Grassroots Miami candidate takes early lead in Florida House race (Podcast)

Grant Stern
Aug 17, 2018 · 10 min read
Florida State House Candidate Cindy Polo (D-103)

New polling from the Florida Democratic Party shows that a first-time Democratic candidate is leading the race to replace a termed-out Republican in a hotly contested open State House seat, despite raising only a fraction of what her establishment-backed GOP opponent has already spent.

Florida Politics reports that Cindy Polo is leading her nearest Republican competitor in House District 103 covering the northwest corner of Miami-Dade County and Mirarmar, Fl.:

Polo leads Republican nominee Frank Mingo outright, 32–28 percent. Polo has raised just $17,345 and spent $5,579 since filing for the seat in late March compared to $108,378 raised and $44,338 spent for Mingo.

Cindy Polo is a grassroots candidate out to prove that Democrats want locals who live in their districts, and who will represent them rather than function as just another cog in Florida’s political machinery.

She and her neighbors have also been locked in a struggle with the rock quarry company whose blasting rattles their homes, who recently decided to keep the blast schedule a secret in response to residents complaints.

Here’s the podcast from her recent appearance on the Only in Miami Show on Miami’s Bloomberg network affiliate 880 the Biz:

Cindy Polo answers questions live on the radio for 30 minutes in this podcast.

Cindy Polo’s neighborhood straddles northwest Miami-Dade County and Southwest Broward’s City of Miramar, and it is where she has lived primarily since 1979.

Florida House candidate Cindy Polo (D-103) on the Only in Miami Show at the studios of 880 the Biz, Miami’s Bloomberg network affiliate on Monday night, August 6th, 2018.

District 103 home to the most controversial mall project in the metro area that Polo opposes — the American Dream mall — which was quickly approved without new transit lines, much to the dismay of residents and with the blessing of her opponent in the Democratic primary, Richard Tapia.

“Residents don’t consider it a dream mall, we consider it a nightmare,” says Polo who is upset that, “we will have to deal with the traffic and over development problems in our own backyards.”

“Cindy Polo embodies what is needed in our communities. She’s not afraid to speak out and take a stand for the families of House District 103,” says Florida House Minority leader Kionne McGhee (D-117).

This weekend, the Miami Herald endorsed Polo’s campaign.

Who is Polo’s opponent in the Democratic primary?

Richard Tapia is a high school teacher and adjunct professor of Political Science at Miami Dade College, who leased an apartment in District 103 and attempted to muscle out Cindy Polo who is a longtime resident.

Tapia’s serial political candidacies have left a pile of voter registration changes, a big donation a far-right Republican along with unpaid debts and lost elections, but he parlayed the Miami Herald’s two Editorial Board endorsements to a pair of City of Miami Zoning and Code Enforcement Board appointments, and most recently he was placed into an influential County Board role. This story reveals that he departed a 2016 election under mysterious terms after speaking with the County Mayor’s son, the prolific lobbyist C.J Gimenez, which I asked him about before and after obtaining public records from Miami-Dade County with proof of what happened.

In a phone call last week, Tapia denied to me that the Mayor’s son influenced him with their meeting about his Aunt, and Tapia said that, “C.J. [Gimenez] spoke with ‘everybody’.”

Richard Tapia caused a major controversy in 2016 after filing to run for the Miami-Dade School Board, then dropping out of the race without filing his Oath of Withdrawal after the County Mayor’s son C.J. had dinner with him and presumably convinced him to yield to his Aunt, the opposing candidate.

Three days later, he stopped payment on his filing fee after the qualifying period ended, leading to a bad debt with the County’s Supervisor of Elections.

After I obtained the records and informed him of the failure to file an Oath of Withdrawal and the debt, Tapia said that he was in a meeting and to text him, but refused to make any further comment, hanging up in a rush.

Tapia’s campaign documents didn’t indicate that there was a $1787 debt pending, though the County informed him, and he closed out his campaign by refunding a $2000 loan to himself without reporting otherwise.

