A Miami Dade mayoral candidate is betting her 2020 campaign on the power of identity politics, hoping to win voters in two key ways: first, by working hard to identify herself as a Democrat, even though the mayor’s race is supposed to be non-partisan, and second, by duping some voters into thinking she is Hispanic, even though she most definitely is not.
The last time Miami Dade county was represented by a non-Hispanic mayor was 1993. Stephen P. Clark held the position for 23 years, then term limits for mayor were enacted. A Cuban, Alex Penelas, succeeded Clark, served two terms, then was succeeded by a fellow Cuban, Carlos Alvarez, who was succeeded by current mayor and fellow Cuban, Carlos Gimenez.
On November 3, Miami-Dade voters will choose between Estaban Bovo, another Cuban, and Daniella Levine Cava, who is clearly hoping voters think she might be Cuban. In Miami Dade’s upcoming general election, about 60% or more of the voters are of Hispanic descent.
Being Hispanic obviously has its advantages in a candidate’s ability to connect with the majority of voters in the county. Levine Cava knows this, and even admitted to the Miami Herald that she purposely changed her name from “Levine” to “Levine Cava” to make her seem more “Spanish” to voters. She’s lived in Miami since the 1980’s as simply Daniella Levine. Here’s the Herald’s story:
…Levine Cava [is] the commission’s wealthiest member, with a net worth now topping $6 million thanks to stock holdings and property she owns with her husband, Robert. Though known as Daniella Levine professionally since moving to Miami, the candidate used her more Spanish-sounding name to run for the commission. “I did think it would communicate that I spoke Spanish — even though it’s not a Spanish name, it’s an Italian name,” she said at the time.
But duping voters by playing a controversial name game is only part of Levine Cava’s strategy. She also hopes to turn Miami Dade’s strict non-partisan campaign into a Democrat versus Republican contest because she knows that Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county, even though doing so is illegal. County rules prohibit her from referencing her party affiliation because non-partisan campaign rules prohibit any overt mention of party membership.
The non-partisan nature of Miami Dade’s mayor’s office helps explain why the past two mayors of Miami-Dade County were registered Republicans, yet were still able to find a broad coalition of support across the county. Levine / Cava’s “run as the ‘Hispanic’ Democrat” strategy is further evidenced by the Miami-Dade Democratic Party sponsoring ads in support of Levine Cava bearing their political party disclaimer.
In the primary, Levine / Cava referred to Bovo as a supporter of Donald Trump to convey his partisan affiliation without using the word Republican and avoid violating the law. Voters, especially Hispanics weary of hyper-polarized partisan rhetoric coming nationally from both parties, may reject a candidate who not only isn’t who she pretends to be, but also tries to make the mayor’s office more partisan.
In the end, Miami-Dade County will have to choose between a candidate defined by cultural identity and one hiding behind a Hispanic-sounding name and trying to define herself, against the rules, by party label. The results will be interesting.