Two residents challenge incumbent Mayor Bermúdez
By: María Alejandra Pulgar
What up to mid-July looked like was going to be an uncontested election changed when two residents decided to challenge Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez on his reelection race; they are Emmanuel “Manny” Sarmiento and Victor Cámara. Although Cámara had registered in May as candidate for Seat #1, he made the change to run for the Mayoral seat before the qualification period ended.
Interviewing Mayoral Candidates with an incumbent involved, entailed additional efforts geared towards providing Doral electors with complete, unbiased profiles of those candidates who agreed to share their platforms with Doral Family Journal’s readers. We conducted the interviews independently, on similar settings, with same time limits and conditions, and discussed the same issues within the context of their experiences and current positions. Herewith you have summaries of those conversations, as the second part of our “Meet Doral Candidates” series for 2020 Elections.
Juan Carlos Bermudez (Incumbent Mayor)
Juan Carlos Bermudez won the election to serve as First Mayor of the City of Doral in 2003, after being involved in the process of incorporation along with members of the organizations West Dade Federation and One Doral. Born in Cuba, came to the US at three years old, as political refugee along with his family. From a very young age, he was involved in human rights activism for immigrants not only from Cuba but from other nationalities as well.
He is an attorney and has a vast experience on community issues such as immigration, transportation, housing, etc.; as elected official over the years has been appointed to different committees to deal with those issues at National, State and County levels.
Having left City Hall in 2012, Bermudez won back the Mayoral seat in 2016, with 67% of the residents’ votes in a runoff election against then incumbent Luigi Boria. Now he is seeking reelection for another four years.
He has been a resident of Doral for more than 20 years, along with his wife Vivian and his three daughters.
On his motivation to run for Mayor:
“One of the reasons why I am running again is I would like to make sure that we leave a stable team of people that have the same reasons for running that I do. I think if there was one mistake that maybe I made in the first years as the Founding Mayor was that I really didn’t worry about who was following me. I think that with the Council we have today and if Oscar Puig, who I am supporting openly, […] wins, I think we will have people that we may disagree on some things, but our philosophy and our reason for running is the reason why we all of us worked, to incorporate the City, […] people that have the same belief in efficient and effective government, in transparent government, in growth, but controlled growth; And a group of people that really do believe in why we founded the City.
“That is not to say that new people that might just get to the City might not have good intentions. […] I am concerned that we would have outside interests. We have to avoid that.”
On Covid-19 impact and recovery
“We have to be realistic that there is going to be an impact on the [City] budget, not only this year but more so next year. I think the budget hit is probably going to be in the range of 5 to 6 million dollars, next year might be even more. The way we fill that void is to lobby to try to make sure that we can get federal dollars directly.
“I was one of the three individuals assigned by the League of Cities to try to negotiate with Miami-Dade County to try to get some of the CARES-ACT dollars […] We had an agreement and the agreement went in the other direction, the County only allotted 30 million, for 34 municipalities. In talking to Mayor Gimenez it was proposed back to 100 million and that is where we are right now.
“There are a number of programs to help our businesses, before the potential grant program we are trying to set up right now. One of them is for small businesses and the other one would be for some sort of rent and mortgage reimbursement […] we just got the resolution passed.
“Before that we did a number of things: the program where we allowed outdoor dining, […] we’ve done testing, we’ve done not only food drives, and we’ve probably delivered about 130,000 dollars in meals to the residents of Doral, most of them to the elderly and the needy.
“One of the new proposals that we have, which hopefully we can expand in this intermediate period, is hopefully getting funding for COVID testing for our residents, which would be key for people getting back to work.
“I have been on the forefront fighting the County trying to get those dollars, […] we’ll continue to fight to get those COVID dollars. This is where being a municipality that has great reserves because we established them from before helps, because some other municipalities can’t afford this.
“Our residents have done a great job at listening to our messages. We have over 2000 cases, but when you look at the percentages from the County that is not as high as most other large cities, which is a tribute not only to the city but is a tribute to the residents and the businesses that follow the rules.
“Many times, what we have seen in the past two months is that people, who get sick, did because a relative or friend came to visit, and got everybody sick. We all have to be vigilant but there are limitations that we have. We are trying to get people to comply. Last week alone we gave away over 100 masks our police department and code compliance, to residents.
“I think what could have been done differently was get those federal dollars quicker to the municipalities, so we could have instituted some of those programs earlier.
On pending goals for the next four years
“There are a number of loose ends: First and foremost […] I want to leave a City Council that is committed to open and transparent government, effective and efficient government and that the city would continue to grow, […] in a controlled manner consistent with the master plan. Second, I would like to see the parks bond completed the right way that is being done […]
“I am working on a project now, which is trying to convert some of the Army Corp of Engineers land, that is in dispute with some developers in the north, into a passive park[…], I need to get the land owner to give us the land for free which is always a big fight, that is one of my pet projects.
“We had a great accomplishment, in appealing the decision of the State regarding the landfill in Medley. They have imposed 12 new restrictions and it goes a long way towards solving that problem; but we still have the resource recovery facility in Doral, the contract runs out I think in 2024 or 2023. That is my next battle. […] I believe the County can have a better facility somewhere else that is not so close to residents. I have objected to the County’s extension to that contract, I will continue to object to that.
“I promised last campaign we’d get a seat on the Transportation Plan Organization, and we did it, I am committed to continue working on the traffic issue, even though is a regional issue.”
Regarding legislation, “I signed a letter recently because we are about to become a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) city. Every person that responds the census counts, because we get federal dollars based on the census, and by becoming a CDBG we will get more federal dollars. That is very important.”
On Plans for the Future
“I want to leave a group of people that can continue to make Doral the premier place to live, work, play and learn. And do it the right way […] hopefully with the reelection of Claudia Mariaca and the election of Oscar Puig we can continue that path.”
