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Former Miami-Dade commissioner running for mayor in 2020


Juan Zapata, a former Miami-Dade commissioner who abruptly dropped his reelection bid in 2016, says he plans to run for county mayor in 2020. 

The former state lawmaker said he's planning to run a campaign based on the need to make county government more innovative and efficient. During his four years on the commission representing part of Miami-Dade's western suburbs, he was a top critic of the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is barred by term-limit rules from running again in 2020.

"Honestly, I'm running for mayor because I believe people who live here deserve better from their county government," Zapata said Monday. 

Zapata, a Republican, became the first Colombian-American elected to the commission when he won the District 11 seat vacated by Joe Martinez to run for mayor in 2012.  Martinez lost to Gimenez in 2012. When Martinez opted to challenge Zapata in 2016 for this old seat, Zapata eventually withdrew from the race so late that his name still appeared on the ballot. Martinez won the election, becoming Zapata's successor and predecessor for the Kendall-area seat. Zapata blamed his withdrawal on frustration with county government. 

While commissioner, Zapata cast himself as a reformer, urging Miami-Dade to pursue private-sector deals, modernize technology and expand scrutiny on finances and procurement. He pushed rebranding the West Kendall area into the "West End," renaming county buildings and commissioning a marketing strategy that sought to characterize the area a bucolic neighborhood far removed from the congestion of the Miami area.

Some residents resisted the idea, and Martinez reversed the initiative after taking office. Martinez also scrapped Zapata's effort to create a new city in West Kendall. In 2015, Zapata also returned about $30,000 in tuition money that Miami-Dade was going to cover as he pursued a masters in public administration at Harvard University. The county's ethics commission later concluded Zapata broke no rules in using district funds to pay for the tuition.