The debate at times became intensely personal. Bovo accused Levine Cava of being a radical. Levine Cava accused him of lying throughout the campaign.
The most heated moments came over socially divisive issues like gun violence, whether to reallocate money from the police department, and a question about saying something “nice” about each other.
At the end, both Levine Cava and Bovo gave impassioned speeches about what the county should be in the years ahead: Bovo championing a re-focus on basic county needs, Levine Cava promoting investment in social services as government’s responsibility.
The candidates also debated transportation, COVID-19 response, and climate change. The full debate can be seen here.
"Say something nice"
An interesting back-and-forth came when NBC 6 Anchor Jawan Strader asked each of them to say something nice about the other candidate.
Bovo started by saying he respects Levine Cava.
“I know she means well for her community. We just differ in the ways we should approach these things. She has radical ideas for our community that I’m just not down with. I don’t want us to be another New York, and I love New York, I was born in New York, but I don’t want us to be another New York.”
Cava said Bovo was a good father, dedicated to his children, and had a good sense of humor.
“However, calling me radical is not very funny. It is so very far from the truth,” said Levine Cava.
On a question about how to prevent gun violence, Bovo took Levine Cava’s comments personally.
“Unlike my opponent, I don’t blame single mothers for the violence on the street and he has done exactly that on the dais,” said Levine Cava.
“Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. The stuff that comes out of her is outrageous. I don’t know what she’s talking about blaming single mothers. Ok. My sister is a single mother. So be careful when you start throwing out accusations for political purposes. Ok. The issues in our communities are serious,” responded Bovo.
NBC 6 reached out to the Levine Cava campaign to clarify what instance she was speaking about. Her campaign pointed to a Miami Times article from October 2019 where Bovo was quoted saying “when it comes to gun violence, there seems to be one common denominator - homes where there is no male presence. There’s no government that’s going to fix that; folks have to own up to responsibility.”
Black Lives Matter
It’s common for conservative elected officials to pivot to “all lives matter” when asked if “black lives matter.” That did not happen during the debate.
To the question of what “Black Lives Matter” means to the candidates, Bovo said “Absolutely, the life of Black people matter in our community. I believe in the sanctity of life. There’s no question about that.
“You know, as the only Hispanic in the race, I recall a time going with my dad some place and nobody disrespecting him, basically discriminating against him because he couldn’t speak the language and he as Cuban,” said Bovo.
However, he said he believes aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement are more about “anarchy” than a constructive dialogue about race relations.
Levine Cava touted the bipartisan nature of the movement, citing Republican Senator Mitt Romney as an example.
“Peaceful demonstration is an incredibly important part of our constitution, as are our rights as citizens,” said Levine Cava, “So many have come to this country to enjoy those freedoms and those rights. To me what this means is we must all work harder for every part of our society to have a shot at the American dream."
Since the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, nearly every city has grappled with the extent of systemic racism in their local areas. To the question of whether systemic racism exists in Miami-Dade, Levine Cava said yes; Bovo said not in county government.
“I do believe we have racism throughout our society in every aspect,” said Levine Cava.
Bovo has “never seen evidence of it” but wouldn't tolerate it as Mayor.
The conversation dovetailed into the idea whether to relocate money from the county police budget to other areas.
Bovo, who’s been endorsed by several police unions, points to Levine Cava votes supporting a plan to dedicate police money to an independent review panel overseeing police - worth $7.5 million. The plan was vetoed by current Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the item that passed does not have those measures. Bovo opposed both proposals.
“This is a fundamental issue of this campaign and it should not be glossed over,” said Bovo.
“These are scare tactics. This is reading out of somebody’s playbook,” responded Levine Cava,"I voted with the police and they supported me in my 2014 election and my 2018 election because I've stood solidly with the working men and women in our country."
She also points to votes Bovo took in 2014 approving a county budget reducing the amount to police. Bovo notes it was during a downturn in tax revenues and it was done to “protect the taxpayer.”
Towards the end of the debate, the two gave impassioned speeches about what they believe the role of county government should be. Bovo’s came while talking about whether the county should expand social services when it comes to affordable housing for the homeless population.
“We throw money at issues instead of coming up with plans and collaboration to get these things done. As Mayor I want to make sure we realign what the purpose of your county government was built to do. Make sure your garbage is picked up on time, that the pot hole is fixed. That’s what we do in local government. We can’t radicalize it, then we fail. We fail in all ends.”
Levine Cava defended investing in social services, touting her career in social work.
“There’s nothing radical about providing services. There’s nothing radical about the county caring about its citizens and spending its money. Look, who else is going to take care of our seniors,” said Levine Cava, “Sure there are some state programs and private programs but in the end we are responsible for the well being of all our residents. That is exactly what I’ve done and there’s nothing radical about it.”
The election is November 3rd. The deadline to register to vote is October 5th.