Viernes Culturales Leader Marvin Tapia Joins Miami City Commission Race | Miami New Times


Mr. Miami Marvin Jumps Into District 1 Commission Race

"We're all tired of the way that the city has been going for the longest time," Marvin Tapia tells New Times.
Over the years, Marvin Tapia has made a name for himself as a relentless promoter of Little Havana and local businesses.
Over the years, Marvin Tapia has made a name for himself as a relentless promoter of Little Havana and local businesses. Photo by Marvin Tapia
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Marvin Tapia, AKA Mr. Miami Marvin, has thrown his hat into the ring to challenge Alex Díaz de la Portilla in the November election for the City of Miami's District 1 seat, saying he wants to be a "fighter for the people" on a city commission that he deems to be largely indifferent to residents' gripes.

Tapia, the chairman of Miami-Dade County's Hispanic Affairs Advisory Board and spokesperson for Little Havana's monthly street festival Viernes Culturales on Calle Ocho, announced today he has filed to unseat incumbent and longtime Miami politician Díaz de la Portilla.

"We're all tired of the way that the city has been going for the longest time," Tapia, who has lived in the district for decades, tells New Times. "After speaking with many residents, nonprofits, and stakeholders, we're just not happy. I feel like I'm being propelled by our residents and business owners to take this step."

Tapia tells New Times a seed was planted about a year ago that he should venture into politics and run for the city commission. He felt it was the next logical step in his civil activism, so he began meeting with local nonprofits and residents to find out what they wanted to be addressed within the city.

"They can't afford where they're living. They can't afford groceries, gas. I mean, everything has gone up, and nothing is being shown for it."

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"Residents voiced concerns over the rising cost of living, gentrification, and the over-development plaguing certain neighborhoods, especially Little Santo Domingo," he says. "The residents have told me that they feel they are being pushed out...something along the lines of Wynwood and Little Havana, and I have experience in that exact matter."

"They're nervous their cost of living is going up. They don't have work. They can't afford where they're living. They can't afford groceries or gas. Everything has gone up, and nothing is being shown for it. Nothing is being done for them."

Though he's new to politics, Tapia has made a name for himself as a relentless promoter of Little Havana and local businesses.

Before Jimmy Butler played for the Miami Heat, Tapia took the NBA superstar around Little Havana to try Cuban coffee and play dominoes at Domino Park in 2019. The tour may have helped seal the deal for Butler, who later joined the Heat through a sign-and-trade with the Philadelphia 76ers.

In April, Tapia appeared on the Peacock show Leguizamo Does America where he showed actor John Leguizamo and viewers what Little Havana has to offer as a cultural melting pot.

"The city of Miami is its people, plain and simple," Tapia says. "The people and the cultures that have called Miami home or why it's so unique. I love to build community, so Little Havana is ground zero as the cultural hub for the city. It's predominately Cuban, but as time has passed, Little Havana has become a cultural hub of Central Americans, of all different cultures that live here beautifully, and I feel they've embraced."

Tapia's run comes at a tumultuous time for the city commission on the heels of a messy court battle with the American Civil Liberties Union over claims of blatant racial gerrymandering in the district voting maps — a dispute that recently reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

In July, a jury entered a $63 million verdict against Commissioner Joe Carollo in a lawsuit alleging that he retaliated against Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla's local business over a political vendetta. The lawsuit included allegations that Carollo targeted the Viernes Culturales festival and sought to replace it to get back at Fuller, who has worked with Tapia as a board member for the event.

Before his advocacy in Little Havana, Colombia-born Tapia, who was raised in Miami, worked at UPS and as a club promoter at night while taking classes at Miami Dade College.

After retiring from his corporate job, he started working with local chefs and restaurants to showcase small businesses under the moniker Mr. Miami Marvin. That led him to team up with the original pastry chef and cofounder of the Salty, formerly known as the Salty Donut, during their second week in business. He eventually became an investor and a core shareholder in the company.

At the time, he was also doing community work within Miami and with local nonprofits.

"My friend Suzy Batlle, owner of Azucar, said, 'Hey, you should be part of the Viernes Culturales board,' the organization that celebrates the cultural diversity of Little Havana," Tapia tells New Times. "When the board heard of me, I was voted in, and I was the first board member since the board was founded that was not invested financially in the neighborhood. I was just an active community member."

Tapia, who also created a small investment group named after his son, later became the spokesperson for Viernes Culturales. Five months ago, he was selected as chairman of the Hispanic Affairs Advisory Board, which represents the Hispanic community in Miami-Dade County.

"I just became this ambassador for Little Havana, the City of Miami, and the residents," he adds. "It's just what I have always loved. I feel very well connected to the neighborhood, to the city, and its people."

Tapia says he hopes to bring back the traditional meaning of "public servant" with an ear to the residents' day-to-day complaints while riding out the corruption and dysfunction at city hall.

He faces an uphill battle in his bid to unseat Díaz de la Portilla, who is popular among conservative Cuban-American voters in his district and secured 60 percent of the vote in his 2019 runoff. Though city commission elections are nonpartisan, Díaz de la Portilla served in the Florida statehouse as a Republican for more than 15 years. He was the Florida Senate majority leader from 2008 to 2010.

Tapia says a nonprofit with which he is affiliated has tried, to no avail, to get a meeting with the District 1 commissioner for more than two years.

"I want to serve the public," Tapia tells New Times. "I want them to know that they can talk to me, and I'm going to be approachable. I'm here to listen to them."
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