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Political shocker: Miami-Dade Commissioner Juan Zapata drops reelection bid


Miami-Dade Commissioner Juan C. Zapata stunned local politicos Friday by dropping his reelection bid in District 11, leaving challenger Joe Martinez a clear path to retake his former seat on the powerful board.

In a letter to the Elections Department delivered by email shortly after 3 p.m. Friday, the first-term commissioner and former state lawmaker wrote “the time has now come for me to pursue other endeavors in my life.” The exit comes so late that Zapata’s name will remain on the Aug. 30 ballot, forcing Miami-Dade’s elections department to print a notice for voters that the incumbent is no longer an eligible candidate.

“I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you and the hard working elections staff,” Zapata wrote in his letter.

The abrupt withdrawal by Zapata, 49, took County Hall insiders by surprise and instantly positioned Martinez as the likely successor to a suburban commission seat he surrendered in 2012 for a failed mayoral bid. A critic of Zapata’s push for incorporating West Kendall into its own city and re-branding the area as the “West End,” Martinez said he had wrongly been considered the underdog in the contest.

“Inside baseball may tell you something,” he said of the conventional wisdom that had Zapata winning. “But the people who matter — the people who vote — tell you something different.”

Of the seven incumbent commissioners up for reelection this year, only Zapata was seen as facing a competitive race. Martinez held the District 11 seat for 12 years before Zapata succeeded him four years ago. In March, a private poll of 455 likely voters in the district found Martinez within six points of the incumbent, according to a source involved in conducting it, and a political committee backing Martinez has raised $67,000 from notables that include developers Wayne Rosen and Ed Easton.

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