Opa-locka commissioner is first elected Dominican

caines | 3/28/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Veteran car salesman, Luis Santiago, now selling City on his ideas Late last year, the citizens of Opa-locka were faced with a dilemma: eight people, including three former mayors and two incumbents were among the candidates for the City Commission. But only two seats were available. In the end, neither of the incumbents, Gail Miller or Rose Tydus, were re-elected. Joseph Kelley, 51, pastor of Holy Temple Missionary Baptist Church garnered the most votes with 22 percent. He entered the race with the most experience in politics, serving as commissioner from 2004 to 2006 and as Opa-lockas mayor from 2004 to 2010. But the person that came in second place may have been more of a surprise. Luis Santiago, 52, took 16 percent of the vote to gain a seat on the commission in his first bid at public office. And in a city that is 62 percent Black and 33.5 percent Hispanic, Santiago, a car salesman at H&G Auto Sales of Hialeah, has become the first Dominican to be elected to public office in the State of Florida. Ive been in the U.S. for 40 years and in South Florida for 13 years but the Dominican Republic is my native country and Im proud to be the first Dominican to be elected in Florida, he said. I worked very hard and went out into the Black community so that they would get to know me and what I hoped to bring to the commission and our City. The Black community gave me their support and their vote. Santiago says he spent less than $4,000 on his campaign showing that one can be still be successful running an old-fashioned grass roots campaign. Since I came on the commission, I have been pushing for more public and private industry, he said. And then we have to do a much better job at reducing crime and making our streets and neighborhoods safer. Santiago can be tough to understand, as he still speaks with a heavy accent. Still, in a city that is one-third Hispanic and growing, being bi-lingual will undoubtedly be an asset. I think there will continue to be more opportunities for minorities, Blacks and Hispanics but we have to be prepared when the next election cycle begins, he added. Santiago says he is the first Hispanic elected to office in Opa-locka in the past 28 years. And he adds that he has no plans to give up his car salesman job. I just sold two cars yesterday its a living and I enjoy it, he said. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com