South Dade News Leader: Commissioner Levine Cava Opens New District Office

Original link here: http://www.southdadenewsleader.com/news/commissioner-levine-cava-opens-new-district-office/article_710589ee-be99-11e4-b84b-97b810343862.html

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava officially opened her new district office at the South Dade Government in Cutler Bay with a ribbon cutting accompanied by the celebratory music of a high school jazz band.

The opening was played up to symbolize the return of the office to the geographic center District 8.

“It’s really important to be visible, to be easily accessible, to be centrally located and that’s what today is about,” Levine Cava told the South Dade News Leader.

“County government has to be accessible,” she said. “ This county is putting tax dollars to work, if we are not accessible, if we are not easy to get to, if people can’t find out about the services then people are not going to feel satisfied with what they are getting for their tax dollars.”

Levine Cava felt that former Commissioner Lynda Bell’s Palmetto Bay office was too far north for most of the district and came with logistic problems.

“There was no parking and it was very difficult for people to utilize that office,” Levine Cava said.

There is plenty of parking at the South Dade Government Center as it houses offices for many county services, including a library. Many of the departments were on display for the new commissioner’s ribbon cutting.

Booths were strung around the main building’s lobby offering information and free goodies. The Water and Sewer department were offering efficient shower heads. The elections department were looking for new poll workers, and the South District Police station was promoting pedestrian safety.

Around a hundred people showed up for the early morning festivities including local politicians, members of the business community, friends and family, and people just looking for service.

Levine Cave said she was “thrilled” with the turn out.

“It’s been a wonderful day for county services,” she said.

The New Tropic: Daniella Levine Cava: Inside the world of a new county commissioner

Original link here: https://thenewtropic.com/come-out-swinging-inside-the-world-of-a-new-county-commissioner/

“The good news is we’re united in opposing discrimination. The bad news is now we’re divided about bathrooms.” This is one of the first things Daniella Levine Cava said from the dais as a Miami-Dade County commissioner.

It wasn’t planned that way, but then local politics has never lent itself to easy prediction. It was December 2, just two weeks after she’d been sworn in as District 8’s new commissioner following a closely watched and often heated campaign.

The commission’s agenda included a final vote on an ordinance banning gender identity discrimination in Miami-Dade. The measure was expected to pass—more than half the commission signed on as sponsors—but not without contention. Hundreds of supporters and opponents had shown up in the chambers that morning, waiting hours for their tightly enforced two minutes of public comment.

The commissioners spent a while discussing the ordinance among themselves before they opened the floor for public comment. Commissioners Esteban Bovo, Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Juan Zapata had concerns about public safety. What if someone used the transgender protections to enter women’s restrooms, saying they identified as a female, and molest or assault people?

“There are the cases of deviants who will take advantage of this,” said Bovo. It’s a specious argument with a long history in LGBT equality debates. But that is how the Miami-Dade County Commission, and hundreds of its constituents, came to spend six hours on the subject of bathrooms.

Most of the opposition statements began, “I don’t support discrimination, but…” The preface disclaimer is a curious feature of our political era: conscientious enough to acknowledge political correctness but not enough to prevent a politically incorrect statement. It’s an odd waiver of personal liability, and on this particular day, a hundred were issued. For five hours, supporters from the Save Dade organization spoke between longer blocks of opponents and skeptics, nearly all of whom invoked the restroom safety concern.

When her turn to speak arrived, Levine Cava called it out, smiling. She is disarmingly gracious, like a family member who loves you enough to remind you when you might not be living up to your potential. “This ordinance is not asking for special rights, it’s asking for equal rights. I honor the fears and worries of many in the room, but I believe that experience will show that it isn’t about this law. This isn’t the reason anything dangerous would happen to our children.”

“I formed that line five seconds before I said it,” she told me a few days later, “but it reflects a lifetime of experience. This issue is one I know. It’s one of the reasons I ran. My opponent had opposed it. I was really looking forward to it, but I felt bad—here I’d run this campaign on the issue and I don’t know what I’m going to say. It’s my first meeting.”

“My inclination is to be logical. People have fears, but there was nothing to latch on to. After the niceties, they would just spew hate. You can’t call people on it; it doesn’t serve anything. I wasn’t going to change hearts or minds.”

The business of local government is a melange of form and function, lofty ideas and expedient compromises, and it rarely tends toward logic. Public commentary is enshrined in government proceedings, but its execution has a less certain record. Most items have a known outcome, in practice if not in principle, before they ever reach the floor for public feedback.

The town hall kook is an almost universal concept in America, an easy target for cynics and a source of recurring frustration for everyone but our most earnest Leslie Knopes—and even then, sometimes there are just too many Eagletonians.

It’s easy to imagine how years on the job as a commissioner might dull the senses to the public procedures of governance, overlong and inhuman as they are. Elected officials can seem to be going through the motions, passengers in a machine whose direction and construction cannot be changed. Politics is rife with resigned acknowledgments of ‘the way things work.’ Many of them are true.

Levine Cava never seems to be along for the ride. She’s outside, tinkering with the machine, thinking about how we might all work on it together, prodding at the process of county government, asking questions that might have long since passed into accepted reality for her colleagues.

Later in that first meeting, as commissioners debated a $65 million no-bid contract for construction of urgent new airport projects, Levine Cava asked county staff to share at the public meeting information about the proposal that they’d given commissioners beforehand. When the issue first came up, she expected to oppose it on transparency grounds, she later told me, but when she went to the airport and learned the details of the process (most of the money would still be bid out) she decided it made sense.

“I’m not for form over substance. The bottom line is, what does this look like for the public?” She also suggested the commission might change the way it lists agenda items, to provide a better explanation to the public about each one.

I wanted to know what it’s like to be the new kid on the county commission, particularly when you have ideas for how to change it. Levine Cava ran on “restoring trust in government,” tackling corruption, social justice, transit, quality of life — not the terrain of easy rhetorical victories.

For every politician with a success story, dozens more have wrecked upon the shoals of bitter realities and stubborn statuses quo. But something’s worked so far for Daniella, as her team calls her: she’s only the third person in 20 years to unseat an incumbent county commissioner. And that doesn’t happen by accident.

