Today, I want to share very special news with you. After consulting with my family and closest friends, I decided to take on this new challenge in my life and have filed my candidacy for Miami Beach Commission on March 1, 2017!!! It certainly was not an easy decision, but I believe that we live in crucial times, in which it is important for all of us, more than ever, to speak up and stand up for our community! I hope that with your help and support, we can protect our people and make a lasting positive difference for Miami Beach!
I was born on March 16, 1973 in Berlin/Germany (West) as son of Edgard Antonio Velasquez, a Peruvian citizen, and Sonia Velasquez, a German citizen. After living 5 years in Lima, Peru and 15 in Berlin, I decided in 1993 to continue my studies in Florida. In 1996, I obtained my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, and thereafter began law school at the University of Florida, College of Law in Gainesville. After my graduation in 1999, I moved to Los Angeles, California, where I practiced civil litigation law until 2001, when I decided to move back to Miami Beach. I have been a Miami/Miami Beach resident ever since, and presently am President/Broker of Sunset Realty Group in Miami Beach, FL.
I currently am on the Board of Trustees of the Florida Democratic Party, member of the Miami-Dade Hispanic Democratic Caucus, the Young Democrats, Downtown Democrats and until March 2017 was Finance Chair of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee. In 2016, I was a member of the Hillary Clinton Latino Finance Council, and National Finance Committee. I am an experienced political analyst, media commentator, and in 2016 was part of the Clinton press surrogate team. Over the years, I have also served as a Guardian ad Litem for abused and neglected children, a big brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami, and a pro-bono attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. Since 1999, I have been an active supporter, volunteer, and fundraiser for the Gore, Kerry, Obama, and Clinton presidential campaigns.
I am fluent in English, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.
We will probably not agree on every issue, and I don’t claim to be perfect in my wisdom either. However, I will always try my best to base any decision I make on behalf of our City, on the community feedback that I receive and the best interest of Miami Beach. Remember, I am one voice for our Community, standing up for its residents, local businesses, and always protecting the character of our City.
Over the past months, I have been on a Listening Tour throughout Miami Beach, hearing concerns, ideas, and suggestions from my neighbors. I want to greatly thank each and every one of you who has taken the time to speak to me and express your views on issues that are most important for you to be addressed by our city government.
In the following months, I will be publishing my stands on all other issues that I believe to be relevant and welcome any feedback, suggestions, or concerns. Keep in mind that I’m doing this for you, to make a positive difference for our Community and make all our lives a little better. I look forward to hearing from you soon. We’re all in this together… Rafa.
Local Crime and Public Safety:
Increasing public safety and preventing crime is vital to maintaining Miami Beach’s high level of quality of life, for both residents and tourists. Public safety is vital in any thriving city. I don’t think that means we need to become an oppressive police state. What Miami Beach needs is more community policing, with officers patrolling our streets on foot or bikes – getting to know the neighbors and being a beloved part of the community. For their safety as well as ours, I believe we also need to increase the number of police officers, especially in our Miami Beach entertainment district. Miami Beach has some of the highest educational requirements for officers in South Florida. Our cops are highly intelligent people who bring the best to the job every day. In order to further help them succeed, I propose providing them with additional training in the use of deadly force and civil rights laws, to avoid costly profiling and discrimination claims and lawsuits against the city. I support expanding innovative policing tools, like the Miami Beach park ranger program, which over the last 2 years has helped to increase safety in our parks. Over the past year, a lot of the conversation in regards to public safety has been cast in terms of a stark choice. Politicians with poor imagination have made it seem like we can either be safe, or be a world tourist capital. I believe we are great enough to be both. Living in a place where other people vacation might mean increased security challenges, but I believe we can meet those challenges without changing the character of our city. Finally, I believe we do not need to sacrifice our values to achieve safety. Miami Beach stands for racial and cultural diversity, inclusiveness, equality, human rights, freedom of speech and expression, offering a city free from hate, fear, and persecution, to all communities. That's why we love Miami Beach and choose to live here! We cannot let fear take that away from us.
Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise:
As the flooding that often shuts down large parts of our city shows, we are far from reaching an acceptable level in meeting the challenges of sea level rise brought on by climate change. Indeed, stopping sea level rise is an existential battle our community needs to take on in order to survive. We need to do it together: elected officials, experts and residents. I support creating voluntary special taxing districts to finance the projects necessary to fend off sea level rise. Those districts should tax based on property values, a more progressive solution than using water and sewage fees. I also believe we should approach this challenge with the knowledge that we are in this together. While the city so far has focused on expediency, I believe that’s happened to a degree at the expense of buy-in from the community. We all know the need to address sea level rise aggressively. But of course it’s not fair or fun for someone to find out there’s construction going on in the street the day that it starts… or to realize that the newly raised street is actually going to help flood your basement only after it starts raining. Our city government needs more community feedback as it offers a range of options to battle climate change and sea level rise, before moving ahead with any continued construction. Community feedback should be considered by the experts, and taken from both residents and local businesses. Specifically, I believe Miami Beach needs to consider the immediate and long-term impacts of raising streets and installing drainage pumps on existing public areas, and private properties. Miami Beach also needs to provide the public with a timeline for implementation of any new measures, clearly explaining the necessity for them. I know some in our society have given up on the idea that we can truly tackle sea level rise, pointing to how big the problem is compared to the capability of a broken political system at the national and global level. I disagree, and think Miami Beach needs to keep leading the way as a beacon of hope for good policy and better solutions at the local level. We will not surrender to cynicism, but will keep working to keep our city above water.
Cronyism and Special Interest Representation:
Unfortunately, we live in a time where people have very little trust in their government. That is neither healthy nor good for democracy. A lot of the problem comes from the perception that the friends and family of politicians and city bureaucrats get special deals at City Hall, or that donors and supporters of political campaigns have outsize influence. I know that most of the people that work in government are smart and honorable and want to dispel this perception, and that what the public really wants is TRANSPARENCY. I think Miami Beach should be a national leader in this regard, utilizing open data and open-source technology in this effort. I would propose a city ordinance that requires elected officials, their staff, and top administrators like the city manager, planning director and procurement director to keep a record of all meetings they take, in a way that can be easily disclosed electronically. I would then work with tech leaders to find an open data technology solution that automatically discloses on a constant basis the names of people who meet with, call or email these important decision-makers. There are many developers and universities interested in transparent government that would do this work for free or very cheaply. Ultimately, all citizens should know exactly who their leaders are meeting with, how much influence they are having on their government, and if they contribute to campaigns.
Government Corruption, Fraud, Waste and Abuse
Every few years, we have a storyline that repeats itself in Miami Beach. The state attorney or the feds come in and accuse a department director, an assistant city manager, or a city manager of corruption. People are fired, arrested, or resign. The politicians wring their hands about how that behavior is unacceptable, but nothing changes. The feds or the state attorney leaves, and everything quiets down… until the next time.
We are better than this. I believe that as a city, we need to get a handle on government corruption, waste, fraud and abuse. That is why when I’m commissioner, I will work to establish an Office of the Inspector General in the City of Miami Beach, modeled after the county’s office.
This office will have the power to investigate any city agency or project, randomly audit city contracts and programs, and evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of those programs. There are many ways to approach this, but one idea is to have this office work with contractors, vendors and franchisees so that every deal signed with the city includes a financial cost-benefit analysis – one that specifically justifies why a private company can do a particular job better than a city department can.
More generally, this office will be in charge of making sure city contractors, vendors, and franchisees are not unfairly ripping the city off, and will have the power to claw back payments from those companies that are.
Because it will be keeping an eye on the dollars and cents, this office will pay for itself.
I support finding a feasible Baylink solution or a Metromover expansion for elevated rail connecting Downtown Miami to South Beach. We need to find a solution to alleviate continued traffic congestion on our causeways. I do not support any trains at grade level within the city of Miami Beach, as I believe those will make traffic worse. Additionally, for all large development requiring special permits from the city, Miami Beach needs to ensure truly independent traffic impact studies are conducted. To account for conflicts of interest that might arise, I propose having the city determine a pool of acceptable traffic engineers that developers can hire, and require those traffic engineers to certify their methodology meets county and state standards. We need to expand currently available City parking and explore options to relieve areas of present traffic congestion. Miami Beach traffic congestion directly impacts our community’s quality of life. We also need to review and adjust current speed limits on Miami Beach where necessary and possible. Law enforcement of current speed limits is important to maintain Miami Beach neighborhoods safe. New traffic lights and speed bumps should be used as methods to reduce traffic speed. I support a review of existent traffic signage to update it where necessary.
I am against overdevelopment and for smart development. Considering Miami Beach’s space limitations and changing climate, we need to smartly re-develop our community in a way that preserves its historic character.
We have quality people coming in who are landlords and developers who want to see growth in the long term, and we should encourage them. Development needs to prioritize neighborhoods, increases our property values and preserve quality of life for all Miami Beach residents. I stand for maintaining the unique architectural character of Miami Beach. However, I also believe in smart future development of our City: projects that consider and adapt based on traffic impact, the effect on property values of neighboring properties, and the suitability of a project into architectural character of particular neighborhood.
