A 1980s renaissance let Miami Beach bask in all the attention that its sunny Art Deco preciousness drew from film producers, models, developers and goo gobs of tourists. Three decades later, Miami Beach maintains its good-time aura, but it has its costs, and there are serious, big-city challenges that its elected leaders must confront.
Beneath all the fabulousness remains a city that, as always, must provide a decent quality of life for its residents, solid services, safety and economic stability.
When voters go to the polls in November, they will be casting a vote for the person who can help shepherd Miami Beach in the right direction, with a civil tongue and the ability to deftly balance competing priorities.
Three men are vying to replace Matti Herrera Bower — Steve Berke, Michael Gongora and Philip Levine. They don’t bring wildly varying visions for making Miami Beach a city that works for its residents, business owners and visitors. But only one displays a solid readiness to assume the top job: Mr. Gongora, 43, currently the Group 3 commissioner.
Mr. Berke, 32, says that he is a former comedian who now is a television and film producer. This might be the perfect background to be the subject of a reality show, which he is, but it’s not a foundation upon which to take on the mayor’s duties.
Mr. Levine, 51, is a successful businessman who says that he “will invest as much of my personal funds as necessary for my campaign to remain competitive.” His critics accuse him of attempting to “buy” the election. However, it’s his money to spend it as he sees fit.
Too often he talks as if the sky is falling, but that’s not true. Despite the city’s most pressing financial challenge, an underfunded pension liability, Miami Beach has its highest bond rating ever, and its reserves are fully funded. That speaks well of the current administration’s fiscal stewardship. In addition, Mr. Gongora played a role in wrangling some initial pension reforms from labor union contracts that will result in immediate and long-term savings for the city — $5.6 million in Year One; $145 million over 30 years. And he says he is working with the city manager and police chief to correct problems in the police department.
Of course, the quest to expand the convention center looms large over this election. Now that an appellate court has told Miami Beach to give voters more details of the deal on the ballot, there is every chance that the city — and taxpayers — can negotiate a better return. Mr. Gongora, who voted to approve the Tishman deal, has been in on the vetting since the start, giving him better grounding with which to get the best deal.
Voters should also factor in a candidate’s temperament and tone. At a candidates’ debate last week, Mr. Levine said he would change the culture in City Hall “from one of being mañana, lazy, pushing things forward, kicking the can down the road.” Many Hispanics in the audience thought that this was a public expression of what seems to be an “us vs. them” undercurrent on the commission, in the administration and, now among the candidates. Mr. Levine later said that, to the contrary, he considers Hispanics part of his base of support. The clarification was appreciated, the initial statement, however, was insensitive.
For Miami Beach mayor, the Herald recommends MICHAEL GONGORA.