“A Perfect Storm”

Levine Cava’s stay in Miami is about three decades longer than expected.

“We were going to sail around the world,” she says. Shortly before her husband was going to take a sabbatical, his father was diagnosed with cancer. So they started a family and raised their kids in Miami. And they never left.

Now 59, Levine Cava was born in New York City and grew up around the world, living in Brazil, Chile, Canada, and around the U.S.

“It took me about 10 years to decide Miami was a place I was going to invest in big time. It wasn’t like one day I woke up and my attitude about Miami was completely different. But there was a point in time I didn’t like this place. It was very frustrating to me that I couldn’t unlock the doors to create a more community-minded place.”

“It was Hurricane Andrew that was so transformational for this community. When I started to feel like, yes, I can do something here that would be valuable — that’s when I really started to love Miami.”

We’re sitting in her downtown office, at an austere conference table with a disappointing interior window onto the lobby of Government Center. She rises and falls visibly as she talks; the emotions of the subject have a way of flowing into her physical space.

“I just became so passionate about what Miami could show the world. We’re the canary in the mineshaft. We’re so far ahead of the curve on what’s happening in the world, everything happens first. We survived but we didn’t thrive. I hadn’t thought about it until this moment, but it’s our adversity that’s putting us at the top again.”

After Andrew, she helped create a new system for child abuse cases at the Department for Children and Families, and later managed foster care, adoption and child legal services for DCF. In 1995 she founded the Human Services Coalition of Dade County, later renamed Catalyst Miami. Catalyst bills itself as an organization “connecting people to shared purpose and place” by connecting people to financial, health, educational, and economic opportunities. Levine Cava built Catalyst into one of the most widely recognized social organizations in Miami-Dade, with a reputation for collaboration.

Over the years, friends would suggest she run for office, but the circumstances never seemed right — until Lynda Bell, in Miami-Dade’s 8th District, was up for reelection and considered a target for a challenge.

“I wasn’t planning to run for office. It wasn’t always an ambition to run for office. But the opportunity presented itself, and I was confident I could do it.”

“I was persuaded through my friend Cindy Lerner who became Mayor of Pinecrest. She was having fun and doing so many creative things. I cared about county issues but so much of their time was spent on issues that I did not think would be of interest; now I see they just don’t always exercise the power they have for good. I am amazed at the number of things I can touch on.”

We tend to expect an all-consuming ambition of our elected officials, and not to believe them when they say otherwise. We don’t talk much about the nuances of the decision to run for office; of how to make it accessible to people who might want to serve but aren’t driven by a primal need for power or attention. Which may be why many people don’t consider it. And why many people looked at Levine Cava’s victory as an opportunity for change in local politics. But she cautions against trying to generalize too many lessons from her journey.

“Many have said the fact I was able to unseat an incumbent gives people hope. But the conditions were such that it was a perfect storm for me. It was a lifetime of connections. It was a network of people who would not normally contribute to campaigns but were willing to contribute because they trusted me. It was the coalition of all these groups I had worked with for so long and saw me as being able to turn the tide on a number of different fronts. It was the fact that my opponent didn’t run a very good campaign and had a lot of enemies from her own behavior. It was an unusual set of things. But what I did was not ‘the answer’.”

The campaign was anything but usual. It set records for fundraising and spending in a county commission race — Bell raised nearly a million dollars, including major donations from county contractors and developers; Levine Cava raised more than $500,000, including from local and national Democratic heavyweights.

In the middle of summer, as the August election approached, Bell’s campaign and associated political committees published several misleading attack ads, including one saying Levine Cava was earning “over $500,000 in salary” as CEO of nonprofit Catalyst (they were getting the figure from adding up ten years of tax returns).

“I think what surprised us was the nature of what our opponent was saying about Daniella,” Matt Williams, who managed Levine Cava’s campaign, told me. “It’s not like they were just creative about what they were saying; they were just flat-out mistruths.”

Both campaigns sent mailers with photos of political associations, respectively showing Bell with Governor Rick Scott and Levine Cava with Congressman Joe Garcia. A televised debate between the candidates was passionate and forceful and made major local headlines. The stakes were high, and the Levine Cava campaign invested heavily in its field program. “There were some months where Daniella knocked on a thousand doors herself,” said Williams.

She won by fewer than 700 votes, a four percent margin on the roughly 17,000 votes cast. Local races have a different mathematics about them; where national campaigns can obscure the role of the individual voter, local ones are often decided by fewer people than would fit into a theater. The numbers make it possible for a field campaign to overcome fundraising or the benefits of incumbency, but it also makes campaigning that much more personal.

“They’ve really got to have a heart for it,” says Williams of potential candidates. “Daniella is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and she’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. You’ve got to master that resilience and that passion. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

For Levine Cava, the transition started almost immediately, and three months later she was in office. The move from campaigning to governing is a storied challenge for candidates who run on changing the way business is done. It’s easy to become Bill McKay in The Candidate, standing on another side of victory asking, “What do we do now?”

On the first day we meet, in early December, her entire team is outside Government Center posing for pictures. They call themselves “Team Daniella,” though the word “family” is often used between them.

Each commissioner gets a budget, which they mostly get to allocate as they like. Many use a large portion of the funds for sponsorships and grants to organizations in the district. Levine Cava invested heavily in her team — she has two people dedicated to community engagement, a team focused on special initiatives, and plans to provide a variety of support services to her district, such as help applying for nonprofit grants.

“It’s really amplifying my capacity to touch base with more people.” Levine Cava’s orbit has the feeling of a perpetual Thanksgiving; jovial, welcoming, and infused with a sense of vague but inescapable common purpose. She says being the eldest child gave her an early sense of leadership, though it’s a skill she’s still developing. “I don’t mind being in charge, but I told them, ‘I’m just one of the team’.”

“Come out swinging”

In late January, Levine Cava and Commissioner Dennis Moss, whose District 9 envelopes District 8, spoke at the dedication of a new event space at Central Campesino Farmworker Center in Homestead.

