In a city plagued by scandal, a native son is knocking on the door of history to offer a new direction.
Longtime activist Damian Pardo is asking Miami voters to help him right the ship. Pardo is campaigning for a seat on the city commission during a time when more than half of the governing body is either under investigation or arrested.
“Miami is dealing with so much corruption,” said Pardo. “Corruption and its impact with connected insiders on development is probably the No. 1 issue across the district.”
Pardo is one of seven candidates in the District 2 race. The coastal district covers the Upper East Side, downtown, Brickell and historic Coconut Grove and generates 70% of the city’s revenue.
“I’ve been in the district for 52 years,” said the 60-year-old Pardo, who lives in Morningside. “I grew up in Coconut Grove. I know it really well, backwards and forwards. This is an enormous district, and it has not been represented well.”
Sabina Covo won a special election for the District 2 seat in February. Covo, a former journalist, served as director of media relations for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services under former commissioner Nikki Fried, now chair of the Florida Democratic Party.
“My opponent actually derives a secondary income from a developer,” Pardo said. “Her campaign is flush with connected insiders and special interests at the City of Miami.”
In contrast, Pardo touts his ability to build durable organizations that unite communities. In 1993, he founded SAVE (Safeguarding American Values for Everyone), which today is undoubtedly Miami's premier LGBT political advocacy organization.
In 2015, Pardo co-founded 4Ward Miami, sponsor of the annual Gay Ocho Festival in Little Havana, an event that has grown into one of the largest diversity and inclusion festivals in the country.
Both SAVE and 4Ward Miami were created at pivotal moments when public sentiment was skeptical, Pardo said.
“I’ve proven that I am a transformational leader,” he said.
Considerably more conservative than Miami Beach, the City of Miami has never elected an out LGBT candidate, but Pardo could shatter the lavender ceiling.
“I’m competitive and doing well and I think that has taken people by surprise,” he said. “I couldn’t have done this 15 years ago.”
Pardo is also keenly aware his opponents are more than happy to cast him as a single-issue candidate.
“LGBTQ is where my roots are, but I have done a lot of intersectional work,” he said, citing issues involving the environment, public health, arts and policing.
With a background in finance and a Master’s in Management from the University of Miami School of Business, Pardo said he has the mindset to handle the city’s billion dollar budget.
“My ability to be an analytical thinker, especially during these times, will help bring progress to the district,” he said.
The election is Nov. 7 with absentee ballots hitting the mail soon. Most indications point to a low turnout with a runoff likely, Pardo said.
“Some folks estimate that you could win the election with just 2,500 votes,” he said. “There’s almost 50,000 voters in our district. Every vote really counts. If you live in the district, go out and vote because it will count.”