When I asked him point blank, if District 103 voters selected him for the Democratic nomination, how could they know that he would not drop out in favor of the Republican Party’s chosen nominee — Frank Mingo, who doesn’t have a primary opponent — given his significant GOP ties which include his campaign manager Sasha Tirado, a woman known as the “Queen of the Balleteros” Richard Tapia told me by phone:

“I’m not going to. I’m in this race.”

“I’m a real Democrat and I’m from the neighborhood inside District 103,” says Polo when asked about her opponent’s history with the Republican Party.

“Nobody has to ask me these kinds of questions to know where I come from.”

Tapia did not reply to texted questions about his campaign debts or refer me to his campaign manager.


Tapia supported the American Dream Mall on a key Miami-Dade vote

Richard Tapia has become a serial candidate, who has run unsuccessfully for office three times, losing all of his races since 2001 despite getting endorsed twice by the Miami Herald for a Miami Commission seat, which he lost to now-disgraced former Commissioner Angel Gonzalez the first time, and current Commissioner Willy Gort in a 2010 special election.

This is his fourth run for elective office.

Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo—a solid Republican on the technically non-partisan Board—appointed Tapia to the Miami-Dade Planning Advisory Board member from January 2015 until present.

The Miami Herald’s Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Fabiola Santiago wrote that during that time, Richard Tapia acted as a “rubber stamp” on the planning board in favor of the American Dream Mall’s which House District 103’s voters mostly oppose:

What kind of a planning board sends to a county commission for approval incomplete plans for a life-altering megamall and theme park?

A rubber stamp one.

“Staff asked for us not to kill it… asked us to pass it on to the Metro Commission so they could continue negotiation,” board member Richard Tapia, a college professor, told me. The board didn’t recommend it, he and others said, just “transmitted it.”

Tapia favors the project as a tourism and jobs booster even if he acknowledges “the traffic concern” and that retail jobs are low paying. He hopes the project will propel a Metrorail extension to the area (dream on) and that the developer will pay for dedicated ramps on the highways (keep the dream alive).

But by voting to send to the commission, didn’t he and all the other members who voted for it just sabotage negotiating leverage? Anyone ever heard of a developer who voluntarily paid for something not in writing before a project gets the green light?

Before that, Richard Tapia supported another controversial project in Miami, which has since turned into a boondoggle.

During his second attempt to get elected to the City of Miami Commission in 2010 his economic vision for the city included a stadium deal, the Marlins Park. The Miami Herald reported:

Another candidate who could attract interest is Richard Tapia, 29… He calls infrastructure a key need in Allpattah, and believes the neighborhood could improve if the nearby Florida Marlins ballpark in Little Havana attracts businesses and development as promised.

“Stadiums are always a bad deal for the taxpaying public and great for sports team owners who get rich quick,” says Cindy Polo, who noted that state legislatures are also asked sometimes to subsidize money losing facilities.


Republican, Democrat and Non-Party Affiliated in just one year

Tapia acknowledged his history of party hopping when I called him, telling me:

“I have been a Democrat since I was 18. I switched over to vote for union candidates that are friends of mine as Republicans. I have switched back to become a Democrat.”

“I have switched five times.”

In 2016, he was registered to vote as a Republican, a Democrat and an independent, not in that order.

Richard Tapia. Source: campaign website

But Tapia has never donated to a national Democratic candidate.

Yet in 2008 he parted with a donation to Republican religious extremist Mike Huckabee for President in the amount of $2100 — a significant sized political donation for an educator — whom he told me he supports because:

“When he was Governor of Arkansas, he raised taxes for teachers to pay them more money.”

It is the only federal political donation from Richard Tapia to any member of any party.

Tapia has also donated to two Republican State House candidates in the amount of $250 year, and he gave Democratic candidate Gwen Graham $10 earlier this year from his home next to Dadeland Mall, besides a $5000 donation to himself this year.

Richard Tapia’s donation history shows he made a political donation from his Kendall home in January 2018 before “moving” to Florida House District 103.

