Coral Gables mayor recall group says it has enough signatures to advance to next stage

The group petitioning to recall Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago said Friday that it has collected enough signatures to advance to the next stage in the process, moving one step closer to a special election on the issue.

Late Friday afternoon, members of the End the Corruption political committee dropped off 1,719 signatures at the city clerk’s office. In order to advance to the next phase, they need 1,650 verified signatures, which represents 5% of the city’s approximately 33,000 registered voters in the most recent municipal election, according to the city clerk. The clerk conducted a preliminary count of the signatures Friday night.

The signatures will now go to the county Elections Department for verification, marking the next step in a contentious battle between two political factions in the City Beautiful following an election last April in which two candidates defeated opponents with the mayor’s endorsement and other establishment support.

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“How do I feel? Very relieved, very grateful,” End the Corruption chairwoman Maria Cruz said at City Hall on Friday afternoon.

Cruz was joined by attorney David Winker, who is the registered agent for the political committee. Winker noted that Lago was reelected without opposition last year.

“And I think that this is residents kind of clapping back a little bit saying, like, no, we’re unhappy with the direction that the city is going,” Winker said. “I think that this is evidence of that.”

In a statement released on Instagram late Friday afternoon, Lago said the recall effort “is being pursued by special interests who want to control the future of our city.”

“These pay-to-play interests are falsely portraying the recall as a resident-driven process, but the reality is far from that,” he added.

On Friday night, city spokeswoman Martha Pantin said that law enforcement is investigating the canvassing effort, though she did not provide more details about the matter. Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Lissette Valdes-Valle confirmed in an email that the office is “looking at it with FDLE,” the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Winker said he had not been notified of an investigation.

“No one affiliated with the recall has received any inquiry from law enforcement,” Winker said. He added: “I welcome any investigation because everything about the recall is being done in full compliance with the law.”

If the Elections Department verifies that the group gathered enough signatures, it will have another 60 days to collect more signatures — this time from 15% of the city’s registered voters, or about 4,950 people. If the group meets that threshold, the recall could go to a special election.

End the Corruption began collecting signatures in mid-March when it launched the recall effort accusing Lago of “misfeasance and malfeasance” in part because of his business ties with embattled developer Rishi Kapoor.

Earlier this week, the recall group, as well as Lago’s political committee, submitted campaign finance reports for the first quarter of 2024. Those reports showed End the Corruption raised $50,000 in what the mayor described as “dark money” funding, with the individual donor names obscured. Coral Gables First, which is Lago’s political committee, didn’t raise any money but spent nearly $125,000 in the first quarter, according to the reports.