’s District 1. They bested five other candidates in Tuesday’s election.
Alex Diaz de la Portilla received 38.8 percent of the vote while Miguel Gabela got 20.8. Because neither received more than 50 percent, they will go head-to-head later this month in their bids to replace Commissioner Wilfredo “Willy” Gort, who is leaving office.
The working-class district spans an area from Flagami to Allapatah and Grapeland Heights. During the campaign, candidates spoke about development and gentrification concerns, improving public education, affordable housing and crime issues.
De la Portilla, who raised more than $400,000 for the race, touted his 16 years in the Florida legislature. He said he believes he can use his connections in Tallahassee to help clean up the Miami River.
“We cannot afford a candidate with no experience and with no knowledge of the important issues Miami faces,” said Diaz de la Portilla. “We need someone who knows what they’re doing and knows how to do it from day one. I believe I am that candidate.”
Mirta Concepcion, who voted for Diaz de La Portilla, said she appreciated his experience. “He seems to be the most prepared and dedicated,” she said, adding that she told her family to vote the same way because “he’s the choice that makes the most sense.”
De la Portilla has had issues and scandals in his personal and professional life through the years. Seven years ago, he was arrested in Boston after ignoring orders by authorities at a hotel to stop smoking in the room. In 2001, he was charged with multiple campaign-finance violations, which he ultimately beat. It was also revealed, back in the ’90s that his driver’s license had been suspended 16 times in 12 years.
More recently, his campaign workers were accused of intimidating elderly voters on Oct. 17 at a low-income housing complex.
Gabela, for his part, is no stranger to close elections. In 2015, he came within 200 votes of unseating Gort for the District 1 seat. He said when he talked to voters, he found their main concerns revolved around crime and public safety. He said he wants to bring more lighting to the streets and increase police presence in the high crime areas.
“We’re gonna hammer that message home, we’re gonna talk about what District 1 needs, keeping families safe and cleaner streets,” said Gabela, who also wants to expand Miami’s trolley system.
Luz Martinez, who voted for Gabela, said she appreciated that focus. “He is an honest man, he is tough and is focused on crime which is something I’ve had to deal with many times living in Allapattah. Now that I have kids, I want someone to get the job done,” said Martinez, 32, a single mother. “Sometimes I don’t feel safe going out at night or even leaving my car parked in front of my house. It shouldn’t be this way.”
The runoff election will be held on Nov. 19.