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Miami commissioners set date to decide how to replace Díaz de la Portilla after arrest

Note: This article has been updated to reflect a change to the date and time of the special commission meeting. City officials made the change late Monday night.

Miami commissioners will meet on Saturday, Sept. 23, decide how to fill the District 1 seat left vacant after Alex Díaz de la Portilla was arrested on corruption charges last week.

The remaining four commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. at City Hall to decide whether to appoint a replacement commissioner or hold a special election. Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Díaz de la Portilla on Friday after he was charged with bribery, money laundering, official misconduct, among other charges. Díaz de la Portilla is accused of pushing a proposal to build a sports complex in a city park in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash and hotel rooms.

Read more: Leila and David Centner caught up in Miami commissioner’s corruption scandal

Díaz de la Portilla, first elected to the commission in 2019, says he’s done nothing wrong and claims the charges are politically motivated. He’s scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 13, according to court records.

The city had originally set the special meeting for Monday, Sept. 25, but officials moved the meeting to an earlier date and time after realizing that Monday was Yom Kippur, one of the Jewish High Holidays.

The meeting is set to begin immediately after the qualifying period for the upcoming election closes at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Under the city charter, the commissioners have until the end of the day on Sept. 25 to decide on how to fill the vacant seat. Commissioners could appoint someone to serve through the rest of the term, which ends in November. If they were to appoint someone who has not qualified to run by 6 p.m. Saturday, that appointed commissioner would not be able to run to retain the seat.

Public comments from commissioners indicate it is unclear which direction they will take. Mayor Francis Suarez, who does not have a vote, said in a statement that he will support the commission’s decision but believes that if a special election is called, it should coincide with the Nov. 7 general election.

Still a candidate for re-election, Díaz de la Portilla will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot because about a week before his arrest, he qualified to run to hold onto his District 1 seat. Four challengers have launched campaigns against him: Miguel Angel Gabela, Lowell Kuvin, Francisco Pichel and Marvin Tapia. District 1 includes Allapattah, the Health District, Spring Garden and parts of Little Havana and Flagami.

If Díaz de la Portilla were to win, it wouldn’t be the first time a suspended Miami politician won their old job back in an election.

In 2009, Miami Commissioner Michelle-Spence Jones was arrested and accused of redirecting $50,000 in county funds to family business. Gov. Charlie Crist suspended Spence-Jones, and the commission called a special election. Spence-Jones ran and won that election, and Crist suspended her again.

Spence-Jones was later acquitted, and she returned to her District 5 seat.

When asked if the governor would suspend Díaz de la Portilla again if he won re-election, a DeSantis spokesperson referred a reporter to the suspension order without any further elaboration.

A defiant Miami City Commissioner Alex Diaz De La Portilla speaks to reporters after he was let out of Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center following his arrest on corruption charges in Miami, Florida, on Sept. 14, 2023 - Jose A. Iglesias/jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com
A defiant Miami City Commissioner Alex Diaz De La Portilla speaks to reporters after he was let out of Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center following his arrest on corruption charges in Miami, Florida, on Sept. 14, 2023 - Jose A. Iglesias/jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com