MIAMI – Residents of Miami’s District 1 are without representation on the city commission after last week’s arrest and suspension of Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla on multiple corruption charges.
Diaz de la Portilla’s name has been scrubbed off Miami City Hall and other city facilities, including his parking spot and seat on the dais. His picture has also been removed from city hall.
The 58-year-old represented District 1, which includes neighborhoods like Allapattah, Grapeland Heights and part of the Flagami area, until his suspension Friday, a day after authorities arrested him on charges ranging from bribery to money laundering.
It’s still not clear when the district will regain representation on the dais.
“It is hard because we need help right now and if he is there supposed to be looking out for us, who do we have?” resident Sabrina Jacques said.
Residents in Allapattah expressed disappointment in Diaz de la Portilla.
That includes Luis Checo, a barber at Power Barber Shop on Northwest 17th Avenue.
“You have to behave, do the right thing,” Checo said.
Checo said he worries about the example Diaz de la Portilla’s setting for future politicians.
“It’s just not right,” he said.
Jacques said she believes Diaz de la Portilla is “taking from the community.”
“Right now, we need better people in (the) commission and everything and do what is right,” she said. ”We need someone to stand in place of him, that is not doing what he got going on. So we will hopefully have someone better.”
City commissioners are scheduled to meet next Monday to decide what to do about the now open seat.
“Well, we have some options,” District 4 Commissioner Manolo Reyes said.
Reyes said those options include appointing someone to fill the position, call a special election, or decide the upcoming November election meets the city charter’s requirement for a special election.
Diaz de la Portilla remains an eligible candidate for the District 1 commission seat, an expert says.
“He would be running for what is effectively a new office, a new term,” Professor Bob Jarvis, who teaches at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College of Law, said Monday. “The suspension only applies to the current office, the current term.”
Jarvis said that means Diaz de la Portilla could return to office if he wins the race — if Gov. Ron DeSantis lets him.
“The governor would have to decide whether to issue a new suspension order, because the old suspension order would effectively be over, because the term of office would be over and whether or not the governor would decide to order a new suspension order, that is very hard to say,” he said. “Some governors take the position that the crime is continuing, others take the position that, with the voters having had the opportunity to judge the candidate and deciding that they still want this person to be in office, that the people have spoken, so there is just no way to know what Governor DeSantis will do.”
As for who will pay Diaz de la Portilla’s legal fees, Reyes said he’s learned through the city attorney that taxpayers won’t be on the hook like they were with District 3 Commissioner Joe Carollo’s civil trial, because he faces criminal charges instead.
Jarvis weighed in.
“I don’t think the difference really comes down to civil versus criminal, I think I real the difference comes down to whether or not a public officer can make the claim that what they were accused of doing was something that was within the realm of their job,” he said. “And here things like bribery, money laundering, public corruption (are) obviously not part of your job, so I don’t think taxpayers will be on the hook.”
Reyes said regardless of what he and the other commissioners decide, District 1 residents should know their city services won’t be affected.
“The city is going to keep working for you, the garbage is still going to be collected, the police are still going to be protecting us and the city offices will keep on being open for the residents,” he said. “So don’t think that everything is going to stop. We are still going to see to it that the city of Miami will continue serving the people.”