“I want to leave the city where we brought it back to when we were out of track. Two years after we came back Money Magazine named us the 22nd best place to live in the Country; I want to leave us in that position.”
“I’d like to keep that thing we had when we started which was a sense of community, […] we chose a long time ago in our community to create a culture of transparency, honesty, efficient and effective government, of building the community from the ground up not from the top down. It was a culture that we built and we need to protect that culture, we know what happened when we did not do it.”
Emmanuel “Manny” Sarmiento
Manny Sarmiento migrated from Cuba with his family as a child in 1968. He is a longtime resident of Doral, along with his wife Carmen. The past five years he has also taken care of his father, who has Alzheimer’s, after the passing of his loving mother. He has a grown up daughter who lives in Atlanta.
He is an entrepreneur, author, and the founder / CEO of the Doral Chamber of Commerce, an organization that supports the development and education of hundreds of Doral business owners since 2008; A lifelong and passionate learner, he is constantly attending trainings, looking for opportunities to expand his knowledge, especially on tools, methodologies, and trends that can be useful for business owners in Doral.
Manny credits his family for instilling on him the main values of honesty (“Always saying what I think”), respect, and solidarity (“Always taking care of each other”), which he has translated to his work on providing development and training opportunities to the businesses in the area, and that he desires to put to the service of the residents as Mayor of Doral.
On his motivation to run for Mayor:
“I thought there were going to be other candidates who were also well qualified, I was expecting for them to run, but when I realized that they were not going to, so I decided that we needed change in the city, I did not want four more years of the same thing. I wanted change. So I decided to be it!
“I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t take action. I want change. This is my City. […] The Council, the Mayor doesn’t own the City. I want to give it back to the residents.”
On a “Dream Team” Council and City Staff
“I think Mr. Rafael Pineyro would be a great councilman. He has eight years of experience working for Mayor Bermudez and Mayor Boria. I like Albert Chavez because he is a wonderful, spiritual, caring person, who cares about kids, and has volunteered for the Broncos for many years. I would like myself in the dais. And I would like to have Oscar Puig replacing Cabrera, now, not in two years.”
“We have excellent staff in the City, starting with Connie (Díaz, City Clerk) she is amazing; also the Public Information officer. The staff is so caring and awesome. I wonder what the working environment is there when 140 people quit last year. We have to look what is going out there.”
“I think we have a good City Manager I have told him for a long time “it should have been you” and it is finally him. I need to find a good Chief of Staff.”
On Covid-19 impact and recovery
“Sometimes the information coming from the City is great but oftentimes is late; an example is what happened with COVID and the CARES-ACT program.
“When it was approved I was on top of it, our Chamber was on top of it […] and we put the information out the same day that PPP was there, the same day the SBA loans were announced. Two, three, four weeks later then the City sent out the information. We need to improve our communications with our residents, put ourselves out there understand that the resident’s, they own the City, […], it is not about the current mayor or the current council, we have to give the City back to the residents because right now it is hijacked by a Mayor who doesn’t really display that he has a passion for the residents and the needs of his residents.”
“[…]I have concrete actions: Number one is those grants [CARES ACT from Federal funds]; we have to get that money out to the residents. One of the grants Miami-Dade County brought out and is very helpful to many people was paying the rent for the businesses. Number two, we can help them with marketing. We’ve done it with marketing in the part of the Chamber, […], we even include non-members, who do not have the budget, that needed help.
“The city can get involved the same way we did, having more sympathy and empathy, and figuring out what the actual problem is and what the actual solution can be.
“I am not a politician; I am not running for this position for me. I am running for this position to help all these businesses that right now are suffering […] We are at a different time in a unique situation; we need to get out everyone who is responsible. We have tools and we can help. The residents need to get involved. We need to Shop Doral, we need to Shop local, and help each other out. I want to figure out who needs help, I want to have some kind of committee or council that figures out and do whatever it takes to help these people out.”
On Plans for the future as Mayor
“I want to protect our children, it is very important to me; and show support our police. In these times where there has been so much aggression and disdain towards the police we need to show them we will be there for them no matter what.
“I want to have after school programs or summer camps that are affordable or free. We need to get better programs, figure it out. We need to keep our children educated, busy, and safe and support our parents so they have affordable places; it is too expensive for many. […] Our top priority should be our kids.”
“Educate our residents in that you have a voice and how to use that voice. You have the Citizen’s Academy, but the majority does not attend. Let’s find a way to educate them so they know they have a voice in the City and how to voice themselves. Whether there is via email, or showing up to the Council meeting or contacting your councilmember or the Mayor, hopefully a Mayor like me, who makes himself available. And also, changing the meetings to times when most of the people can attend. Attendance right now is lousy and in my opinion that is done on purpose.”
“The number one thing is figure out how to help people, our businesses, and our residents; go back to transparency, get rid of the funny business and make this a nice clean working city, watch our development and be there for each other.
Remembering that it is not about the Mayor or the Council; we are here for the city and our residents. That is my take.”
In spite of all our contact efforts, it was impossible to agree on terms and opportunity for an interview with the candidate on time before closing this edition.
According to his official campaign website, besides his career as an actor, Cámara has done “philanthropical” work in various humanitarian causes around North America and South America. During this time he began to focus on advocacy for different groups of minorities. Today, as a resident of the city of Doral for more than 18+ years, he is focused on developing our community with integrity and drive, working on the preservation, education, and conservation of our community.”
Remember that voter registration for November 3rd general elections ends October 5th, Vote-by-mail ballot request deadline is October 1st and Early Voting will take place from October 24 ? October 31. Voting is your right and duty. Do not miss the opportunity to have your voice heard.