Levine Cava went first. “We need a South Dade plan,” she said. “What a special treasure we have here. But how sad is it that you go to a grocery store and you can’t buy local produce?” She talked about her agenda for District 8, which includes economic resources, increased transparency, quality of life improvements, environment, and transit.

Her vision is a webbing of issues that connect and affect each other; it acknowledges that nothing in local government is as simple as we might want it to be, but that can also make it harder to follow. When she finished, she took an audible deep breath and sat down, laughing. The audience laughed with her.

“It was a wonderful victory for the people of your district,” Moss said of Levine Cava. He’s been in office since 1993. Where Levine Cava is complex and nuanced, Moss is polished and precise, and only focused on one thing. “My platform is jobs.” He talks about a man who came up to him and thanked him for his jobs program because he’d finally been able to find work. Nods from the audience. People saying “yes” to themselves. He’s made a congregation.

It’s a trope in politics to have the apocryphal story of the man/woman/child/dog/cat you met and what they told you, which conveniently seems to align with the point you’re making. It’s a trope because it works. It makes things bite-sized, human; lets us look at faces instead of charts. But it also makes politics’ impossible game of trade-offs seem linear and easy; a switch we just need to flip instead of the Rube Goldberg machine it often is. Levine Cava doesn’t use many of these stories.

But that’s not to say she doesn’t understand how the game is played. “I ran on the idea of open, transparent government. I didn’t know what I’d be able to do,” she told me in early December. One goal is legislation requiring commissioners to disclose all their potential conflicts of interest when voting on items; right now, the requirements are fairly limited. “I’m one of thirteen,” she says. She’s meeting with each of her colleagues, finding ways to be collaborative.

“She’s both a big picture thinker, and knows how important it is to attend to the details of the district,” says Katy Sorenson, a former county commissioner (who also defeated an incumbent) who now runs the Good Government Initiative, which encourages and trains people to run for office. “She’s gone about forging relationships with her fellow commissioners in a very smart way. She’s convened a number of sunshine meetings with her colleagues to find out what their priorities are, so she doesn’t step on any toes but can be helpful.”

“She’s doing a lot of things right. The problem for Daniella will be that she will want to do everything and you can’t do everything.”

A common line of thinking says you only get one issue in a tenure, maybe two. Three if you’re lucky. Politics has a long history of teaching people with big ideas to meter their expectations. Miami-Dade County has a $110 billion GDP—more than many states—and more than 32,000 public employees (not counting another 50,000 in its schools). It has not, historically, been an easy ship to steer.

When we meet again in late January, she has two months on the job. We wander between looming subjects—sea level rise (“We’ve got another 20 years and then this place will be Venice or has-been; I’m fascinated by the resilience and human spirit to deal with those things”), transportation (“It will either sink us or save us.”), tolls, transparency—her energy is everywhere, but she also has an emerging sense of balance. There are the little balls to juggle, unexpected and sudden, and there are the big rocks, impending and difficult.

At the 2015 Citizen’s Transportation Summit in late January, Levine Cava was noted as the only commissioner who stayed for the whole meeting. Most came for the introductions and left shortly thereafter. “Maybe if I knew everything there was to know about public transit [I wouldn’t go]. But really the day wasn’t about learning. It was about hearing other people and their concerns.”

“I’m always looking for the win-win,” she says. When the Roll Back Tolls campaign started in her district in response to new tolling on local expressways, Levine Cava looked for opportunities to collaborate.“I can’t come out swinging the way [the organizer] would, but let’s see what we can do to work together.”

When vacancies opened on the MDX board, there were questions about conflicts of interest with some candidates. “I said, can you give me some questions I can ask on the record? That’s one thing I can do as a commissioner—get answers. To me that’s the ideal situation, where we’re working collaboratively.”

I ask her how we encourage more people to run for office, to challenge incumbents, to prod at the process of county government and try to make it better. She says trust in government and corruption are major obstacles. “We could, with the proper will, take it back. And I guess it gets my juices flowing. Because once we do there would be more fertile territory.” New candidates “wouldn’t have to kowtow and play the usual games.”

“Last night I was in South Dade and a friend got up to the microphone and said, ‘your campaign was about ending pay to play in politics, what have you done about that? You’ve been in office two months.’ It caught me short. I’ve been dealing with little things. Each of these things builds some credibility and political capital for me to tackle more things.”

She describes a few recent issues with lobbying, and proposals to limit conflicts of interest. “That’s a game-changer. It’s not that I don’t like lobbyists. I was a lobbyist. Lobbyists are important. But they’re not in charge. If you want to do business with the county, you shouldn’t be able to contribute to campaigns. That would be so big. But I can’t come out swinging on that.”

Three months in, she has her team assembled, a strategic plan underway, and an emerging legislative agenda. It’s hard to find your footing in a place with such high expectations, and once you do, you have to wonder where you’re standing.

“What I’m most fearful of is losing perspective and humility,” she says. She props her head on her hand and looks out the window, such as it is. One can’t see much from a commissioner’s office except the lobby of Government Center. Perhaps that’s fitting for making the point. “That I’ll forget what it’s like to sit in the audience instead of on the dais. I just have to stay in touch.”

A beat.

“I think the element of surprise is also good.”

The New Tropic: “Daniella Levine Cava: Inside the world of a new county commissioner”

Original link here: https://thenewtropic.com/come-out-swinging-inside-the-world-of-a-new-county-commissioner/

“The good news is we’re united in opposing discrimination. The bad news is now we’re divided about bathrooms.” This is one of the first things Daniella Levine Cava said from the dais as a Miami-Dade County commissioner.

It wasn’t planned that way, but then local politics has never lent itself to easy prediction. It was December 2, just two weeks after she’d been sworn in as District 8’s new commissioner following a closely watched and often heated campaign.

The commission’s agenda included a final vote on an ordinance banning gender identity discrimination in Miami-Dade. The measure was expected to pass—more than half the commission signed on as sponsors—but not without contention. Hundreds of supporters and opponents had shown up in the chambers that morning, waiting hours for their tightly enforced two minutes of public comment.

