With a campaign shaped around innovative solutions and ideas, alumnus has a visionary approach to lead the city of Coral Gables.
As one of the youngest members of the Coral Gables City Commission, Michael Mena, A.B. ’01, believes in the entrepreneurial spirit and energetic approach that a younger generation can bring to the workforce. From working with adaptive technology to improve the city or defining innovative solutions, Mena brings a new perspective to the role.
While studying at UM, Mena was involved with student government but determined his calling for helping others through leadership early on in his college career. “I never really saw politics in my future and as strange as it may sound, I do not view this as politics,” Mena said. “I see it as public service and as an opportunity to lead and serve my community with integrity.”
After completing law school at Columbia University in 2004, Mena circled back to Coral Gables to focus on his family and future. Mena and his wife Lisa Marie Mena, M.B.A. ’13, began building their careers and family in the area that they are proud to call home. Mena continues to practice law as a commercial litigator alongside his role as a City Commissioner.
Hear more about what inspires Mena to be a leader in his community in this Q & A:
You are one of the youngest elected to the Coral Gables City Commission, what do you think sets you apart?
There is no time like the present for people in my generation to step up and take leadership roles in our communities. What is perceived as “young” is such a funny and relative thing. During my campaign and even now I have been portrayed as being so young, but when George Merrick was my age he had already started designing and creating the City of Coral Gables! Three of us (of the five on the City Commission) are about the same age and I think it just tells you that voters will support the best candidates regardless of age. I have the energy, commitment, temperament, experience and ideas to proactively pursue new solutions to the issues that impact our quality of life. People that know me, know that I pride myself on doing things with integrity and for the right reasons. Moreover, as an attorney, I am trained to conduct my due diligence to thoroughly understand all sides of an issue and to vigorously advocate for my clients. I intend to apply those skills as a Coral Gables Commissioner in order to advocate on behalf of the residents of Coral Gables and keep our City Beautiful.
During your undergraduate days at the U, did you foresee politics in your career?
While I was at the University of Miami, I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer. But I also always knew that I had the ability to lead. Whether it was playing sports growing up or participating in any activities, I gravitated towards leadership roles. While at the U, I spent some time as a student body Senator as well as in various leadership roles in my fraternity. But I never really saw politics in my future and as strange as it may sound, I do not view this as politics. I see it as public service and as an opportunity to lead and serve my community with integrity. I am genuinely enjoying the opportunity to try to help improve the every-day issues that face our community and our residents. That is the really nice thing about local government, you can very directly make a positive impact on people’s quality of life.
What drove your decision to run this time?
As a husband and a father, I ran for Coral Gables Commissioner to ensure a safe and prosperous future for my family and the families of all of our residents. I believe we need proactive, forward-thinking leaders to step forth and lead. We need to conduct ourselves in a manner that enhances and protects our quality of life for us and for generations to come. As I mentioned, the time is now for people in my generation to step up and take leadership roles in our communities. I really tried to engage in an honest dialogue with our residents during my campaign and now as a Commissioner. I think that most times, when I have an opportunity to interact with our residents, they come away understanding that I am an honest, humble person who just wants to help them if I can.
You campaigned that you would bring technology into play to help alleviate traffic in the city. How do you plan to do that and what other changes do you hope to achieve?
Cut-through traffic is a major issue concerning our residents. In some areas traffic calming devices ranging from traffic circles, to speed tables, to speed trailers that flash the speed of passing drivers can be implemented more frequently. But it is critical that we implement technology to our advantage in all respects. During my campaign, I cited WAZE’s Connected Citizens Program as an example of how we might implement the latest technology to identify problem areas most prone to cut-through traffic so that we can better address it. I am proud to report that in my first few weeks, I have been working with our Public Safety Department and we are already in the process of applying to participate in a program that will provide additional data that will serve as a valuable tool to us.
It was the city’s first run-off election; how did you handle the suspense? Were you surprised that it was so close?
We felt confident going into the run-off, but did not take anything for granted and kept working incredibly hard during those two weeks in between. We were mostly just concerned about how low the turnout might get because we knew from the first day that the more people voted the wider our margin would ultimately be – we truly felt like we had great support. But the unfortunate consequence of having run-off elections is that less people show up to vote, especially in Coral Gables where we have our elections in April. We were still able to win by 8 points though (54% to 46%) and we are proud that we had a clear mandate from the residents of Coral Gables not once, but twice (we had a 12-point lead over the next candidate the first day with more voters, capturing 44% of the vote despite being in a four-way race).
What do you believe is the future for Coral Gables?
The future of Coral Gables is and always has been very bright. Coral Gables has a long and proud history as the best place to live in South Florida. It truly stands out as a planned community with tree-lined avenues, beautiful buildings, winding roadways, green space, ornate plazas, and fountains. Where else can you find such beautiful residential neighborhoods so close to a vibrant downtown? But the one constant in life is change. And because it is our foremost duty to preserve and protect our quality of life, it is critical that we serve as stewards of our City and help guide it into a prosperous future that preserves all the best of our history, but also embraces our future.