South Florida as a melting pot isn’t a new concept. For most who have grown up here, or have children in area schools, seeing (or being a part of) families that merge religions, ethnicities and skin colors is par for the course. But Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez can trump them all.
“My father was Jewish, my mother was Southern Baptist and I married a Catholic from Argentina,” says Rosen Gonzalez. “I hit all the bases because I am a product of this district.”
And that district (Florida’s 27th congressional district) plays a large part in Rosen Gonzalez’s future. In April, the first-term commissioner became the first Democrat to file to run for Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s Congressional seat in 2018, hoping to take her reputation as the “People’s Commissioner” all the way to Washington. But first… some background.
Born of a true Miami Beach love story (her Romanian father met her 42-years-younger mother in the lobby of the Fontainebleau Hotel), Rosen Gonzalez attended Tufts University and spent time working as a journalist before earning a Master’s Degree in Communication at Barry University. After her divorce the single mother made the leap to teaching, spending a year at Miami Central High School, at the time an “F” school. “It was a learning experience for me,” she says of her time teaching 11th and 12th grade. “It taught me that education is the path to social equality.”
One year later Rosen Gonzalez joined the faculty of Miami Dade College’s Kendall campus, a move that would ultimately fuel her political aspirations. “The year I started working, I went to Tallahassee to lobby because they were cutting Miami Dade College’s budget and our teachers’ pensions,” she says. “We had all this logical data, and all the legislators nodded at us, and then they cut our pensions anyway. I was really upset because policies were being passed that were not in anyone’s best interests.” Motivated by her experience, Rosen Gonzalez dove headfirst into Miami Beach politics. “I put on a backpack and walked the whole city,” she says. “By the end of the campaign, no matter where I was, everyone knew me. The whole city knew me. It was a beautiful campaign, and we were able to win with very little money because we had something the other side didn’t—we had a big heart.”
Since joining the city commission Rosen Gonzalez has put good use to the skills she built in her life as both writer and teacher, explaining that not only is she able to better communicate her own ideas to voters in her district, but to understand what they need from her. “As a journalist you learn to listen, and any good politician knows that listening is one of the most important skills to win a campaign,” says Rosen Gonzalez. Her constituents were at top of mind when she led a 2016 referendum to defeat a potential Convention Center Hotel. “It was a huge, out-of-scale skyscraper that would have flooded Miami Beach with 1,000 extra hotel rooms,” she says. “It is easy to win when you are on the right side of the battle. That deal was bad not just for the residents, but for the entire hospitality industry.”
Looking ahead, Rosen Gonzalez is looking to make climate change and mass transit a priority in her agenda, explaining that as South Floridians “our very existence depends on it.” Says the candidate, “We complain about traffic and congestion and healthcare, but from a macro-level, if we don’t have the funding to install infrastructure throughout Miami Dade County, there will be constant flooding.”
Read the full article on the Florida Villager, here.