Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday evening signed an executive order suspending Miami City Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla following his Thursday arrest on a host of corruption charges, including money laundering and bribery.
State law allows the governor to remove elected officials from office if they have been arrested for a felony or misdemeanor related to their duties in office.
The removal is effective immediately.
In an email statement issued Friday night, Díaz de la Portilla took aim at the governor.
“Governor DeSantimonious should be suspending the left-wing Democrat prosecutor who he hand-picked to file these trumped-up charges against me,” Díaz de la Portilla said. “I’m not surprised by his action given my strong support for Donald Trump for President, but his 15 minutes of fame will soon be over after his betrayal of Donald Trump, who got him elected.”
Díaz de la Portilla’s lawyer, Benedict Kuehne, said in a written statement that the commissioner is “disappointed by the Governor’s reactive decision to issue the suspension based on a political prosecution.”
“Without even giving the Commissioner’s legal team an opportunity to demonstrate the serious errors in the charges,” Kuehne continued, “the Governor has played into the hands of those who believe they can disrupt the democratic process. Commissioner Díaz de la Portilla is committed to continuing to serve his community as he fights to right this injustice.”
City Hall officials were caught off guard by the news that the governor had suspended the commissioner, who is up for reelection in November. The governor’s order landed a day after Díaz de la Portilla was arrested. That’s a swift move in comparison to the governor’s suspension last year of former Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez, which happened about three weeks after Martinez’s arrest.
Díaz de la Portilla, 58, who was elected to the city commission in 2019, is a former state legislator with a decades-long political career. He faces one count of money laundering; three counts of unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior; one count of bribery; one count of criminal conspiracy; four counts of official misconduct; one count of campaign contributions in excess of legal limits, and two counts of failure to report a gift.
City commissioners react
City commissioners now have 10 days to decide if they will appoint a replacement or call for a special election to decide who will fill the District 1 seat.
Through a spokeswoman, Mayor Francis Suarez didn’t indicate a preference about whether the vacancy should be filled through an appointment or a special election. However, he noted that — should the commission choose the election route — it should coincide with the November election.
“The decision to appoint a new member of the city commission or call for a special election rests at the hands of the city commission,” said spokeswoman Stephanie Severino. ”To that end, the Mayor will support the decision made by his fellow elected officials. However, given the proximity to the November election, the Mayor believes that if the commission decides to call for a special election, they should make every effort to hold it at the same time as the general election as a cost savings option for our residents.“
In an interview Friday night, District 3 Commissioner Joe Carollo said it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on the charges against Díaz de la Portilla. But he did weigh in on how he thinks the commission should proceed.
“From what I know at this point in time, I think that the decision that we have to make, the responsible decision, is to name someone,” he said.
Commissioner Sabina Covo of District 2 issued a written statement.
“Trust in government is paramount and any elected official who undermines that trust does grave harm to democracy,” Covo said. “I ran for city commissioner, and was elected by our residents, to restore faith and honesty to city hall. Yesterday’s news reaffirms that commitment as we MUST all lead with integrity and transparency.”
Regarding the suspension, District 4 Commissioner Manolo Reyes said that “this is normal practice for situations of this type and we must allow the justice process to take its course as well.”
Commission Chairwoman Christine King, who represents District 5, did not immediately respond to the Herald’s requests for comment.
Díaz de la Portilla’s District 1 includes Allapattah, the Health District, Spring Garden and parts of Flagami and Little Havana.