When Miami Beach wanted local hotels to scale-back their popular rooftop parties and bars, Alexander Tachmes fought back.
An attorney who has represented Beach hotels on a myriad of issues, he “cobbled” together a group of his hotelier clients and went before the city commission to ask them to curb the proposed rules.
The hotels won.
It was a learning experience, said Tachmes, who came to believe that the Beach needed a permanent group of industry heavyweights to take political action in the face of restrictive city policies.
With that in mind, Miami Beach’s hotel industry is taking on a decidedly political tone by reviving a previously-formed electioneering organization, just in time for election season on the sandbar.
The group is called Hospitality for a Better Miami Beach, and as an Electioneering Communication Organization (ECO), it can raise unlimited money to run ads, send fliers and make telephone calls about political issues. They’ve also created Miami Beach Hospitality Coalition, which Tachmes said will soon be registered as a non-profit.
Behind the organizations are Tachmes and big-name hoteliers Mike Palma, Executive Vice President of Hospitality for Brio Investment Group (which owns the Clevelander) and the Perry South Beach Hotel General Manager Tim Nardi.
“Political clout is something that will help to further the goals of the industry,” Tachmes said.
Hotels already have their interests represented by the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association and the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. But the association is tax-funded and the visitor’s bureau is tax-exempt, so neither can raise or spend money for political purposes.
Stuart Blumberg, who headed the hotel association for 15 years, thinks the industry has enough clout without having to wade into politics.
“You’re getting a group of hoteliers who’ve decided they want a voice in government. And that’s dangerous,” he said of the ECO.
An outspoken leader, Blumberg often took political stances and faced elected officials — and he often found success.
Blumberg led the charge to exempt pool decks and outdoor patios from a constitutional amendment banning smoking, and pushed to delay the start of the school year so that Florida teens could continue working at local hotels. At a farewell gathering after Blumberg announced his retirement, he didn’t hesitate to take a shot at then-Gov. Charlie Crist, calling him out on a proposed tax increase on car rentals.
“We were able to accomplish a lot of things because we weren’t tarnished by, ‘Yeah, I supported that guy or that guy,’” Blumberg said. “You stand and fall on the merits of an issue.”
Citing the huge impact the tourism industry has on Florida, he added: “We don’t need to spend money to win influence.”
According to state figures, the tourism industry has a $67.3 billion economic impact on Florida.
In Miami-Dade, the accommodation industry accounts for 3 percent of the county’s 1 million non-farm jobs, or about 27,000 positions. The industry also contributes about $1 billion in income a year in Miami-Dade, or about 2 percent of total wages.
With a November election in Miami Beach — in which a majority of the city’s commission seats up for grabs — now is the time to translate economic importance into political prominence, said Palma.
In a city where resident-activists are vocal and plentiful, and where residents are often at odds with party-seeking tourists, Palma said city leaders lately have tilted more in favor of residents rather than businesses
Added Tachmes: “The residents of the city benefit by having a thriving hotel industry...all we want is a seat at the table.”
The electioneering committee was registered last year and is currently not active, according to state records.
Tachmes said the group is in the process of recruiting members — whom he would not name — and creating a board, at which time the group will be re-opened. Members are planning to interview candidates to decide who to support in the upcoming elections.
Wendy Kallergis, president and CEO of the hotel association, pointed out that many of the ECO members are also members of her organization. She doesn’t think the new group will be a competitor.
“We’re not able to do some of the things they can do,” she said. “I think it’s going to strengthen the voice on the Beach.”
Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.
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