Miami-Dade voters returned longtime incumbents Audrey Edmonson and Bruno Barreiro to the County Commission and filled a vacant seat with another political veteran, former state Rep. Juan C. Zapata.
Barreiro, a 14-year Miami-Dade Commission veteran, defeated state Rep. Luis Garcia for the District 5 seat that includes southern Miami Beach, Little Havana and Brickell by nearly 4 percent. Barreiro got 54.6 percent of the vote to Garcia's 45.4 percent.
Garcia, a former Miami Beach commissioner and fire chief, was the sole surviving candidate of a slate recruited by Miami car dealer Norman Braman with the goal of unseating four commission incumbents who were up for reelection.
Garcia hammered his opponent for supporting the publicly subsidized Miami Marlins stadium, an issue that helped doom former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, also targeted by Braman in a successful recall vote last year. Braman's political committee mailed fliers highlighting Barreiro's support for the stadium and tying him to Alvarez.
Edmonson, who was pushed into a runoff by a novice candidate, Keon Hardemon, the 29-year-old scion of one of Liberty City's most colorful and powerful political families, beat her opponent handily with 62 percent of the vote. The District 3 seat runs from Overtown, up through Little Haiti, Allapattah, Wynwood, Brownsville and Liberty City, then hugs the coast from Miami Shores down through the Upper East Side and Edgewater.
Hardemon parlayed his family name into the runoff. But he struggled to gain traction across the sprawling, diverse district, and the campaign drew little notice. Edmonson largely treated the campaign, in her own words, as "a major distraction'' from her work as a commissioner.
Zapata, meanwhile, got 54.6 percent of the vote to defeat political newcomer Manny Machado, a Miami-Dade police detective, in what was a sometimes-bitter contest to replace outgoing Commissioner Joe Martinez for the District 11 seat, representing a vast swath of unincorporated, suburban West Miami-Dade that includes West Kendall. Martinez opted not to run for reelection to run -- unsuccessfully -- for county mayor.
Vote-counting in the district continued into Wednesday morning because hundreds of voters were still in line to cast ballots when voting closed at 7 p.m.
Still, a confident, happy crowd of about 65 people, mostly Zapata family and friends, gathered for a low-key celebration at the Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine restaurant. Zapata and his campaign aides expressed confidence of a victory.
His supporters cheered and applauded as Zapata walked into the restaurant just before 10 p.m. after spending most of the night at the Country Walk precinct, where scores still stood in line to vote.
"They rejected the negative campaigns," Zapata said of district voters in a brief interview. "I am happy to be a lifelong resident and look forward to representing them and bring the community together."
Zapata and Machado, both Republicans seeking the nonpartisan commission seat, largely agreed on some big issues. They both came out against property tax-rate hikes and "wasteful" spending at County Hall. They both also favored term limits for commissioners -- a measure capping incumbency at two 4-year terms was winning voter approval by a wide margin. They also opposed moving the Urban Development Boundary along the county's western and southern fringes; a measure requiring a supermajority to move the boundary also appeared headed for approval Tuesday night.
But they did disagree on gambling, with Machado generally favoring it accompanied by social safeguards, and Zapata generally opposing it.
Machado, however, also went after Zapata on character questions, attempting to make an issue of a conviction that occurred when his 45-year-old opponent was a college student 20 years ago. Zapata, whose record was expunged, said he was arrested for purchasing anabolic steroids.
Most of the attacks came from shadowy, third-party political committees linked to the candidates' allies.
Garcia pitched himself as the candidate of reform in his campaign to unseat Barreiro, who handily outperformed his opponent in fundraising. Barreiro stood fast by his support of the Marlins stadium, and during the campaign even ventured to say he would consider financing some renovations to the Miami Dolphins' Sun Life Stadium.
The Marlins and the Dolphins contributed to his campaign and to third-party political committees backing him.
In fact, Barreiro scheduled his victory party at the new Batting Cage sports bar across the street from the new stadium, although the atmosphere was sedate as results trickled in.
But they perked up as Barreiro arrived after 10 p.m., applauding as he settled in to await final results.
"It's a new location here in our district," Barreiro said of the sleek sports bar. "It's part of the redevelopment associated with the stadium."
If reelected, Barreiro said, he will focus on the reconstruction of the Miami Beach Convention Center and expanding the county's public transportation system.
"We should be able to expand Metrorail one mile at a time," Barreiro said. "If we had done that 30 years ago, we would have 30 more miles of Metrorail."
Garcia argued that Barreiro's long tenure and what he characterized as his ineffectiveness and tendency to say little at commission meetings was a good argument for term limits, which he supported. He criticized Barreiro for not doing enough to redevelop Calle Ocho, to secure renovations for the aging convention center or upgrade public transit.
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