MIAMI – (CBS4) – Voters in Miami-Dade county may have a little more than a month to decide which mayoral candidate will best represent them and politicians are lining up to drop their names in the hat.
The latest political figures considering a run for the vacated mayoral seat are Alex Penelas, the former county mayor, and Raul Martinez, the former mayor of Hialeah.
Both are well-recognized names in Miami-Dade county politics and a poll conducted last week, shows Penelas would be a favorite. Among 400 polled voters, 37 percent chose Penelas, 17 percent chose Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and 6 percent favored County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez.
Penelas, 49, said if elected, he would do things differently than the last time he held the office.
“You know, I view this so much differently now,” he told CBS4’s Gio Benitez.
Penelas was first elected as Miami-Dade’s mayor 14 years ago.
“You know, the community is in crisis,” he said.
Voters fired Carlos Alvarez last month, so the election would be for the 18 months left in his term.
“And just as soon as I got in, I want to get out. No commitments beyond those 18 months, because I’m not going to make a commitment,” he said.
Penelas said this would not really be a comeback because he’s tired of politics.
“They’re worse than ever,” he said.
Penelas had his fair share of criticism, including a 2004 statement from former Vice President, and fellow democrat, Al Gore. Gore called Penelas “the single most treacherous and dishonest person” he dealt with in the 2000 election.
“You know, that’s one of the reasons people are fed up with politics. It’s quotes just like that,” he said.
In 2000, the Elian Gonzalez saga outraged Penelas. He spoke out against the Clinton administration for sending the six-year-old boy back to Cuba.
“My handling of the Elian thing? Absolutely I would change. Listen, it doesn’t change the way I feel about the issue, but I needed to remember that at that time, I shouldn’t have spoken from emotion. I needed to speak as the mayor, the law-abiding mayor,” he said.
Penelas says he’s learned a lot.
“I wasted too much time with the trappings of the office of mayor, the celebrity of being mayor. I should have spent more time governing,” he said.
If he returned to politics, Penelas said he would work on restructuring county government including favoring charter amendments and restructuring.
As for the work involved in becoming an elected official, which often includes attending numerous events and fundraisers, Penelas said, “That part of my life is over.”
Others also vying for the mayoral seat include former state legislator Marcelo Llorente, former county transit chief Roosevelt Bradley and 2 Live Crew rap artist Luther Campbell.
Billionaire Norman Braman who spearheaded the recall effort that led to the ouster of Alvarez and Commissioner Natasha Seijas had said he would remain neutral about the outcome of the mayor’s race. But said he had to back track when Penelas’ name resurfaced as a potential contender.
“Alex Penelas is as responsible for the mess in this community as Carlos Alvarez,’’ Braman told CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald. “I think it would be a catastrophe for the community for Alex Penelas to be returned to the office of mayor.’’
Braman blames Penelas for pushing the half-penny sales tax that was billed as a way to expand public transit. Instead, he said, the extra tax did not live up to its billing. He also said Penelas increased the county’s debt by pushing the bond issue known as Building Better Communities.
“When I hear these names like Penelas resurfacing, that’s more of the past and the past has not been good for this community. We have to look ahead,” Braman told the newspaper.
But the mere mention of his name, is already scaring away other politicians including Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi who told the Herald, “I might not run if Alex does.”
Voters will head to the polls on May 24th.
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report)