News, Politics

Pardo Interview

On Nov. 21, Damian Pardo, 60, won a four-year term as commissioner for District 2. In what is widely regarded as an upset, Pardo, the first openly gay person elected to the Miami City Commission, defeated incumbent Sabina Covo. Early this week, the Spotlight met with Pardo to discuss how he won the race and what he intends to do as a city commissioner. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What strategies helped you win?

We really emphasized our grassroots campaign. We did a tremendous amount of door-knocking. The one thing I think we did extraordinarily well is that we listened—and we heard what the real issues were in the community.

What do you think you can accomplish in your first six months of office?

I want to start with restoring faith and dignity to the office of commissioner. I think in a very short period of time, people will get a sense that there has been a dramatic change in the city. We ran on campaign finance reform and much more transparency within the city. We also ran on delivering stronger services to our residents. We want to see a re-establishment of the NET offices [Neighborhood Enhancement Team], which had been eliminated. We’d like to bring some relief to the permitting process, which has been a constant source of frustration for residents. And we plan to have an emergency response service where people will be able to have things like illegal dumping and other issues handled.

What about the long term—after four years?

From a big picture perspective, I would love to see our communities working much more together—West Grove, Downtown, Brickell, Upper East Side—with more collaboration among our organizations, whether community-based, faith-based, or otherwise. I hope to restore pride in our city and our district, in the sense of good governance.

And for Coconut Grove?

Better collaboration and unification between the Grove’s neighborhoods. I’ve found folks in the West Grove who have a lot of great ideas and amazing energy for the community. Folks in other parts of the Grove are also looking for opportunities to give and participate and grow.

How will you be able to build strong relationships with the other commissioners when you’re constrained by the sunshine law?

The sunshine law is something I’ve dealt with for many years. You’re collaborating and working together in an open space, which I look forward to. You can announce a meeting with another commissioner as open at any time. You’re not limited to the commission meetings.

What is your background in the Grove?

I grew up across from Merrie Christmas Park. I went to St. Hugh’s School. I lived in the Grove for 28 years. Eventually I moved to the Morningside area, where I’ve lived for the last 24 years.

Since you live in Morningside, how will you build strong relationships with Coconut Grove voters, especially in the West Grove?

I already have strong relationships in Coconut Grove, including the West Grove. I think that’s why I did so well in Coconut Grove in the election. I went door to door and spoke with people, and they knew I knew what they were talking about. When you grow up in a place like Coconut Grove, you develop core values. You don’t forget those things.

Coconut Grove has unique needs. What might you do to influence the Grove’s future, which so many people are worried about?

There has to be an emphasis on preserving neighborhoods. When I knocked on many people’s doors, they were saying the rate of change was too much, out of balance. They said there’s no communication from the city and they felt very disenfranchised. We definitely hope to correct that.

Pressure from moneyed interests is inevitable in Miami. How will you deal with that?

I’m not feeling the pressure. I’m certain it’s because to a large degree I have not taken any special-interest money. I have 35 years of a proven track record of not being influenced by money or power in a way that goes against residents’ or community interests. That’s not going to change.

But you’ve never held elected office.

I think the influence of money and power is always going to be a factor, whether you’re running a nonprofit or in an appointed or elected office. I’ve demonstrated over a long period of time that my number one commitment is serving the community.

How will you balance your city commission work with the demands of your current job?

I’m a financial adviser with a developed, mature practice. I have plenty of time to do a full-time job as commissioner.

Recently the state of Florida raised questions about the City of Miami budget that could lead to a possible loss of $56 million in tax income. The state argues that the budget was not adopted legally when the City Commission voted on it in September because a full commission vote was required, and one of the five commissioners, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, had been suspended. How will you deal with this?

The situation is complicated. I wish they would have come up with alternative solutions than the one they did, which was just to vote it through. Right now, we’re studying as best as possible what courses of action we can take that would represent our district.

Some people blame the city attorney for the latest budget mess. Early in his term, District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell tried unsuccessfully to remove the city attorney. What are your thoughts about that?

I’m aware of it and I would absolutely revisit it.

For a detailed biography of Damian Pardo, click here

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