Miami-Dade County commissioners appointed a new commissioner for District 8, filling a seat which was vacated by current county mayor Daniella Levine Cava last month.
In a vote of 10 to 1, commissioners appointed Danielle Cohen Higgins to take control of District 8, which covers parts of Cutler Bay and Homestead.
Current Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava vacated the seat last month when she became the county's first female mayor in November's general election.
The appointment did not come without debate over two questions. First, should commissioners appoint someone or call a special election to fill the seat, costing roughly $1.2 million? Second, if they appoint someone, who should it be?
Earlier this month, the county commission voted 7 to 5 to appoint someone to fill the seat. Over the last few days, commissioners and county hall insiders tried to whip the votes for their preferred candidate. Cohen Higgins seemed to be the front runner in a possible election and commissioners told NBC 6 her resume led them to appoint her.
Cohen Higgins was the only person nominated by a county commissioner. Six others had applied.
"As a candidate, we needed to be flexible. And you need to roll with whatever the environment of the times presents you. I think we can all agree that we are in incredibly difficult times," Cohen Higgins said.
The voting majority of the Commission cited the coronavirus pandemic and the need for full representation in their decisions for an appointment.
"The reason why we didn’t have a special election is because it could be anywhere between one and four months without having representation there," said incoming Commission Chair Jose “Pepe” Diaz. He wanted to fill the seat as fast as possible so the District 8 commissioner could make decisions.
Cohen Higgins launched her campaign in May 2019 when then-Commissioner Levine Cava announced to run for County Mayor.
"Please understand when I filed my candidacy on May 1st, 2019, I filed my candidacy to run in a special election. I am and have been the candidate most prepared for an election. But you have to be flexible. So I respect the decision of the board," said Cohen Higgins.
Cohen Higgins says her main priority will be transportation issues in south Miami-Dade.
Commissioner Rene Garcia made a last minute pitch to persuade his colleagues to reconsider and call a special election, saying "democracy should be respected." Commissioner Garcia was the only person to vote against Cohen Higgins. He told the Commission it wasn’t personal but on "principle."
Commissioner Joe Martinez abstained from the vote in protest, telling NBC 6 he also wanted an election. Martinez’s son-in-law and Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press was briefly mentioned as a possible appointee but Press never officially applied.
Voters approved a ballot proposal this November forcing future commissioners to resign in time for an election to match up with normal election schedules, saving the county money.
"The people already told us ‘we do not want you to choose.’ So we knew that and then we went ahead and chose anyway," said Commissioner Martinez.
Higgins is a Miami-Dade native and the child of Jamaican immigrants. She is a graduate of Sunset Senior High School and has earned degrees from the University of Florida and Florida State University's School of Law.
Cohen will serve as District 8 commissioner until 2022.