The couple lives in West Miami, the tiny city of about 6,000 that elected Sosa, a Republican, commissioner in 1990 and mayor in 1994. At one point, she shared the dais with a young commissioner named Marco Rubio. The two are still close.
As mayor, Sosa took over a city on the brink of bankruptcy and helped restore its financial health. She fought for state money to build a stormwater drainage system that eased West Miami's flooding. Sosa likes to remember how she had then-Gov. Jeb Bush tour her waterlogged city -- and wade in the floodwaters to experience their height.
"She put him in a Jeep, told him, 'Take off your socks,' " recalled Aguilar, the city manager. "He literally took off his socks, rolled up his pants."
Sosa jumped to the county commission in 2001, in a special election following the departure of Pedro Reboredo, who resigned after a corruption scandal. A clear favorite, Sosa ran like an incumbent, with the support of then-Mayor Alex Penelas, developers and other politically connected donors. She has since faced only minor opposition, if at all, to represent District 6, which includes West Miami and portions of Hialeah, Miami Springs, Coral Gables and Miami.
Among the highlights of her commission career has been leading a group that revamped the way the county procured bids for new contracts -- an effort that won Miami-Dade a prestigious national award. But she opposed limiting or removing the commission's power to award contracts, as proposed by then-Mayor Carlos Alvarez, arguing that doing so would hide hiring decisions from the public.
A task force she was involved with recommended ways to reduce elder abuse. She was on a committee studying how to modernize county jails to provide more rehabilitation and job training. And Sosa, an avid cruiser with family ties to Spain, has pushed to lure more cruise companies to PortMiami and to establish nonstop flights to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, from Miami International Airport.
One of her most scrutinized votes was to approve a much-criticized deal to build a new Miami Marlins ballpark.
"I considered that the way the stadium deal was structured, where it didn't use one cent of property-tax money from residents but sports taxes and hotel bed taxes, was another way to bring tourism and for residents to feel proud of something," Sosa said.
But she conceded the deal could have been less lopsided in the Marlins' favor if the county had been able to review the ballclub's financial books. "If I had had the financial statements in hand, perhaps we would have thought of a more beneficial contract," Sosa said.
Despite her stadium vote, Sosa has not drawn the wrath of well-heeled commission critic Norman Braman, the Miami auto magnate -- perhaps because she did not support a subsequent, unpopular property-tax rate increase in the midst of a recession. She has also sponsored reform-minded legislation, such as imposing term limits on commissioners, which voters approved in November.
"She's not controversial," said Roly Marante, another Sosa former chief of staff. "She's seen as the friendliest commissioner. When she has a disagreement with the mayor, they can do it in a very elegant way."
Former Commissioner Natacha Seijas praised Sosa as a straight shooter.
"She was truthful, she was fair, she was honest," said Seijas, who said she was "ecstatically proud" to see a Cuban-American woman at the commission helm.
But the challenge for any chairperson is to keep the administration, led by a strong mayor, in check, Seijas added. "The commission itself has a lot of power, and sometimes I don't think they know how to use it," she said. "That might be one of her weaknesses: how to work it through and demand the power of the commission."
Sosa is considered an ally of Mayor Carlos Gimenez -- in stark contrast to former Chairman Joe Martinez, who used the position as a bully pulpit to unsuccessfully challenge Gimenez in the August election.
In her new role, Sosa will have to wrangle a commission that voted 7-6 to make her chairwoman over Commissioner Barbara Jordan. (A subsequent motion made the vote unanimous.) She has announced plans to create eight commission committees, up from six, giving more of her colleagues committee chairmanships.
Some commissioners appear nervous that Sosa plans to trim staff in the commission auditor office and perhaps move oversight of the commission's intergovernmental affairs office, which deals with state and federal lawmakers, to the mayor's office. Her goal: to repurpose the captured dollars so commissioners can travel, or spend money at will on district services, including grass-cutting and small-business grants.
While Sosa says her goal is "to save some money," how the move would generate savings is still unclear. Under her plan, personnel in those commission-support offices would be moved to other county departments that would presumably have to pay their salaries.
Moreover, bolstering commissioner's individual spending accounts could raise eyebrows. Facing public backlash and a slow economy, individual commissioner office budgets have been slashed to $814,000 a year, from a peak of $1.2 million. Commissioners use that money to run their offices, fund events and hand out grants to community-based organizations that often helped propel the officials to election victories.
For now, Sosa is preparing for her new post by continuing the constituent services that have made her so popular. The week before Christmas, she organized a toy giveaway and brought mariachis to a holiday party for seniors -- where Sosa, a self-described "shower singer" who relishes the spotlight, sang Si nos dejan and Solamente una vez, two standards.
Twice a year, Sosa said she hopes to hold commission meetings outside County Hall.
"There's a very big disconnect," she said. "Sometimes as a government, maybe we get a little bit arrogant. What I would love to see is more people getting familiarized with what we do."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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