South Miami mayoral, commission candidates to face off at forum

All of the candidates in the South Miami election have agreed to participate in a forum Wednesday organized by outgoing Commissioner Walter Harris at the American Legion Hall.

Harris is termed out. Both his seat and the mayoral seat are open, since Mayor Sally Philips is not running for re-election.

“Change is coming to South Miami,” said Commissioner Luis Gil, who is the only incumbent and has been challenged by real estate investor and developer Steve Calle.

“I’m hoping for change and not a revolution,” Gil said.

“We’re going in the right direction generally. We’re going in the right direction fiscally. We’re coming out of COVID ad hopefully having some development at Sunset Place,” he said referring to the city’s main commercial engine downtown.

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In the other commission race in Group 4, where Harris is leaving, there are two current members of the city’s planning board facing off: Lisa Bonich, an arts enthusiast and the only Republican in these non-partisan races, and longtime resident Michelle Readon.

Bonich has raised $23,877 in her campaign account and another $28,250 in her political action committee, Friends of South Miami, according to the campaign finance reports through the end of August. Her consultant is David “Discustin’” Custin. Readon has raised $6,210, but only spent $800, so she may not have a consultant.

Gil has raised $7,825 and spent almost $850 while Calle has raised almost twice as much at $13,455.

All eyes are on the mayoral race, which would be a return to politics for either candidate, former Mayor Horace Feliu or former State Rep. Javier Fernandez.

Fernandez said he was encouraged to run by two commissioners, Brian Corey and Josh Liebman, who are not on the ballot. In 2017, Stoddard actually asked him to consider becoming his successor instead of running for state House, Fernandez told Ladra. He sure would have been better than Philips, who never really wanted it in the first place.

Fernandez has raised almost $49,000 in his campaign account, and another $67,000 in his PAC, Leadership for South Miami. Among the big contributors with $5,000 checks each are developer Allen Morris and Florida East Coast Industries, a commercial real estate, transportation, and infrastructure holding company.

Read related: In South Miami, Phillip Stoddard stays in power through puppet Sally Philips

Feliu is behind in fundraising with only $3,175 reported in campaign contributions as of Aug. 30.

In addition to Stoddard, Fernandez is also backed by Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, the Police Benevolent Association and United Teachers of Dade.

This will be the first city election in November, rather than February, after voters made the change in a 2020 referendum. There should be a higher turnout, as well as more young voters and more Hispanics performing.

The forum begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the American Legion Hall, 7710 SW 59th Ave.