It's a Comeback Story...
Some of you may not know this, but I have been active in my community and in politics since 1999, when I first started working as a 26-year young organizer for Southwest Voter Registration in Los Angeles, CA. In 2000, I became a volunteer attorney for the Gore campaign and since then have volunteered with many other local and national campaigns. In 2001, I returned to Miami Beach and in 2002, I ran as the Democratic Nominee for State Representative, in District 107. Over the years, I have also served as a Guardian ad Litem for abused and neglected children, a big brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami, and a pro-bono attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.
I am running for office now, because I believe that we can’t remain silent in this current era of rising hate, fear, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and bigotry! We need to stand up and fight for all of our people at every level of government. I also know that Miami Beach has very particular issues that need to be dealt with competently and ethically like: traffic, sea-level rise, overdevelopment, littering and pollution, homelessness, short-term rental restrictions, local crime and public safety, education, and others. Considering, that I have lived in Miami Beach, for about 15 years since 1995, I can feel our City, and love it very much! It’s for this reason also that I will always represent its best interest for all of its residents.
I know that I face difficult nine months ahead of me, but I have lived through challenges before that have prepared me for this! As of today, I am a practicing real estate broker and real estate instructor, and have been married since 2009 to my better half, Luciana Velasquez. Together, we have been blessed with our two “Superbabies,” Isabella (6), and Catalina (2). While Isa currently attends Kindergarten at South Pointe Elementary, Cata attends Mia Piccolo Montessori Pre-School in Miami. Like many other parents, I currently am a dedicated member of our PTA, trying to ensure the best quality education for our children. In November 2015, I became part of the Hillary Clinton National Finance Committee, and Latino Finance Council. In September 2016, I became a Press Surrogate for Hillary Clinton and was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Florida Democratic Party. In January 2017, I became Finance Chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.
However, as I mentioned, life hasn’t always been easy for me… In January 2003, I was an outspoken anti-war activist, organizing protests and marches, opposing President Bush’s Iraq invasion. In April 2003, I was arrested by the FBI and indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. In September 2003, a federal jury found me not guilty of fraudulently voting as a non-citizen, but guilty of allegedly lying to a federal immigration agent about my voting history during my naturalization interview in April 2001. In November 2003, I was sentenced to three (3) years of probation, and was ordered to serve 60 days in home detention with an electronic monitor, and thereafter perform 250 hours of community service. Immediately, I resigned my admission to practice law, and closed my immigration law practice. An appeal of my conviction was unsuccessful. In November 2006, I completed service of my sentence and was discharged from supervision. I had complied with all court ordered requirements without any issues or incidents. Although, I still believe that I did not lie to the INS, I also believe very strongly in our legal system and have accepted the jury’s decision and its consequences. In August 2007, President Bush’s U.S. Attorney General, Alberto R. Gonzales, resigned after a Congressional inquiry of his firing of 9 U.S. Attorneys who “had refused back-channeled White House directives to prosecute political enemies.” In October 2014, my civil rights were restored.
I am an immigrant who was crucified in a political prosecution by a corrupt Justice Department. My only crime was speaking up… However, I will continue to speak up and stand up for our community, no matter the consequences. Because in this country, in this America that I love, the consequences of being silent are far worse…
Since 2003, I sold cars, worked in construction, property management, real estate, and for over 3 ½ years drove taxi on South Beach, 6-7 days a week, from 7pm until 7am, every day to make a living until times got better. And it was during those days, as a taxi driver, and not as a lawyer, business man, or political candidate that I met Luciana … Lucy, my wife, partner and soul mate, and both Raul and Nick, arguably two of my closest friends - all as passengers in my taxi. While I am sure, that during any future economic or personal hardships, I will lose many “so-called” friends as I did before, I also know now that Lucy, and my closest friends will always be there with me…
Our time is NOW! If there is an important lesson that life has taught me, then it is to understand, that when the inclusive and uniquely rich character of our community is threatened, we have to stand up and fight for it! That’s why I hope that with your help and support, we can protect our people and make a lasting positive difference for Miami Beach!
Join me – It’s a Comeback Story…
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I'd love to hear about your experiences, concerns, and recommendations for Miami Beach. As Commissioner I will stand up for your interests! Let's find time to meet and talk... You can always reach me directly on cell. 305-303-9098.
400 Alton Rd #311, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Monday - Friday: 9am-11pm