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Lawyer Penelas, 34, jumps to a wide lead // DADE MAYOR

Cuban-American lawyer Alex Penelas easily defeated black businessman Arthur Teele in the race to be the first strong mayor of metropolitan Miami and its diverse population.

With 96 percent of precincts reporting in the nonpartisan election, Penelas had 59 percent of the vote to Teele's 41 percent.

A strong turnout among Hispanic voters in Miami bolstered Penelas' hope of taking the powerful new job. More than a third of the registered voters are Hispanic, and a fifth are black.

The new mayor, arguably the second-most-powerful elected official in the state, will wield extraordinary influence over a metropolitan area of 2.1-million with a troubled history of race relations.

Authorized by voters frustrated by the metro area's lack of strong leadership, the new mayor will oversee a $4.2-billion budget, have veto power over the Metro Dade Commission and have the authority to hire and fire the county manager.

Both candidates, members of the Metro Dade Commission since 1990, avoided an ethnic campaign, but the race was far from friendly.

The campaign grew nasty in the closing days, with both candidates trading charges that the other was beholden to special interests and campaign contributors. Professional experience and ethics also became issues.

Teele, 50, a decorated Vietnam veteran and transportation administrator in the Reagan administration, questioned whether Penelas has the maturity and poise for the job. He touted his Washington contacts from both parties.

Penelas, 34, first elected to Hialeah City Council at age 25, scoffed at Teele's claim that he is too green for the job and claimed Teele's political allies have rewarded him with business deals and campaign contributions. Penelas has no shortage of confidence and is believed to have ambitions far beyond Dade County.

During the campaign, local government became embroiled in one of its worst political scandals, with the indictment of several city and county officials in a federal bribery investigation.

Neither Penelas nor Teele has been linked to the scandal.

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