The commissioners spent a while discussing the ordinance among themselves before they opened the floor for public comment. Commissioners Esteban Bovo, Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Juan Zapata had concerns about public safety. What if someone used the transgender protections to enter women’s restrooms, saying they identified as a female, and molest or assault people?

“There are the cases of deviants who will take advantage of this,” said Bovo. It’s a specious argument with a long history in LGBT equality debates. But that is how the Miami-Dade County Commission, and hundreds of its constituents, came to spend six hours on the subject of bathrooms.

Most of the opposition statements began, “I don’t support discrimination, but…” The preface disclaimer is a curious feature of our political era: conscientious enough to acknowledge political correctness but not enough to prevent a politically incorrect statement. It’s an odd waiver of personal liability, and on this particular day, a hundred were issued. For five hours, supporters from the Save Dade organization spoke between longer blocks of opponents and skeptics, nearly all of whom invoked the restroom safety concern.

When her turn to speak arrived, Levine Cava called it out, smiling. She is disarmingly gracious, like a family member who loves you enough to remind you when you might not be living up to your potential. “This ordinance is not asking for special rights, it’s asking for equal rights. I honor the fears and worries of many in the room, but I believe that experience will show that it isn’t about this law. This isn’t the reason anything dangerous would happen to our children.”

“I formed that line five seconds before I said it,” she told me a few days later, “but it reflects a lifetime of experience. This issue is one I know. It’s one of the reasons I ran. My opponent had opposed it. I was really looking forward to it, but I felt bad—here I’d run this campaign on the issue and I don’t know what I’m going to say. It’s my first meeting.”

“My inclination is to be logical. People have fears, but there was nothing to latch on to. After the niceties, they would just spew hate. You can’t call people on it; it doesn’t serve anything. I wasn’t going to change hearts or minds.”

The business of local government is a melange of form and function, lofty ideas and expedient compromises, and it rarely tends toward logic. Public commentary is enshrined in government proceedings, but its execution has a less certain record. Most items have a known outcome, in practice if not in principle, before they ever reach the floor for public feedback.

The town hall kook is an almost universal concept in America, an easy target for cynics and a source of recurring frustration for everyone but our most earnest Leslie Knopes—and even then, sometimes there are just too many Eagletonians.

It’s easy to imagine how years on the job as a commissioner might dull the senses to the public procedures of governance, overlong and inhuman as they are. Elected officials can seem to be going through the motions, passengers in a machine whose direction and construction cannot be changed. Politics is rife with resigned acknowledgments of ‘the way things work.’ Many of them are true.

Levine Cava never seems to be along for the ride. She’s outside, tinkering with the machine, thinking about how we might all work on it together, prodding at the process of county government, asking questions that might have long since passed into accepted reality for her colleagues.

Later in that first meeting, as commissioners debated a $65 million no-bid contract for construction of urgent new airport projects, Levine Cava asked county staff to share at the public meeting information about the proposal that they’d given commissioners beforehand. When the issue first came up, she expected to oppose it on transparency grounds, she later told me, but when she went to the airport and learned the details of the process (most of the money would still be bid out) she decided it made sense.

“I’m not for form over substance. The bottom line is, what does this look like for the public?” She also suggested the commission might change the way it lists agenda items, to provide a better explanation to the public about each one.

I wanted to know what it’s like to be the new kid on the county commission, particularly when you have ideas for how to change it. Levine Cava ran on “restoring trust in government,” tackling corruption, social justice, transit, quality of life — not the terrain of easy rhetorical victories.

For every politician with a success story, dozens more have wrecked upon the shoals of bitter realities and stubborn statuses quo. But something’s worked so far for Daniella, as her team calls her: she’s only the third person in 20 years to unseat an incumbent county commissioner. And that doesn’t happen by accident.

“A Perfect Storm”

Levine Cava’s stay in Miami is about three decades longer than expected.

“We were going to sail around the world,” she says. Shortly before her husband was going to take a sabbatical, his father was diagnosed with cancer. So they started a family and raised their kids in Miami. And they never left.

Now 59, Levine Cava was born in New York City and grew up around the world, living in Brazil, Chile, Canada, and around the U.S.

“It took me about 10 years to decide Miami was a place I was going to invest in big time. It wasn’t like one day I woke up and my attitude about Miami was completely different. But there was a point in time I didn’t like this place. It was very frustrating to me that I couldn’t unlock the doors to create a more community-minded place.”

“It was Hurricane Andrew that was so transformational for this community. When I started to feel like, yes, I can do something here that would be valuable — that’s when I really started to love Miami.”

We’re sitting in her downtown office, at an austere conference table with a disappointing interior window onto the lobby of Government Center. She rises and falls visibly as she talks; the emotions of the subject have a way of flowing into her physical space.

“I just became so passionate about what Miami could show the world. We’re the canary in the mineshaft. We’re so far ahead of the curve on what’s happening in the world, everything happens first. We survived but we didn’t thrive. I hadn’t thought about it until this moment, but it’s our adversity that’s putting us at the top again.”

After Andrew, she helped create a new system for child abuse cases at the Department for Children and Families, and later managed foster care, adoption and child legal services for DCF. In 1995 she founded the Human Services Coalition of Dade County, later renamed Catalyst Miami. Catalyst bills itself as an organization “connecting people to shared purpose and place” by connecting people to financial, health, educational, and economic opportunities. Levine Cava built Catalyst into one of the most widely recognized social organizations in Miami-Dade, with a reputation for collaboration.

Over the years, friends would suggest she run for office, but the circumstances never seemed right — until Lynda Bell, in Miami-Dade’s 8th District, was up for reelection and considered a target for a challenge.

“I wasn’t planning to run for office. It wasn’t always an ambition to run for office. But the opportunity presented itself, and I was confident I could do it.”

“I was persuaded through my friend Cindy Lerner who became Mayor of Pinecrest. She was having fun and doing so many creative things. I cared about county issues but so much of their time was spent on issues that I did not think would be of interest; now I see they just don’t always exercise the power they have for good. I am amazed at the number of things I can touch on.”

