UM Democrats host local candidates to preview 2024 election

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava speaks to students during UDems campaign forum. Photo Courtesy of University of Miami Democrats

The Shalala Student Center quickly filled up with students this past Thursday who were eager to meet three of Miami’s very own politicians.

The event, hosted by the University of Miami College Democrats (UDems), was a public forum in which candidates previewed their campaigns for students and faculty alike.

Candidates included current Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, former representative Cindy Lerner and Miami-Dade County Schools board member Lucia Baez-Geller.

“I hope this event makes students realize that their voice really does matter,” said Frantz Blanc, a junior and member of UDems. “The efforts to help potential elected officials really does matter.”

The event kicked off with powerful words from Geller, who is running for Congress in Florida’s 27th District.

The daughter of immigrants from Colombia and Cuba, Geller’s story does not fit the typical politician narrative. She was raised in Section 8 housing by a single mother who worked multiple jobs at once to support her daughter.

Despite these adversities, Geller excelled in school and would go on to receive a full scholarship to go to college.

“People can try to take everything away from you,” said Geller. “The one thing they can never take is your education.”

The entirety of the district Geller is running for, as she noted in the event, is 73.2% Hispanic/Latino and largely considered a swing district, meaning a Republican or a Democratic candidate could win the congressional race.

“I do it for my daughter. I cannot live in a world where she is going to have less freedom than I have,” Geller said.

After the emotional speech from Geller, students heard from Cindy Lerner who formerly served in the Florida House of Representatives.

After spending sixteen years advocating for Florida’s children in the foster care system, Lerner realized that the system was dysfunctional for the families it was supposed to be serving.

“When you are passionate about an issue, you need to communicate it with the people making decisions,” Lerner said.

Lerner is running for County Commissioner of District 7, which stretches from Kendall to Key Biscayne.

Given that Lerner’s district is also surrounded by water and a variety of climate change issues, she strives to protect it using her political platform.

“Many cities don’t have a clue about climate change,” Lerner said. “We all need to be on the same page in this county.”

Shortly after Lerner, Mayor Cava took the stage, prompting loud cheers from students attending the campaign forum.

In 1996, Cava founded Catalyst Miami, a non-profit organization that strives to foster economic, gender and racial justice in Miami-Dade County. After spending years leading the organization, Cava realized that she wanted to make change instead of advocating for it.

At age 59, Cava first ran for Miami-Dade County Commissioner, where she beat the incumbent by a mere 4%.

“It was like being in a candy store,” Cava said to the audience. “I was fighting for stuff and now I was in government and could actually change the laws.”

As the first woman and first person of Jewish descent to serve as the city’s mayor, Cava has used her social work expertise to advocate for residents of Miami-Dade.

Mayor Cava is running for re-election and will appear on the primary ballot in August 2024.

“People learned that you could lead like a woman,” said Cava. “If there is something that needs to be done and you have the ability to do it, it’s your obligation to do it.”

After months of planning, UDems felt they successfully hosted their biggest event of the year.

“Our goal is to be more civically engaged, because Florida is a swing state,” said Cecilia Llamas-Ramirez, co-president of the club. “It’s make or break.”