Hoff, Mena stand out in 4-way Gables commission race

Four candidates have filed to fill the seat left empty by Coral Gables Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick‘s mayoral election2017bid. And while they couldn’t be more different, they all sound pretty much the same.

We have a soft-spoken schoolteacher/grandma activist, the retired cop and union leader, the land use attorney who works with the construction industry and an angry civil engineer who can best be described as the City Beautiful’s own version of President Donald Trump when he was a candidate.

All of them talk about curbing development and easing traffic and filling police vacancies as the top priorities. There are a few differences in their approaches, but they pretty much espouse the same positions. So, we are left with figuring out who might be the best candidate based on who they are and the baggage they bring.

So, who are they? What baggage? Let’s take them in the aforementioned order, which happens to be alphabetical, shall we?

This is Marlin Ebbert‘s second attempt at a commission seat. The retired teacher ran two years ago against Commissioner Vince Lago and Ross Hancock. But she is a veritable staple in Gables civic life, Ebberthaving served on too many committees and boards to name here and being involved in preservation efforts.

Ebbert is a really nice lady. She is the candidate that was recruited and is endorsed by the Riviera Neighborhood Association (aka Gables Neighbors United). But that might be all she has going for her. She is passionate about the Paseo project’s approval and says the city turned a deaf ear to residents’ concerns, which it really did. But from the two candidate forums in which she has participated, she seems a little lost in the headlights on everything else.

“I have a good head on my shoulders. I’ve made wise decisions all my life. I really feel that I’ve amost been in training for this job, to stand up and run for a commission seat.”

A good head on your shoulders is nice, but I think that you also need a good grasp of administration, economics and policy. Also, Lago and Commissioner Frank Quesada will eat her alive at the meetings and the administration will likely be able to manipulate her more easily.

Sgt. Randy Hoff is a retired  officer who has worked at the city police department for almost 30 years, the majority of that time on the marine patrol, before retiring recently in order to run for office in the city where he has lived for 20 years. He has been vocal on public safety, as vice president of the Fraternal Randy HoffOrder of Police Lodge No. 7 until his term ran out in December. That has led some of his opponents to float the idea that he would be soft on labor. But Ladra thinks that what they are forgetting is that he is no longer labor. He is now just a homeowning taxpayer — and retired on a fixed income, at that — so he’s going to watch that bottom line same as anybody else.

But what it could mean is that we’ll finally have a former employee on the dais to help the commission navigate issues with staff. He’s going to bring that perspective. Ladra suspects that will be an advantage to the city at contract negotiating time. And Coral Gables employees are such an integral part of the city’s fabric, it’s about time one is elected.

Mike Mena is an attorney partner at Akerman. He admits to working with the construction Mike Menaindustry and said at the last forum that he “negotiates deals.” Does that mean he’s a lobbyist? He’s not registered, but he touts experience in working with developers and construction companies to get desired results so what do you call that? You call it being too close for comfort.

He actually said “it could have been a Home Depot” about the Paseo project on U.S. 1, which is what developers always say when they want to upzone a property. So he sounds like he would take the developer’s side.

A handsome dad with hipster facial hair and more money than any other candidate, Mena has been in Gables mailboxes more than anybody else. But he seems a little like a carbon copy of Lago and Quesada, only shorter. And he seems a little too ambitious. I mean, he has never served on any city board or committee and has come out of the blue, after moving to the city some years ago, to run for a commission seat? Why not mayor? Ladra bets that, like Lago, Mena he has higher office ambitions and would use this seat as a stepping stone.

I have five little words for him: Pay your dues, young man.

Serafin Sousa is a civil engineer with a construction company who got pissed off at the city’s building Sousa Gablesdepartment — it takes too long to get a permit and it’s too hard to get an inspection — and decided to run for office. He apparently has all the answers. He does actually make sense when he said that the Miracle Mile project should have been done in stages, finishing one block before starting another. “That way you don’t have all the merchants going through one year, or a year and a half, of suffering,” he said.

But his anger comes through too strong. He has a Trumplike air of the no bullshit businessman going against the establishment and he says everything with a sense of “duh!” like the rest of us are stupid. Eso no cae bien. He does not seem like a serious candidate, however, and Ladra suspects he will come in a distant fourth place.

This race is the gentlest of the three and all the gables hoff menacandidates, pictured here at the debate last week at Coral Gables Congregational Church, are cordial and respectful to one another. Maybe that’s a result of being in a four-way race rather than a one-on-one.

But that may change soon because there’s going to be a runoff here. It will be the first time in Coral Gables, where the highest scoring candidate used to win before voters approved a charter amendment last year. And while Ladra may like Hoff and Ebbert the most, I predict a runoff between Hoff and Mena. Hoff is a strong candidate who has campaigned hard, knocking on doors six days a week. He has the support of city employees and their families and he should have gotten the nod from the Riviera preservationists because Mena is going to get into the runoff simply because he is the only Hispanic and the retired cop has a better chance of beating him in the runoff than the retired teacher has.

Word about town is that Mena was recruited by Lago and Quesada because they don’t want Hoff or Ebbert to thwart their drive to redevelop every part of Coral Gables. With Mena, the three of them would have a majority to approve whatever they wanted.

Let this be my official endorsement of Hoff. Ladra feels a little bad, because Mena was the only candidate who purchased advertising on Political Cortadito. I wish I could support him back, but I can’t. Not yet. Let him serve on a city committee or board — may I suggest Hoff appoint him to one — and come back in four years when Lago runs for mayor (or county commissioner or state rep).