Daniella Levine Cava: Miami’s Matriarch
The last ten months have been rough, to say the least. Our communities have endured great harm time and time again. Yes, COVID-19 has been integral to this harm, but, in addition to this historic virus, white supremacy and racism have had devastating impacts across the United States. For this reason, the stakes for the November 2020 election were exceptionally high. And through the dark cloud of social and political unrest, a shining light emerged: Daniella Levine Cava, the new mayor of Miami-Dade County, Florida.
Daniella Levine Cava, to whom I affectionately refer as “DLC,” made history during this election cycle. Not only is she the first woman to ever hold this position in Miami-Dade County, she is also the first Jewish woman to hold this position, and the first Democrat in power since 2004. Previous to her victory, men (mostly conservative men at that) had indefinitely occupied this mayoral position. Regardless of this colloquial protocol, DLC was able to reign victorious in all of her progressive glory—a victory that is particularly significant to me as an American Jewish woman.
I find DLC’s place as a politician in Miami-Dade County, a surprisingly traditionalist community, utterly compelling. When outsiders think of my hometown, they usually conjure up images of spring breakers carousing the white-sand beaches, skimpy outfits, and consumption of illicit substances. While these perceptions may be somewhat accurate, there’s also a strong conservative undertone amongst locals that usually conquers our county’s politics. One frequently referenced reason for this trend is the large Cuban population of Miami, which historically has favored the Republican party. Every mayor previous to DLC has been male and, more often than not, right-leaning. Nevertheless, a progressive Jewish woman overcame this convention and won her mayoral campaign. This is DLC.
Previous to this election, Daniella Levine Cava served as a county commissioner and worked tirelessly on issues regarding economic welfare and physical safety. In 2019, she created the Infill Housing Program, assuaging an affordable housing crisis by proposing allocation of county-owned land to a brand-new residential system. This initiative exemplifies her prioritization of the health of children and families. During her first few years in Miami, DLC worked as a leading professional for children’s and families’ rights. Throughout her years of legal practice, she served on the Florida Bar Committee on Legal Needs of Children, counseling legal proceedings involving minors. Her political platform also features plans to address gun violence (another issue that deeply affects the lives of children in our community).
In addition to thinking about gun violence policies and their effects on me as a young person, I’m increasingly focused on climate change awareness advocacy and policy (especially given my hometown’s location on a sinking peninsula) and so is DLC. Biscayne Bay, a body of water less than half a mile away from my home, encountered serious hygienic issues over the summer, mostly due to the city’s utilization of archaic septic tanks. DLC immediately jumped into action to address the issue; she sponsored an existing legislative movement to improve water sanitation evaluations with DNA testing in order to accurately identify the cause of contamination. Additionally, this specific piece of legislation mandates governmental transparency, promising Miami residents that they will have access to any and all data collected from water testing and creating an ethical standard that was previously absent. This effort, along with many others, earned DLC an endorsement from the Sierra Club.
DLC’s Jewish identity makes me feel increasingly visible in my local government. She holds a “lifetime membership” with the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and was awarded the Woman of Valor Award in 2004, a high honor that recognizes women within the Miami NCJW community who exemplify outstanding leadership in advocacy and public affairs. Her commitment to NCJW (which I like to refer to as “adult BBYO”) deepens the connection I feel with her, since my mom is the president of NCJW Miami. In fact, while I was researching for this blog post, all I needed to do was drop in on one of the board’s weekly Zoom meetings to hear several rave reviews about her leadership skills and personal qualities. Overall, it’s undeniably cool that our new mayor is part of an awesome group so close to me.
I’m an Obama-era baby, meaning that for most of my childhood, my perception of American politics was consistent with virtues of diplomacy and diversity. The Trump administration failed to emulate these values. Instead, we were given a (finally suspended) Twitter account filled with thoughts and ideas so inappropriate that I wouldn’t even be allowed to repeat them during a class discussion in school. Speaking for myself, as well as my fellow Obama-era babies, DLC’s victory has re-instilled in me an optimism that has been vastly absent for the past four years. I’m confident that her first term as mayor will be legendary, paving the way for even more notable (and much needed) accomplishments.
This piece was republished on Fresh Ink for Teens.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.