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Council member announces Miami Lakes candidacy to replace mayor arrested by FBI

@PatriciaMazzei @Paradise_Afshar

Miami Lakes Council member Nelson Hernandez plans to run for mayor of the northwest Miami-Dade town in an upcoming special election to replace Michael Pizzi, who was arrested by the FBI last week on corruption charges.

Hernandez said Sunday that he intends to resign from his council office Monday morning in order to qualify for the special mayoral election, becoming the first announced candidate for the post. Acting Mayor Ceasar Mestre, who had said he planned to seek the seat, changed his mind over the weekend.

The town is expected to set an Oct. 1 special election at a special meeting Tuesday.

"It really puts a black eye on the town," Hernandez told the Miami Herald on Sunday of Pizzi's downfall. "Cleaning up Miami Lakes is going to be one of my priorities." 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott suspended Pizzi and Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño last Tuesday after both were charged with accepting cash kickbacks as part of a federal-grant scheme in an undercover FBI operation. Two lobbyists, Jorge Forte and Richard Candia, were also arrested.

Pizzi declared his innoncence Saturday in a statement to the Herald and El Nuevo Herald, saying he would fight the charges in court and return to the mayor's office.

In the meantime, the town's charter requires that a special election take place within 90 days because there were more than six months left in Pizzi's four-year term. He was reelected to office last year.

Mestre, the acting mayor, sent a text message Sunday to town council members telling them he no longer intended to run for the office.

"Due to my need to provide financial stability to my family, this is not the right time for me to run for mayor," Mestre said in the text message. He wished good luck to any of his colleagues planning to run and reminded them that they have until 10 a.m. Monday to turn in their resignations.

"I am not going to let my ego put my family in jeopardy," Mestre said in an interview with the Herald on Sunday. He has not decided whom to endorse in the upcoming race.

Hernandez, a Republican, said he will be endorsed by two council members sitting out the nonpartisan mayoral contest. One, according to Hernandez, is Council member Tim Dalbert. Though Hernandez said he also has the support of Vice Mayor Manny Cid, Cid told the Herald he does not plan to endorse until the candidate qualifying period is over.

Hernandez has also received the support of state Sen. René García and state Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. and Jose Oliva, all Hialeah Republicans, Hernandez said.

Hernandez, who was first elected in 2010, said he will run on a platform to better Miami Lakes' quality of life by following through on plans to address flooding in the town's west side and to revitalize the town's main street. He also wants Miami Lakes to explore ways to eliminate property taxes for residents, a long-shot idea he proposed earlier this year that was shelved because it's likely not feasible.

"The town is in dire need of leadership," he said. "I bring new ideas and a fresh vision."