We tend to expect an all-consuming ambition of our elected officials, and not to believe them when they say otherwise. We don’t talk much about the nuances of the decision to run for office; of how to make it accessible to people who might want to serve but aren’t driven by a primal need for power or attention. Which may be why many people don’t consider it. And why many people looked at Levine Cava’s victory as an opportunity for change in local politics. But she cautions against trying to generalize too many lessons from her journey.

“Many have said the fact I was able to unseat an incumbent gives people hope. But the conditions were such that it was a perfect storm for me. It was a lifetime of connections. It was a network of people who would not normally contribute to campaigns but were willing to contribute because they trusted me. It was the coalition of all these groups I had worked with for so long and saw me as being able to turn the tide on a number of different fronts. It was the fact that my opponent didn’t run a very good campaign and had a lot of enemies from her own behavior. It was an unusual set of things. But what I did was not ‘the answer’.”

The campaign was anything but usual. It set records for fundraising and spending in a county commission race — Bell raised nearly a million dollars, including major donations from county contractors and developers; Levine Cava raised more than $500,000, including from local and national Democratic heavyweights.

In the middle of summer, as the August election approached, Bell’s campaign and associated political committees published several misleading attack ads, including one saying Levine Cava was earning “over $500,000 in salary” as CEO of nonprofit Catalyst (they were getting the figure from adding up ten years of tax returns).

“I think what surprised us was the nature of what our opponent was saying about Daniella,” Matt Williams, who managed Levine Cava’s campaign, told me. “It’s not like they were just creative about what they were saying; they were just flat-out mistruths.”

Both campaigns sent mailers with photos of political associations, respectively showing Bell with Governor Rick Scott and Levine Cava with Congressman Joe Garcia. A televised debate between the candidates was passionate and forceful and made major local headlines. The stakes were high, and the Levine Cava campaign invested heavily in its field program. “There were some months where Daniella knocked on a thousand doors herself,” said Williams.

She won by fewer than 700 votes, a four percent margin on the roughly 17,000 votes cast. Local races have a different mathematics about them; where national campaigns can obscure the role of the individual voter, local ones are often decided by fewer people than would fit into a theater. The numbers make it possible for a field campaign to overcome fundraising or the benefits of incumbency, but it also makes campaigning that much more personal.

“They’ve really got to have a heart for it,” says Williams of potential candidates. “Daniella is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and she’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. You’ve got to master that resilience and that passion. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

For Levine Cava, the transition started almost immediately, and three months later she was in office. The move from campaigning to governing is a storied challenge for candidates who run on changing the way business is done. It’s easy to become Bill McKay in The Candidate, standing on another side of victory asking, “What do we do now?”

On the first day we meet, in early December, her entire team is outside Government Center posing for pictures. They call themselves “Team Daniella,” though the word “family” is often used between them.

Each commissioner gets a budget, which they mostly get to allocate as they like. Many use a large portion of the funds for sponsorships and grants to organizations in the district. Levine Cava invested heavily in her team — she has two people dedicated to community engagement, a team focused on special initiatives, and plans to provide a variety of support services to her district, such as help applying for nonprofit grants.

“It’s really amplifying my capacity to touch base with more people.” Levine Cava’s orbit has the feeling of a perpetual Thanksgiving; jovial, welcoming, and infused with a sense of vague but inescapable common purpose. She says being the eldest child gave her an early sense of leadership, though it’s a skill she’s still developing. “I don’t mind being in charge, but I told them, ‘I’m just one of the team’.”

 

“Come out swinging”

In late January, Levine Cava and Commissioner Dennis Moss, whose District 9 envelopes District 8, spoke at the dedication of a new event space at Central Campesino Farmworker Center in Homestead.

Levine Cava went first. “We need a South Dade plan,” she said. “What a special treasure we have here. But how sad is it that you go to a grocery store and you can’t buy local produce?” She talked about her agenda for District 8, which includes economic resources, increased transparency, quality of life improvements, environment, and transit.

Her vision is a webbing of issues that connect and affect each other; it acknowledges that nothing in local government is as simple as we might want it to be, but that can also make it harder to follow. When she finished, she took an audible deep breath and sat down, laughing. The audience laughed with her.

“It was a wonderful victory for the people of your district,” Moss said of Levine Cava. He’s been in office since 1993. Where Levine Cava is complex and nuanced, Moss is polished and precise, and only focused on one thing. “My platform is jobs.” He talks about a man who came up to him and thanked him for his jobs program because he’d finally been able to find work. Nods from the audience. People saying “yes” to themselves. He’s made a congregation.

It’s a trope in politics to have the apocryphal story of the man/woman/child/dog/cat you met and what they told you, which conveniently seems to align with the point you’re making. It’s a trope because it works. It makes things bite-sized, human; lets us look at faces instead of charts. But it also makes politics’ impossible game of trade-offs seem linear and easy; a switch we just need to flip instead of the Rube Goldberg machine it often is. Levine Cava doesn’t use many of these stories.

But that’s not to say she doesn’t understand how the game is played. “I ran on the idea of open, transparent government. I didn’t know what I’d be able to do,” she told me in early December. One goal is legislation requiring commissioners to disclose all their potential conflicts of interest when voting on items; right now, the requirements are fairly limited. “I’m one of thirteen,” she says. She’s meeting with each of her colleagues, finding ways to be collaborative.

“She’s both a big picture thinker, and knows how important it is to attend to the details of the district,” says Katy Sorenson, a former county commissioner (who also defeated an incumbent) who now runs the Good Government Initiative, which encourages and trains people to run for office. “She’s gone about forging relationships with her fellow commissioners in a very smart way. She’s convened a number of sunshine meetings with her colleagues to find out what their priorities are, so she doesn’t step on any toes but can be helpful.”

“She’s doing a lot of things right. The problem for Daniella will be that she will want to do everything and you can’t do everything.”

