A suspended City of Miami commissioner is seeking last-minute action from a civil court judge to be declared himself the winner of a recent city commission election ahead of a Tuesday runoff.
An attorney for Alex Diaz de la Portilla filed a lawsuit Monday afternoon to declare Diaz de la Portilla’s opponent, Miguel Gabela, ineligible to run for office. By default, he also seeks to be declared the winner of Miami’s District 1 commission seat.
“As part of the action to contest the election, Plaintiff seeks Injunctive relief to … declare Diaz de la Portilla the outright winner of the primary, having obtained a majority of the votes once the ballots for Gabela are removed from consideration,” the complaint reads. “Plaintiff further seeks injunctive relief to not count the results of the November 21, 2023 runoff election.”
Diaz de la Portilla contests the results of the City of Miami’s November 7 primary election, where Gabela came in second place against Diaz de la Portilla for the District 1 commission seat. His complaint alleges that Gabela did not live in District 1 for a full year before qualifying, and he therefore does not meet the city’s residency requirements to run for office.
The City of Miami had a similar claim against Gabela. A judge ruled in Gabela’s favor earlier this month.
Gabela’s home on NW South River Drive was carved out of District 1 when the city changed its districts map this past June. Gabela moved into an apartment in Allapattah — which is in District 1 — in August to qualify for the election.
Gabela filed suit in civil court asking a judge to declare he was eligible for the District 1 commission race. In response, the City of Miami filed a counterclaim arguing that because he did not live in the district for one continuous year, he was not qualified to run.
Circuit Court Judge Pedro Echarte ruled in Gabela’s favor because he was only out of the district owing to the city’s actions. When the city appealed the ruling, a three-judge appeals court panel affirmed Echarte’s decision and Gabela’s candidacy.
In an opinion filed on Monday, the Third District Court of Appeal argued that the Miami City Charter does not require a candidate to live in the district they’re running in for one continuous year.
“The plain language of the City’s district residency requirement doesn’t require continuous residency, or residency immediately preceding qualification,” the appeals panel wrote. “On the record before us, and the trial court, there’s no dispute that Gabela lived within district one for more than one year prior to qualifying.”
Diaz de la Portilla’s complaint against Gabela states that the City of Miami intends to request a rehearing on the appeal decision, though no such request is reflected in the online docket.
“The City of Miami is seeking an en bancrehearing of the decision,” the complaint reads.
Despite Gabela’s double court victory, Diaz de la Portilla nonetheless believes he will prevail with his own suit.
“Gabela is a fraudster who is pretending he lives in District 1. He does not and we have evidence,” Diaz de la Portilla told WLRN when reached via text.
When asked what evidence he was referring to, Diaz de la Portilla said those details would be hashed out in court.
“The evidence can only be used in a courtroom. We win big tomorrow [sic] so the point may be moot by 7pm,” he wrote.
Juan Carlos Planas, Gabela’s attorney in his candidacy lawsuit, said this new lawsuit will not hold water.
“I believe the lawsuit is obviously without merit based on how the Third District Court of Appeal ruled. It’s a sign they believe they’re losing, which is why they filed this,” Planas told WLRN.
Diaz de la Portilla was suspended from his seat as District 1 Commissioner in September, following his arrest on multiple charges including bribery, official misconduct, and money laundering.
Despite the controversy, Diaz de la Portilla still garnered 36.6% of the vote on Nov. 7, securing a spot in the runoff against Gabela on Nov. 21.
The other defendants in Diaz de la Portilla’s lawsuit, aside from Gabela, are: Miami City Clerk Todd Hannon, Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Christina White, and the City of Miami elections canvassing board.
The complaint is awaiting a procedural correction before it is officially processed with the circuit court and appears on the online docket.