In the four years since he last served as mayor, Juan Carlos “JC” Bermudez says, Doral’s city government has made some bad decisions about growth and development.
Now, newly elected to the office he held for nine years, he hopes he’ll be able to reverse at least a few of those decisions. At the top of his list: making sure Doral doesn’t add to its biggest problem — traffic.
It’s a different era for Doral, which incorporated in 2003, and for Bermudez, who was the city’s first mayor and served until he hit term limits in 2012. After sitting out for the required four years, he ran again and won easily in Tuesday’s runoff, beating incumbent Luigi Boria by a two-to-one margin, 67 percent of the vote to Boria’s 33 percent.
“We started without a penny in the bank and with a city hall the size of an office,” Bermudez recalled last week. “Today I’m walking into a place where there’s income, progress, parks, a beautiful municipal building. … We have the resources and foundation to get things done faster and that’s what I plan to do.”
Bermudez, 54, will be sworn in Tuesday along with Claudia Mariaca, who was elected to her first term on the council, and Councilwoman Christi Fraga, who was reelected.
Bermudez, an attorney who has lived in Doral for 19 years, is married and has three daughters. His civic involvement goes way back — he was founder and president of the One Doral committee, a civic organization that pushed for incorporation.
Development was a key political issue even then — incorporation was spurred in part by the community’s rapid growth. Since it became a city, Doral’s population has more than doubled from 23,000 to about 56,000. Its budget has grown to $72.7 million.
Community members expect Bermudez to slow down development. In the last four years, the city council has approved several zoning changes that altered land-use designations from commercial use to high-density residential, allowing high rises in some of the city’s most congested areas. Density has grown, especially in the southeastern portion of the city between 87th and 82nd avenues, and south of 41st Street between 97th and 82nd avenues.
“There’s a process for many of the projects that have already been approved. It’s unfortunate because some of these things can be revisited, some cannot,” Bermudez said. “We need to be smarter about how we choose to grow this city.”
Bermudez’s plan of action includes dissecting the city budget, revisiting existing contracts and slowing down development on main-artery roads. He’ll look at some of the key officials appointed under Boria’s administration — city manager, city attorney, police chief — but probably not for six months.
“We need to look at everything and see where we are budget-wise … if we’re being effective and efficient and if the money we’ve allocated has accomplished its goals,” Bermudez said. “I need to see why we have so many expenses and why they’re so high.”
Some of Bermudez’s former political colleagues describe him as a good listener and a man who takes the reins, especially in contrast to Boria, whom some council members criticized for running unruly meetings and losing his temper on the dais.
“Council meetings were rather chaotic. [Boria’s] inability to understand how a municipality truly worked and the rights that other elected officials and the public have in a public forum was embarrassing and unacceptable,” said Sandra Ruiz, a councilwoman who ran third in the mayoral race. A frequent critic of Bermudez, she endorsed him in the runoff. “Bermudez understands how to run a meeting; I think he has sufficient experience to make a public statement that will not put the city at risk,” Ruiz said last week. “Replacing the current mayor and having the right person in the mayoral office was what the city needed to heal and move the city forward.”
Boria did not respond to calls for comment. On his Facebook page, he posted a message thanking his supporters and congratulating Bermudez and the other election winners. “I wish them the best in the next 4 years. God guide them, give them wisdom and bless them in this new season of their life,” he wrote.
“Doral has been the laughingstock of Miami-Dade County for the past few years,” said former Doral Vice Mayor Michael DiPietro. “The ongoing joke stopped at seven o’clock Tuesday when results came in. The leadership that we had set up as a council under JC’s mayorship was one that was well-respected.”
In 2007, the city council voted to rename Miami West Park to J.C. Bermudez Park, in honor of his work for Doral, going back to the One Doral committee. But in 2015, the council took Bermudez’s name off the park, saying it shouldn’t be named for an elected official.
Will he seek to have his name put on the park again?
“No,” Bermudez said. “I never asked for it in the first place. Plus, we have more important things to do, like finishing the construction of other parks on time and on budget.”
DiPietro described Bermudez as a “humble man of integrity.”
“Some people were born in life to do a certain thing, and I think being mayor is JC’s definitive calling,” DiPietro said. “He’s a natural mayor. He’s loyal, has integrity; he’s ethical and just.”
Bettina Rodriguez-Aguilera, who served on the city council from 2012 to 2014 and before that as the city’s first economic developer, has known Bermudez for 30 years.
“JC was a leader that really knew what he was doing. He was able to accomplish many things because of his presence and what he brought to the table. People really knew they were sitting down with someone who understood the system and who was serious about his city.”
Rodriguez Aguilera described Bermudez as polished, articulate, and understanding — “a person that makes things happen.”
“He really created Doral; Doral was nothing. He didn’t do it alone, but we really had a leader, a leader we felt proud of,” she said. “George Washington was the first president and JC Bermudez was the first mayor and I’m glad he’s back.”