A common line of thinking says you only get one issue in a tenure, maybe two. Three if you’re lucky. Politics has a long history of teaching people with big ideas to meter their expectations. Miami-Dade County has a $110 billion GDP—more than many states—and more than 32,000 public employees (not counting another 50,000 in its schools). It has not, historically, been an easy ship to steer.

When we meet again in late January, she has two months on the job. We wander between looming subjects—sea level rise (“We’ve got another 20 years and then this place will be Venice or has-been; I’m fascinated by the resilience and human spirit to deal with those things”), transportation (“It will either sink us or save us.”), tolls, transparency—her energy is everywhere, but she also has an emerging sense of balance. There are the little balls to juggle, unexpected and sudden, and there are the big rocks, impending and difficult.

At the 2015 Citizen’s Transportation Summit in late January, Levine Cava was noted as the only commissioner who stayed for the whole meeting. Most came for the introductions and left shortly thereafter. “Maybe if I knew everything there was to know about public transit [I wouldn’t go]. But really the day wasn’t about learning. It was about hearing other people and their concerns.”

“I’m always looking for the win-win,” she says. When the Roll Back Tolls campaign started in her district in response to new tolling on local expressways, Levine Cava looked for opportunities to collaborate.“I can’t come out swinging the way [the organizer] would, but let’s see what we can do to work together.”

When vacancies opened on the MDX board, there were questions about conflicts of interest with some candidates. “I said, can you give me some questions I can ask on the record? That’s one thing I can do as a commissioner—get answers. To me that’s the ideal situation, where we’re working collaboratively.”

I ask her how we encourage more people to run for office, to challenge incumbents, to prod at the process of county government and try to make it better. She says trust in government and corruption are major obstacles. “We could, with the proper will, take it back. And I guess it gets my juices flowing. Because once we do there would be more fertile territory.” New candidates “wouldn’t have to kowtow and play the usual games.”

“Last night I was in South Dade and a friend got up to the microphone and said, ‘your campaign was about ending pay to play in politics, what have you done about that? You’ve been in office two months.’ It caught me short. I’ve been dealing with little things. Each of these things builds some credibility and political capital for me to tackle more things.”

She describes a few recent issues with lobbying, and proposals to limit conflicts of interest. “That’s a game-changer. It’s not that I don’t like lobbyists. I was a lobbyist. Lobbyists are important. But they’re not in charge. If you want to do business with the county, you shouldn’t be able to contribute to campaigns. That would be so big. But I can’t come out swinging on that.”

Three months in, she has her team assembled, a strategic plan underway, and an emerging legislative agenda. It’s hard to find your footing in a place with such high expectations, and once you do, you have to wonder where you’re standing.

“What I’m most fearful of is losing perspective and humility,” she says. She props her head on her hand and looks out the window, such as it is. One can’t see much from a commissioner’s office except the lobby of Government Center. Perhaps that’s fitting for making the point. “That I’ll forget what it’s like to sit in the audience instead of on the dais. I just have to stay in touch.”

A beat.

“I think the element of surprise is also good.”

South Dade News Leader: Miami-Dade Commissioners Talk South Dade Strategy

Original link here: http://www.southdadenewsleader.com/news/miami-dade-commissioners-talk-south-dade-strategy/article_d9abf210-b081-11e4-96e7-87fde9ffd74c.html

CountyCommissioners Daniella Levine Cava and Dennis C. Moss joined forces last week to promote their “South Dade Strategy” for the region.

Levine Cava of District 8 and Moss of District 9 laid out their agenda at the CentroCampesinoFarmWorkersCenter in Homestead.

Both had the economy and jobs as a top priority.

“Bring more people into the middle class and achieve the American Dream. That’s what it’s all about,” said Levine Cava.

She said the area is blessed to have a farming component, but feels the hard profession should get assistance.

One method would be to promote the local brand by finding a way for locals to purchase local produce.

“How shameful is that,” Levine Cava lamented. “An avocado from Peru or a tomato from Canada?”

She also wants to partner with MiamiDadeCollege’s Homestead campus to offer courses that would get new generations into farming. There was also a suggestion for the county to buy off farming land from owners who no longer wish to farm it.

Commissioner Moss wants to provide jobs to a diverse group in the community. With construction, he would like it to mirror that of the Port of Miami project where he saw “workers from all over the county.”

“When we have job opportunities in this community, we need to make sure that the first groups who are in Miami-DadeCounty have an opportunity for those jobs,” he said.

Within the agriculture sector, he would like to change laws to allow more flexibility in the form farmers can produce income through related businesses.

“So they can sell milkshakes, [nursery] plants, and pony rides,” Moss said as examples.

The District 9 Commissioner is also a proponent of the controversial proposed development next to Zoo Miami. That plan has drawn intense protest as developers hope to pave over a parcel of protected pine rocklands. The project has been described as in commercial complex that will house a Wal-Mart, residential units, and a theme park. Opponents say, it will destroy the immediate environment and even threaten certain species.

Moss says he advocates for an environmentally responsible way to bring in that project for the positive economical impact it will bring the region.

LevineCave also hoped to restore trust in government.

“When people don’t trust the government, then we can’t get anything done,” she said.

Moss echoed that sentiment when he was asked how to solve transportation problems in the county.

He believes if public transportation is to be improved people are going to have to pay for it.

“Nothing in life is free,” he said.

Yet without trust, people are less likely to give another half-cent tax hike to improve the existing system.

Moss, the long time commissioner, acknowledged the commission dropped the ball with the last half cent tax raise and suggested that perhaps they could create an independent body just to oversee the construction, and nothing else.

“I don’t want to create an authority,” he said.

An idea they toyed around with out loud was to open up the bus way as a toll road. That could raise money for improvements or a bigger project.

The commissioners also spoke about the life conditions of the migrant workers.

Levine Cava once again advocated for a temporary driver’s license for those here without papers.

Moss advocated for help from Tallahassee to pass regulation that would protect migrant workers from having their pay stolen.

Both commissioners told the South Dade News Leader that they try to find a balance between serving the powerful farm industry in their region and helping improve the lives of migrant workers in the area.

