OPINION: Alex Penelas – The Leader Miami-Dade Needs Now

Alex Penelas

TWU Local 291 President Jeffery Mitchell

Serving as a voice and a leader for my community has always been part of my DNA.

I began my career in Miami-Dade County transit almost 30 years ago. It wasn’t long before I decided that I wanted to be an advocate for my workforce by serving for TWU Local 291. Since then, I have been at the forefront of the labor movement in Miami-Dade, using my voice to elevate our county transit employees’ needs and fighting for what is just.

Over the years, our workers have seen their fair share of both good and bad leadership come through County Hall, but never quite what has happened over the past decade. Today, I can unequivocally say that our local government has monumentally failed us.

As many of us would agree, Miami-Dade County is a much different place now than it was 30 years ago. On one end, we have gone from being a relatively small city to being thrust onto the global stage as an international destination. Miami serves as the economic hub for Latin America and a trade destination for the world. It is also a playground of glitz, glamour, and wealth that can only be outdone by its miles of stunning beaches and enviable weather year-round.

While this evolution and growth has helped attract investment and development from abroad, it also required an equitable investment in community and infrastructure to be sustainable in the long run. It is safe to say that to date, that hasn’t happened.

Instead, the Miami-Dade of today is one that has been propped up on the backs of our working class, many of whom we now know as our “essential workers.” The arrival of COVID-19 has only further magnified the great inequities, weak systems, and frail infrastructure that has been created by our county leadership over the past 15 years, both economically and socially.

Take transportation, for instance. Almost 20 years ago, then-Mayor Alex Penelas set forth a vision that would put us on track to having dedicated funding that would allow us to receive federal dollars for expanded mass transportation, primarily rail. He worked collaboratively, not only with his transit experts and workers but with the community as a whole, to provide real solutions for the mobility issues that were clearly on the horizon.

Fast forward and what we have instead from the administrations that followed is an antiquated and anemic transportation system that is being run by people with zero experience in the field and whose solution has been to farm out no-bid contracts for projects than neither expand nor provide improvements to our current system.

This type of patchwork has been the approach for every other issue that is plaguing our residents today as well. As a result, year after year, the affordable housing crisis has grown and the income inequality gap has widened while those at the helm have heavily profited along the way.

The only thing that our county government has truly excelled at is misappropriating and squandering almost $1 billion in taxpayer’s money, disenfranchising its workforce, and significantly lowering quality of life for the residents of Miami-Dade County.

The good news is that we have a great opportunity to turn the tide this year by electing true and tried leadership that will actually work for the people of Miami-Dade and for us, that leader is Alex Penelas.

During his time as mayor, not only did he bring about a great vision for Miami-Dade, he ran a county government that truly valued inclusiveness and diversity. He worked with labor and made himself accessible to all county employees, no matter their title. He worked with experts to guide him through times and to lead us into the future. He stood up to discrimination and fought for equality for all. He went into communities and listened to their needs and found ways to address them. In short, he got the job done.

More importantly, Alex Penelas fostered a genuine environment where we all felt we had a part in making our community better. At a time when we seem to rarely agree on anything, we need a mayor who can bring us together and who genuinely cares about working for the well-being of our entire community, not just a few. What we need urgently is a leader who has the heart of a true public servant and who will leave Miami-Dade a better place than he found it.

Today, I ask you to use your voice and the power of your vote to do what is just and bring meaningful change to Miami-Dade County on August 18. I ask you to vote for Alex Penelas.

Jeffery Mitchell is the president of TWU Local 291, the union representing over 2,800 Dade County transit workers, and the South Florida AFL-CIO.

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