Sergio Pereira, who had long career in local government, dies

Influential Cuban-American lobbyist dies at 73


MIAMI – Sergio Pereira, who had a long career in local government and symbolized the ascendancy of Cuban-Americans in U.S. government, died of complications with leukemia Saturday. He was 73.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Pereira as a consultant during the Mariel boatlift, the biggest exodus of Cubans. Pereira developed a reputation among Cuban-American leaders as a hard worker and skilled administrator. 

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Pereira was an inspiration and for decades remained a supportive figure for him and many other Cuban-American politicians. 

"We lost one of the most important figures in Miami-Dade's modern government and political history," Gimenez said. "Sergio led our community with passion, selflessness and dedication." 

Pereira, a Coral Gables resident and registered Democrat, was a well-connected lobbyist. He was known for his love of golf and cigars and for his charming warmth.

Pereira was born in Havana and moved to New Jersey when he was a teen. He became the first Cuban-born Miami-Dade County manager in January 1986, and also served as a City of Miami manager. 

"Our community is better today thanks to Sergio Pereira and we will miss him," Gimenez said. 

Pereira was considered a pioneer among Cuban-American politicians who came close to having a Republican presidential candidate with Sen. Marco Rubio. Pereira was among the Cuban exiles who supported the embargo and blamed Fidel Castro for ruining the island's economy. 

His career in local government started amid historic racial tensions among politicians.

City of Miami Commissioner Miller Dawkins, who died in 2010, considered him an ally. He said Pereira was able to be a great administrator despite belonging to a minority in a "white-dominated" Miami, because he acted black and he looked white.

The Miami commission had only had a black member for three decades when Dawkins, who had served for 15 years, was convicted in a bribery case.  Congresswoman Carrie P. Meek supported Dawkins and Rev. Richard Dunn was appointed to fill Dawkins' seat. Voters later elected Cuban-American lawyer Humberto Hernandez fill Dawkins' seat. Hernandez had Pereira's support. 

A couple of scandals marred Pereira's political career. He was accused of misleading City of Miami officials into believing he had a longer education in the U.S. In Miami-Dade County, he was accused of overspending when he replaced an old mahogany desk with a $9,400 marble one. 

While he worked for the city, he faced three felony theft charges in the case of Emerterio Marino-Pijeira, but he was reinstated to his job when the charges were dropped. In a "hot-suits" case, Marino-Pijeira was accused of selling stolen  famous-label suits and Pereira was a customer. 

Pereira resigned as the chief administrative officer of Miami-Dade County in 1988, after a Miami Herald investigation uncovered Pereira made thousands when the county commission rezoned a property for a developer. 

Before his resignation, Pereira admitted in a commission meeting to making the $127,000 and failing to report the earnings in "an oversight." During his career, he was also accused of using a police helicopter to take private flying lessons and for using about $30,000 to redecorate an office. 

Pereira volunteered for the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers and for the Nat Moore Foundation. After his retirement from government, he worked as a lobbyist and for the Meridian International Group. 

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