“Certainly farm owners have their interests and the migrants have their interests, and to the degree we can, it’s our responsibility to try to be a referee for the people. And try to balance those interests,” said Moss.

“We have a thriving farm economy, not only thanks to the farmers but thanks to the workers. I know that the farmers appreciate that, but sometimes unfortunately farm workers are not given the protections that they are due. So my idea is to make sure that leadership in the farm community is aware of that and helps spread the word that our farming is not done at the expense of our farm workers,” Levine Cava told the South Dade News Leader.

Miami’s Community Newspaper: Commissioner shares thoughts on county government at KFHA

Original link here: http://communitynewspapers.com/kendall-gazette/commissioner-shares-thoughts-county-government-kfha/

Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava returned to Kendall on Jan. 26 to greet a Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations audience of more than 50 “for the first time since the debate,” she said.

The newly seated District 8 commissioner referred to her only other Kendall appearance in July 2014 during a KFHA political forum with former Commissioner Lynda Bell whom Cava unseated in the Aug. 26 primary.

“It’s great to be back with you,” she began during a half-hour chat before answering questions for 45 minutes that covered dozens of hot Kendall topics, ranging from the Ludlam Trail, which she supports as a county-designed project, to the creation of a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) district to fund a Disneylike development near Zoo Miami — an action she opposes.

“I understand your concerns for the environment and preservation of areas with endangered species, and the need to build better protection into the current process that allows Comprehensive Development Master Plan changes without direct county input,” she said, noting it was the reason she supported placing the recent Florida East Coast Industries’ Ludlam Trail CDMP proposal under the county’s name.

“Projects like these and saltwater intrusion from FPL cooling canals at Turkey Point have a profound effect on our future,” she said, adding at one point that she is working on legislation to provide buffer zones to protect diminishing agricultural land areas from unopposed housing and commercial development, including a new method of regulating zoning densities.

“One of my biggest surprises as a new commissioner is seeing how actions largely reflect interests of each commissioner by the district they represent, rather than the effect on the county overall,” she said.

“My first learned rule was a ‘rule of seven’, you need seven votes (of 13 Commissioners) to get any legislation passed,” she smiled. Other highlights:

• Her office term agenda will include more focus on South Dade, the fastest growing area in Miami-Dade. Other points: building trust and accountancy in government, a campaign pledge.

• State legislation support to prohibit fracking (extraction of oil from minerals) from South Florida’s limestone sub-structure, typified by a recent Naples project that sunk a shaft 10,000 feet in depth and poured acid into it, the extraction method used.

• On Kendall clogged highways, we need to incorporate mass transit funding into an overall planning, including incorporating managed bus lanes on SR 836, the Dolphin Expressway, possibly financed by up to a 2 percent increase in gasoline taxes.

• On Miami Expressway Authority (MDX): review appointive members more closely for background expertise, and the method of appointments at the state level.

“Too many things happen behind the scenes that even commissioners know little about,” she concluded, adding that she sought more open communication with Mayor Carlos Gimenez as one answer.

“I found it strange that our county budget allows transfer of budgeted funds from library to parks or some other use,” she said. “I have already discussed with the mayor how we need a better, clearer budget presentation to see exactly how funding works.

“The county’s government will only be as good as we become active in it.”

South Dade News Leader: Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava Introduces Anti-Fracking Resolution

Original link here: http://www.southdadenewsleader.com/news/florida_city/commissioner-daniella-levine-cava-introduces-anti-fracking-resolution/article_c295db26-abcd-11e4-9fd5-5bb6c44d6328.html

On Wednesday, January 21, Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava proposed a resolution that calls on the Miami-Dade County Commission to urge the Florida state legislature to ban hydraulic and acid fracking in Florida. The urging comes after a company in CollierCounty began injecting acid under high pressure into the bedrock near the Everglades to gain access to oil reserves. Currently, Florida’s oil and gas regulations make no mention of hydraulic fracking. The resolution passed unanimously.
“I am pleased that the resolution I proposed to urge the State Legislature to ban fracking in Florida and support SB166 passed unanimously. I would like to thank all those who showed their support on this issue and my colleagues on the dais for prioritizing this important initiative,” Commissioner Levine Cava said.
The resolution urges the state legislature to pass SB166, a bill filed by Senator Dwight Bullard (D-CutlerBay) and Senator Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee), that the House will consider later this year. SB166 would ban hydraulic fracking throughout the state. The County’s support for a fracking ban came on the same day that the Commission approved new plans to tackle sea level rise, a historic act, led by Commissioner Rebeca Sosa and Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin.
“I believe today marks an important moment for Miami-Dade’s environment and well-being. The County’s passing of this resolution proves once again that the people of our state want to protect our natural resources. Just last year, Floridians overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1, which called for the protection of our most precious lands and drinking water resources. Today, the representatives of the residents of Miami-Dade County voted to support a ban on fracking and to adopt new ways to battle sea level rise,” Commissioner Levine Cava said. “Now we must focus on assuring that Senate Bill 166, proposed by Senators Dwight Bullard and Darren Soto, is implemented. This unstudied process can pose serious and detrimental health risks to our residents, our agriculture and our state’s livelihood. We cannot risk the state of our drinking water, something we need to survive, to search for oil when better options exist. Our County has taken a major step in urging the legislature to ban this potentially dangerous practice and I sincerely hope that the state legislature will hear the will of the people and protect our precious natural resources.”
The Floridian Aquifer is the source of drinking water for nearly 10 million Floridians. The effects of acid fracking in highly permeable bedrock are unstudied and could threaten our environment, the quality of our drinking water and the economy.

South Dade News Leader: Commissioner Daniella Levine-Cava Holds Homestead Open House

Original link here: http://www.southdadenewsleader.com/news/homestead/commissioner-daniella-levine-cava-holds-homestead-open-house/article_c1ed68d2-a7eb-11e4-9e51-438ed93bca88.html

On Wednesday, January 14th, Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava held a Homestead Open House at Mayor Jeff Porter’s office in HomesteadCity Hall to announce the launch of her monthly Homestead office hours. The Homestead office hours will be a monthly event where constituents and community leaders can make an appointment and meet with the Commissioner to share ideas and ask her questions.

