By: Sharon Aron Baron
The City of Coral Springs will be holding a special election for a new city commissioner and seven residents have stepped up for the plate and have qualified to run.
After Dan Daley announced his bid for State House – which he ultimately won uncontested, Seat 2 became open. Candidates had a week in March to pay qualifying fees and set up their campaign accounts for the special election on Tuesday, June 18, 2019.
We communicated with six out of the seven candidates (Serena Benjamin did not return her responses) and have published information about their backgrounds, educations and why they are running to be the next city commissioner in Coral Springs.
Shawn Cerra has been a resident of Coral Springs for over 25 years. He is a 1989 graduate of Cardinal Gibbons High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in social science education from the University of South Florida in Tampa. He later went on to earn his master’s degree in educational leadership from Florida Atlantic University.
Beginning his career with Broward County Public Schools as a teacher, he served as an assistant principal/intern principal at Western High followed at Cypress Bay, and then was the principal of J.P. Taravella from 2002-2016. In 2016, he was promoted to serve as director of athletics and student activities for BCPS.
Cerra said the city has been more than his wife Kerry and their three children could ask for, and because of that, it’s his turn to give back.
“Serving as our city commission will help me accomplish that. We firmly believe there is no better place to have raised our children — from schooling, to city sports, to mentors, and friends, we are incredibly lucky to live among you all.”
For the past six years, Cerra has facilitated mission trips for local high school students to different locations all over the country. He said he is passionate about suicide prevention, literacy, and environmental conservation.
Cerra said if he is elected city commissioner, he will work hard each and every day to continue local efforts to improve school safety, public safety, and our economic development.
“I have served on many committees and spent years here in Coral Springs coaching multiple sports — each experience touching my heart in new and amazing ways every single time.”
Melissa Cipriano has lived in Coral Springs for eight years and was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and raised in New York and Connecticut. She earned a dual engineering degree from the University of Connecticut in mechanical engineering and materials science. She went on to work for a nuclear energy company, a major airline, and a military contract aerospace company before moving to Coral Springs. She completed her MBA in marketing just after her second child was born at Post University, an online college, in Waterbury, CT.
Currently, a stay-at-home mother to two children ages 8 and 9 – which are her main focus, Cipriano said her family is the main reason behind her decision to run for city commissioner.
“I want to help make Coral Springs a place where everyone is safe in school, parks and wherever they go,” she said.
Cipriano said the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting the community endured on February 14, 2018, as well as the hurt and pain that every one experienced, also helped fuel her passion to run.
“I want to do something to ensure it never happens again. I will ensure that our schools are safer than they have ever been.”
While working full-time, she has always maintained second and third jobs in varying positions such as sales, retail, waitressing, bartending, and data entry to remain occupied and to maximize her income.
“I am hard-working and passionate in everything I do and will do what it takes to get a job done.”
Randal Cutter has lived in the city for 18 years and is the president and senior pastor of New Dawn Community Church in Coral Springs.
Cutter graduated from Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota in 1983, and is a 1987 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wisconsin where he received a master of divinity degree. He has done further post-graduate work at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi and Orlando.
Cutter has been involved in Coral Springs since establishing a church in 1987. Over the past 32 years, he has served as co-chair of the Clergy Coalition of Coral Springs, Parkland, and Northwest Broward, as a member of the Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee’s National Day of Prayer committee, as a member of the Customer Involved Government Committee, and for the past two years, he has been a member of the Coral Springs Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Cutter is running for Seat 2 because he believes that Coral Springs, as good a city as it is today, can become an even better place.
“We live in a time where people are looking for leaders who truly care about the taxpayer, rather than one who is only interested in his or her own personal interests,” he said.
The experience of serving first responders as a Coral Springs volunteer police chaplain for four years has given him insight and understanding about the issues that first responders must deal with, as well as the perspective of those who are victimized by crime.
Cutter has been married to his wife Dawn for over thirty-eight years. They have three adult children, and a newly born grandson.
Diane Gonzalez Simpson
Due to tax time, Simpson was busy with client’s tax returns during this time so we have used information we published during her first run for the seat last year.
Simpson has lived in Coral Springs for the past 30 years with her family. She moved to Florida from New York, and purchased her first and current home when she was 24. A part-time real estate investor, she manages rental properties in Ft. Lauderdale and Margate, and said that her financial acumen, broad knowledge of code enforcement and fines, makes her a formidable opponent.
“My husband Ron and I have been empty-nesters for five years now. Our daughters, Mary and Sarah attended local schools before graduating from the University of South Florida. Since the shock of the shooting in Parkland, I have said, I can do more. I am willing to help. If elected, I will serve.”
Simpson has volunteered in many areas the last 30 years, including church, school and non-profit organizations. She is a past-president of the Business & Professional Women’s Club, Cypress Creek Chapter. She has given talks for the Broward League of Women Voters, and is always eager to discuss budgets and fiscal responsibility. Simpson is also an artist who loves to paint.
Khurrum Wahid first lived in Coral Springs from 1999 to 2002, then moved to the New York City area while his wife completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology. They later moved back and have lived in the city for eight years.
Wahid grew up in Toronto and attended the University of Toronto, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and macro economics. He then attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. He is licensed to practice law in Florida, New York, and several federal, district and appellate courts.
Currently, he is a partner at Wahid Vizcaino LLP where he has had over 100 jury trials in a wide range of federal and state matters in civil, administrative and criminal fields. Wahid has been recognized by New Times Magazine as lawyer of the year in 2007 and as one of Florida Trend Magazines Legal Elite in the area of criminal law since 2011.
“It has always been my goal to focus on the greater good and leaving the world a better place, whether through my legal work as a zealous fighter for individual rights, as a civic leader working to promote voter engagement, or as a mentor to many young people who are trying to find their path for the future,” said Wahid.
His passion has been to fight to defend our country’s constitution everyday as a criminal defense attorney, and he considers it a great honor to be able to protect civil rights on the front line of the justice system.
He is also a small business owner, a husband, a father, a son to his parents who also live in Coral Springs.
“I am dedicated to bringing the same dedication that I have given to my legal and civic work here to the Coral Springs City Commission through community focused leadership.”
Camille Wallace has lived in Coral Springs for six years. She is an attorney and works with Broward County Government as an administrative officer. She holds three degrees: a bachelor of arts in political science from The Ohio State University; a law degree from Nova Southeastern University, and a master of public administration from Walden University, an online college.
Wallace said she has been interested in serving the community for some time and is always looking to help and serve in a way to make things better.
“When I was in college, I got my first real taste into being a public servant when I ran a “Get Out the Vote” campaign and worked for three Ohio State Senators,” she said.
Since then, her interest has not wavered and she is still more intent today to do her part in serving Coral Springs in an impactful way.
She sits on the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee; serves as head coach for the Coral Springs Chargers Tackle Football Club; and supports Coral Glades High Cheerleaders as a Booster Board member. She is a former prosecutor, public service lawyer for 18 years, and a grant writer.
“I am running to give residents the best of both worlds – someone with a legal background and track record of procuring over a million in grant dollars,” said Wallace. “What that means for Coral Springs is I am that candidate knowledgeable about how government runs and ways in which to help the city increase revenue. I am a leader who brings a vision and cares about the results.”
Jen Russon contributed to this story.