His roots are in Cuba. His father, who he is named after, was a veteran of the Bay of Pigs Invasion and member of the famed 2506 Brigade that invaded the island soon after the 1959 revolution. Esteban “Steve” Bovo Jr. was born in Queens, New York in 1962 and his family moved to Miami in 1966. He doesn’t fully remember the move, blaming the memory lapse on the seasons.
“My parents brought me here kicking and screaming,” he said. “You do a couple of winters in New York, and then you’ll pick up and leave.”
The 58-year-old has been the Miami-Dade County District 13 commissioner since 2011. He decided to take on the challenge of running for mayor in September 2019 and is now just a few days away from facing off against his colleague, District 8 Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, on November 3.
He said he’s running to make sure the county is responding to the taxpayer, believing the leaders have drifted away from making sure that services like garbage pick-up, police and fire are met. “These issues are extremely important to the development of a community,” he said. “They are quality-of-life issues.”
Bovo attended Miami Dade Community College, where he received his associate’s degree in 1983. He then moved on to attend Florida International University, where he accepted his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1987.
As a father of five, Bovo is very family-oriented. He has been married to his wife Viviana for 21 years. Their children, all raised in Hialeah, are Oscar, Bianca, Esteban, Sofia and Alessandro. They range in age from 10 to 28 years old.
His political work started when a friend told him of an opportunity to interview for a job at a state representative’s office.“I was going to start my master’s program, but I also needed to get some money in my pocket,” he said. “Lo and behold, I found myself working in Tallahassee as a legislative aide for state representative Arnhilda Gonzalez Quevedo.”
Gonzalez-Quevedo, who now goes by Badia, was a Republican representative from 1984 to 1988 for District 112 which covers areas including Little Havana, downtown Miami and Key Biscayne. Aside from being a representative, she was also a professor and assistant vice president at Florida International University.
After being submerged in the world of politics for a year in Tallahassee, he launched his own career in public service when he was appointed councilman for the City of Hialeah in 1998. Charming and witty, he was re-elected twice and in 2005 his colleagues selected him to be council president, a position he held till the end of his term.
In 2008, Bovo ran for state representative for District 110 as a Republican and won by 8,200 votes. During his time in the Florida legislature, he was an advocate for the reopening of the historic Hialeah Park, creating a Bay of Pigs Memorial Day on April 17, and sponsored a resolution designating May as “a safe haven for newborns month.”
He was re-elected after running unopposed in 2010. As a representative, Bovo focused on safety in the community, sponsoring the Ashley Nicole Valdes Act which requires defendants arrested for leaving the scene of a fatal accident to be held in custody until their ruling. He also chaired the House business regulation committee.
He resigned in March 2011 to run for the county commission after voters in the Hialeah and Miami Lakes area recalled then-District 13 commissioner Natacha Seijas, After a tough campaign, he won over 70% of the vote.
Bovo and his campaigns have pushed through turbulence. Although never charged with a crime, he was mentioned in an absentee ballot investigation that led to the arrest of two campaign workers. He strenuously denied having anything to do with the problems — which led to two people being sentenced only to probation. “Any insinuation that my campaign hired [anyone] to do anything in violation of Florida law is just false,” he told the Miami Herald.
Bovo’s goal before he took his seat in June 2011 was to reform county government. In 2012, the commission passed term limits that restrict them to two four-year terms. While on the commission, Bovo also helped create a Transportation Infrastructure Improvement District (TIID) that is expected to generate $1.8 billion over 30 years for transportation improvements.
“We introduced term limits, which I thought was very important for our community,” he said. “I also wanted to increase the funding without having to raise taxes for transportation, and we were successful in doing so.”
Bovo’s mayoral campaign has raised over $3 million and has headquarters in Westchester. The candidate wants to improve quality of life, stimulate small businesses, promoting safety and ease transportation.
As a Republican in a mostly Democratic county, he has had to walk a tightrope. This summer when President Trump arrived in Miami-Dade in the midst of a coronavirus spike, Bovo welcomed him alongside Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz. Although everyone but the president wore masks, Bovo removed his to speak with the President briefly before he departed.
The commissioner believes that the county has to work with businesses and municipalities to combat this virus.
“I think we need to invest more time in involving businesses because we need to realize that we might have to live with the virus for a pretty long time,” he said.
In order to combat the effects of climate change, Bovo believes Miamians must build smarter and reduce their carbon footprint. “I think that happens through better transportation grids and better development,” he said.
As a candidate, Bovo has strongly supported the police. He believes the police department should continue evolving, as it has during the last 30 to 40 years.
“Thankfully, a lot of the issues that we’ve seen in other parts of the country are not prevalent here today,” he said. “ But that doesn’t mean that we can’t look at our police department and work to better improve it.”
Bovo was one of four commissioners to vote against having a civilian oversight panel. He said, though, that appointing someone who is informed and understands police training and practices to oversee the department would be acceptable.
If elected mayor, Bovo plans on investing in transit. “We are a product of what we’ve developed over the many years, our transportation grid has not been traffic-friendly or transit-friendly,” he said. “Since I’ve been on the board, transportation has been my number one priority.”