“Though our office will be opening soon at the SouthDadeGovernmentCenter, I would like to be readily available to all the residents of District 8. This is why my team and I will be holding monthly office hours in Homestead. I am eager to hear suggestions on how we can improve our beautiful District 8 and I look forward to answering questions and sharing ideas. I would also like to thank Mayor Jeff Porter for offering his office as a space for our open house.”

Dozens of South Dade residents stopped by the Commissioner’s Open House, including Mayor Jeff Porter, members of the Homestead City Council and members of the Homestead Youth Council. Visitors chatted with the Commissioner about local issues and enjoyed refreshments. As the Open House ended, Commissioner Levine Cava encouraged residents to reach out: “I want everyone in District 8 to feel they have a say in their county government, whether it’s by calling my downtown or district office, interacting on social media or visiting my monthly office hours. It is through collaboration that we will improve our district and our county.”

To make an appointment for Commissioner Levine Cava’s Homestead office hours, please call (305) 375-5218 or send an email to district8@miamidade.gov.

South Dade News Leader: Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava Holding Homestead Open House

Original link here: http://www.southdadenewsleader.com/news/florida_city/commissioner-daniella-levine-cava-holding-homestead-open-house/article_9861aee0-9a87-11e4-96d5-cbdf9fc65f8d.html

Newly elected County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava will be holding a Homestead Open House on January 14, 2015 from 4pm until 5pm at HomesteadCity Hall.

Additionally, to better serve her constituents, Commissioner Levine Cava will be working out of Mayor Jeff Porter’s office on the second Wednesday of every month.

Residents are encouraged to bring their questions and suggestions, or just come by and say hello.

For more information, please call Maria Levrant at (305) 375-5218, or email her at levrant@miamidade.gov.

HomesteadCity Hall is located at 650 NE 22 Terrace in Homestead.

Miami Herald: New chapter for commission

Original link here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/article4192584.html

Miami-Dade Commission’s Tuesday meeting marks a new beginning on a day that the board will deal with a variety of issues, from protection for transgender people to body cameras for police. There will be one new face, introduced at its previous meeting, and familiar faces taking on leadership roles.

Last week, the commission made dais history when it unanimously elected its new chairman. They picked Jean Monestime, 51, the first Haitian-born commissioner ever elected and now the first to lead the 13-member board for the next two years. We congratulate Commissioner Monestime, who takes over Jan. 1.

His is one more Miami-Dade immigrant success story. He came to South Florida alone when he was 17 and went from washing floors at a doughnut shop to running his own real-estate business.

As commission chairman, he will represent an area that has some of Miami-Dade County’s poorest districts — including parts of Little Haiti and Liberty City — in addition to North Miami, North Miami Beach and Biscayne Gardens. By his presence and vigilance, those neighborhoods will likely now not be forgotten in the big-picture conversation.

That Mr. Monestime is the first Haitian to lead the County Commission is a testament to the influence the county’s Haitian community has attained, its successful integration into the ethnic mosaic and culture that is our community.

After being elected, he promised to “allow our diversity to strengthen our community instead of divide us.”

Much remains to be done in this area, but it is clear that South Florida is overcoming some of the painful divisions of the past to become a cosmopolitan metropolis. It could be a model for cities in the 21 century. All this makes us more open to trade and globalization, which equal progress for all residents.

Joining Mr. Monestime in a leadership role is Esteban Bovo Jr., a Cuban American whose father is a Bay of Pigs vet. Mr. Bovo, who represents the areas of Hialeah, Miami Lakes and Palm Springs North, is now vice-chairman.

And a new face has joined the commission: Daniella Levine Cava, who defeated Lynda Bell and claimed her South Miami-Dade seat, will begin her work in earnest on Tuesday. Ms. Levine Cava, who is filling one of the historically, so-called “Anglo seats” on the commission, is a welcome change. She is fluent in Spanish and well-versed in the struggles of the county’s poorest residents. She should bring a new, forceful voice to the commission.

Though commission positions are nonpartisan, the last Democrat to lead the commission, Dennis Moss, ended his chairmanship in 2010. Currently, six commissioners are Democrats, six are Republicans and one is independent.

We give a tip of the hat to Rebeca Sosa, who is ending her stint as chair. She did an excellent job as the commission leader, seeking harmony and bringing decorum and order to board meetings, which in the past had lapsed into late-night imbroglios.

Ms. Sosa led with a firm but friendly hand. She was the epitome of kindness to even the most troublesome public speaker who came in front of the commission. She was never anything but courteous and cognizant that the commission serves at the pleasure of the residents of Miami-Dade. Job well done, Ms. Sosa.

We hope the board will maintain her momentum and work effectively for the welfare and progress of this community — one of the most dynamic in the nation.

Miami Herald: Daniella Levine Cava taps commission veterans for two top posts

Original link here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2014/11/daniella-levine-cava-taps-commission-veterans-for-two-top-posts.html

Miami-Dade’s newest commissioner has staffed up her District 8 office.

Sean McCrackine, who worked in the District 8 office when Katy Sorenson held the seat, left Commissioner Jean Monestime’s staff to join Levine Cava as chief of policy and planning. Maria Elena Levrant jumped from Miami International Airport’s media office to be Levine Cava’s chief of constituent affairs. Before heading for the airport, she worked 12 years in the offices of Sorenson and then-commissioner Jimmy Morales (now Miami Beach’s city manager).

The long-time president of Catalyst Miami, an non-profit she founded in 1995, Levine Cava did not name a chief of staff. The third “chief” position went to Adele Bagley, a lawyer and former Catalyst intern, who will serve as chief of community engagement.

Jason Smith, director of intergovernmental affairs for the county’s Public Works department, was hired as Levine Cava’s legislative director.

Johanna Cervone will handle communications and outreach, Rick Morgan is community liason and special-projects coordinator, Rahel Weldeyesus will coordinate community service and Martha Ochoa is Levine Cava’s new executive assistant.