Tapia finally stayed registered as a Democratic voter on November 23rd, 2016, satisfying Florida’s one-year rule before running for partisan office..

According to Cindy Polo, her primary opponent even called her and actually had the gall to ask her to move out of her longtime district to run in another State House race, even though he himself had only recently changed his voter’s registration to a three bedroom rental apartment in Hialeah Gardens from the condo that he has owned next to Dadeland Mall.

“I was shocked and disappointed when he told me to drop out and move to House District 105,” Cindy Polo told me for this report.

She would’ve had to move her family which includes her 2-year old son to the farthest reaches of Kendall she says, “to an area which I have never lived. The furthest west that I have lived is Miami Lakes.”

When asked for comment, Rick Tapia said flatly, “I know that Cindy Polo’s not happy.”

Tapia’s Homstead property where he claims that he no longer lives.

Tapia’s homestead property is a condominium located next to Dadeland Mall.

It’s extremely difficult to disqualify a candidate due to their residency, which basically requires an admission from the candidate that they don’t really live at the leased apartment and not either of the two properties they own — which is the case for Tapia, who bought an investment condo near Calle Ocho recently, also outside District 103.

Ironically, Tapia challenged Angel Gonzalez’s residency during his 2001 Miami Commission campaign, but finished dead last in the race without hope of making the runoff, though his lawsuit was salvaged by an opponent with hopes of winning, only to be dashed when a judge ruled against them.

Richard Tapia’s voter registration was issued on June 20th, 2018 according to the card he provided for this report.

The qualifying period for Florida State House ended on June 22nd this year.

Tapia’s voter registration, changed during the qualifying period of this year’s election.

Richard Tapia was able to quickly secure the endorsement of the United Teachers of Dade, who donated $3000 to his campaign, which he reported on June 21st.

I spoke with the United Teachers of Dade for comment on Tapia’s candidacy but they did not wish to make any comment about their endorsee on the record.

Miami Dade College’s faculty union President Elizabeth Ramsey called me back and discussed Richard Tapia’s endorsement from her union on the record. She told me:

“We intentionally scheduled interviews for after qualifying.”

“We endorsed Professor Tapia on his positions on union issues, higher education funding and Florida college governance, as well as protections for FRS,” said Ramsey who admitted that his membership and position on college funding were sole basis for their endorsement, and that she was unaware of the rest of his political history.

“He’s a union member of our local,” says Ramsey, “and we believe he’ll serve the public well.”

“Tapia is a plant” says Elaine del Valle on her widely read Miami politics blog Political Cortadito, “Put there solely to smear Cindy and make her spend her money so she is at a disadvantage when it comes to the general. And if Tapia actually wins the primary, which is unlikely but possible, he will not try very hard to win the general.”

“In fact, he may drop out,” says del Valle. “It wouldn’t be his first time.”


Polo’s endorsements are still rolling in

Cindy Polo has been endorsed by the Miami-Dade Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus and by the progressive group Our Revolution, as well as by former State Representative Cindy Lerner.

“Whether it’s supporting investments into public transit or education,” State Rep. McGee extolled Polo’s virtue across a range of issues, remarking:

“Cindy is running,” says McGee, “to improve the lives of hardworking families.”

“Cindy Polo exemplifies the best of our community; she’s a hardworking mom, a straight shooter, and most importantly, she’s one of us,” says Jonathan Fernandez, President of Northwest Dade Democratic Club.

“I’m proud to call Cindy a friend, and I know that she will fight zealously on behalf of our community in Tallahassee.”

“Voters are tired of these political games and the dirty tactics — especially in our area — where political operatives game the system to keep real candidates out of office,” says Cindy Polo passionately told me, explaining why her neighborhood has had a parade of establishment Republican representatives through this year and is ready for change.

“South Florida residents want real representation in Tallahasee,” says Polo and I’m ready to fight for them.”

Grant Stern

Written by

Miami based columnist and radio broadcaster, and professional mortgage broker.

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