Crystal Wagar made history in Miami Shores, but says getting residents involved is her biggest goal

When Crystal Wagar set on her path to join the Miami Shores village council she didn’t think about the chance she had to make history. She was instead focused on trying to get more residents engaged in the process.

She says it wasn’t really until she was elected as the first black woman to serve as mayor of Miami Shores, that the history-making moment really hit her.

“Once the election was over I had time to sit back and say ‘Wow,” Wagar said.

We spoke with her about the history she made, what she hopes to see in the Shores and across the county, and what she learned in her first run for public office.

What inspired her to run?

Wagar said that after years of working in government elsewhere — as an interim manager in El Portal, as a former chief of staff and policy aide to Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales (when he was a county commissioner), and living in Singapore while her husband served as a U.S. Ambassador — she wanted to give back to the place she’s called home for about 15 years.

And she identified the village’s April election as her opportunity.

“When it was made clear to me that there were four council seats available, and I looked around, I noticed that it was sort of the same people who have been around for years,” she said.

So she knocked on doors, developed a platform, and entered the race. Wagar said her motivation was to connect with, and engage, the diverse population of the Shores. The village is predominately white but is about 14 percent black and 37 percent Hispanic according to U.S. Census data.

“There are some people who are engaged in our community, and there’s a large amount who are not,” she said. “I thought if people saw me run, it would maybe encourage them to get engaged.”

What issues does she want to tackle?

Wagar said that Miami Shores doesn’t have the same kind of issues as a bigger city or town, but they do exist and she hopes to talk to residents to get a sense of how to approach their problems.

One big issue in Miami Shores is the village’s strict code enforcement. The village’s regulations on a couple’s garden, for example, lead to the state legislature approving a law to allow homeowners to garden in their front yards.

The new mayor also says that the village, founded in 1932, could be a little more modern.

“The codes have to be commensurate with how people want to move forward,” said Wagar. “We want to keep it beautiful, but we want to give people an opportunity to renovate their homes in a manner that is expedient and realistic.”

Another major issue for Shores residents is how to upgrade the village’s community center. Voters decisively opposed the village’s plan to issue a bond to pay for a new center in 2017, and Wagar said she thinks there needs to be a “clean slate” before they figure out how to proceed.

What did it mean to make history in the Shores?

The significance of Crystal’s victory didn’t really cement until the result became official on election night, and really not until she was officially sworn in a few weeks ago.

She described her victory and the history she made as surreal, and said it was a big moment for representation in the Shores and beyond.

“This community was incorporated in 1932 and we have this diverse community that has not always been represented,” Wagar said.

And she thinks that a diverse mix of politicians from various races, genders, and backgrounds is always “a value add.”

“The climate in our country kind’ve requires [diversity],” Wagar said. “I think that will not only serve Miami Shores well, it will serve Miami-Dade County.”