Juan Zapata is still the only official candidate for Miami-Dade mayor in 2020 — and he is making the most of holding all the dance cards: His campaign got a big head start last week with an interview on Univision’s local Channel 23.
The former commissioner was interviewed by Erika Carrillo, the same reporter who was new to Univision when she scooped everyone on the story someone at the county fed her about Zapata — who was the mayor’s biggest critic and budget ball buster — taking Harvard classes paid by taxpayers.
Of course, it wasn’t that cut and dry. Zapata took the same course some other commissioners, including Jean Monestime, had taken. When he extended the course, the county was automatically charged. He always intended to pay for it himself, however, and reimbursed the county immediately.
But the damage was done to one of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez‘s biggest critics and main challenger on the dais. And Zapata ended up dropping out of his 2015 re-election campaign, disgusted with it all and frustrated with his attempts to reform our county government.
“That frustration still lives in me and that is why I have a desire to change it,” Zapata told Carillo. “I saw the monster from inside. And I saw people who governed caring only about themselves, about their own interests.”
He may find himself fighting some of those same “people” again, as the growing list of possible mayoral wannabes include three of his former colleagues: Commissioners Esteban Bovo, Daniella Levine-Cava — which the station mistakenly identified as Cuban-American — and Xavier Suarez. Rounding out the list of names that have been floated are former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, former Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and former Congressman Carlos Curbelo.
And we’re almost two years out. No wonder Zapata is campaigning already.
He told Carrillo that he would be able to raise the money he needs to wage a positive campaign that is “looking to the future.” But, judging from the almost 3-minute interview, he is going to bring up the mistakes of the past.
Zapata always voted against the half cent tax deviation and said that his mission as mayor would be to reform county government, particularly the transit department.
“To me, it always seemed a lack of respect to ask the taxpayers for the money, collect the money and use it for another purpose, not the one you collect it for,” Zapata said. “That has to stop.”
But, while he always criticized the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, he is against the Bryan Avila bill moving in the House to eliminate the agency. “To give those funds to Tallahassee would be an error. In Tallahassee, every chance they get to take our money and spend it elsewhere, they will take it.”
And he promised not to give his favorite lobbyists and campaign people juicy jobs and contracts.
“Nobody will be given favoritism,” Zapata said. “The government will have one job, to produce results for the citizens of this county.”
About the Harvard episode, which will likely come up in the campaign because that’s all opponents will have on Zap, the former commissioner is obviously owning the misstep and that’s refreshing in politics.
“I learned from that experience,” Zapata said, adding that the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission found nothing wrong and that, before he left the commission, he passed an ordinance clarifying the limits of those funds.
“I think the citizens know that I had every intention [to pay],” he said.