By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
In 1987 Seijas (who went by her married surname for years) became the first Cuban-American woman elected to the Hialeah City Council. After serving on the council for five years, Seijas got her shot at a higher office when a 1993 court ruling forced the county to elect commissioners from single-member districts to increase minority representation. Seijas raised close to $100,000 and outspent three opponents to secure her spot on the dais. In 1996 she was re-elected without opposition, and in 2000 she soundly beat former Republican state Sen. Roberto Casas.
In 2004 Seijas easily won re-election against three marginal candidates. "I sit here today because of the will of the people in my district," she said recently.
She has done well financially during her time on the commission. Today she is vice president of government relations for the YMCA, earning a $52,499 annual salary. According to her most recent financial disclosure, Seijas also receives $33,517 in commission salary and executive benefits, plus $18,631 from social security. Since 2001, her net worth has more than doubled: from $186,014 to $395,324 last year. She listed as assets her home in Hialeah and a property in Coral Springs that she says are worth a combined $181,810. (According to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser, her two-bedroom house had a market value of $149,640 in 2005 and is worth $202,000 today.)
Seijas has also become a political powerhouse. One supporter is Robaina, who benefited from the commissioner's support during his successful 2005 campaign against Casas. "During Hurricane Wilma, she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me, helping residents," Robaina boasts. "She had the unions out here putting up blue tarps, passing out supplies. She delivers for Hialeah."
Indeed Seijas this spring championed Robaina's request on behalf of a group of private builders including Armando Codina to open up 1100 acres for industrial parks and offices. The planned construction was outside the urban development boundary a state-mandated limit that prevents urban sprawl and protects the Everglades. On April 19, Seijas voted in favor of the plan and three other developers' schemes to build beyond the UDB. (The proposals were killed by other commissioners.)
Seijas has also "stood shoulder-to-shoulder" with the Dade County Farm Bureau, a 3500-member group of South Dade land owners who, among other things, advocate for opening agricultural land for development. She recently gave the group $10,000 from her commission office discretionary fund for marketing. On November 17, the bureau hosted a fundraiser that raised $8000 to fight the recall. "We've found her to be very reasonable and accessible," relays executive director Katie Edwards. "She has gone above and beyond to hear our concerns."
But some members of the public have seen Seijas's darker side.
For example, during a June 15, 2005 committee meeting to discuss the police department's use of Tasers on rowdy minors, Seijas recollected that some black onlookers had once mocked her at a commission meeting. When African-American Baptist minister Bishop Victor T. Curry (who was chosen just a month ago as leader of the Miami-Dade NAACP) responded that those individuals were not members of his congregation, Seijas snapped back: "Some of them looked like you." She also referred to blacks in the audience as "you people."
An infuriated Curry stormed out of the commission chamber. On his radio program later that day, the pastor dubbed the commissioner "Natacha Millan Racist Seijas."
Faye Davis, who was also present for the diatribe, compares Seijas's use of the term you people to "calling me a nigger ...," and adds, "[The commissioner] is everything that is wrong with Miami-Dade County." Davis is a past president of the Progressive Firefighters Association, which accuses the county of hiring too few blacks for the fire department.
Adds Overtown activist Marva Lightbourne: "To me she's no better than [disgraced former state Rep. Ralph] Arza."
The commissioner doesn't offend only blacks. At 4:10 a.m. on September 19, 2002, then-county commission Chairwoman Gwen Margolis was trying to wrap up a marathon budget hearing, but Seijas kept clucking about a shortfall for an elderly meals program.
Margolis asked Seijas to stop.
"You know, today is the day you might just leave here in a body bag," Seijas hissed. Then she repeated it. A visibly frightened Margolis gulped down medicine for high blood pressure.
Though prosecutors concluded Seijas did not mean to harm Margolis, and the commissioner later sent a letter of apology, Margolis recently donated $300 to the recall PAC.
And Seijas has been at the center of several other controversies:
In 1995 former county manager, lobbyist, and Seijas confidante Sergio Pereira introduced the commissioner to his client Cynthia Lazarus, owner of Bella Bagno, a company pitching a state-of-the-art contraption that, with the push of a button, would automatically dispense a clear plastic sleeve around a toilet seat. Later that year, the commission approved a no-bid purchase for 625 of the high-tech commodes at $8219 per seat.
Between 1996 and 1998, Seijas racked up $19,450 in taxpayer-funded trips across the continental United States and around the globe, including a $4300 trip to Madrid and Seville.
In 1997 Seijas intervened on behalf of Odebrecht Contractors of Florida in the company's dispute with county officials regarding cost overruns for a garage at Miami International Airport. The commissioner helped negotiate a favorable settlement for Odebrecht for $3.2 million. The Brazilian-based construction firm remains one of Seijas's biggest supporters, donating $50,000 to her employer's 90th-anniversary gala last month. Odebrecht CEO Gilberto Neves, who donated the maximum individual contribution to Seijas's last two campaigns, also served as the YMCA event's chairman.