In the most crowded race on Miami Beach, four candidates are facing off for the Group I commission seat in the November election.
Competing for the seat: business owner Mohammed Islam, Realtor Sherry Kaplan Roberts, Realtor Micky Steinberg and retiree Elsa Urquiza.
The Group I seat is now held by Commissioner Jerry Libbin, who is term-limited. He considered a run for mayor, but dropped out of the race.
The election is Nov. 5. Early voting starts Monday.
Here’s a look at each candidate’s background, and their stances on hot-button issues.
Mohammed Rafiqul Islam
Islam is running for office for the first time, though he says he helped with the campaign of former Mayor David Dermer.
A native of Bangladesh, he has lived in Miami Beach for 18 years. Islam is married and has three children. He says he speaks six languages.
“I can communicate with the people. I can understand what they have to say. This is my extra qualification,” he said.
Islam has focused most on the city’s need to address drainage and flooding. He says he is most qualified to fix these problems because of his engineering background.
“It is a long-term process,” he said.
He also said he would work to make the city government, including the building department, easier for residents to navigate.
Islam says any new employees the city hires should be put on a defined-contribution plan for their pension. Right now, the city offers a defined-benefit plan.
Court records show that a multi-unit building in North Beach owned by Islam and his wife went into foreclosure in 2011. He filed for bankruptcy, but the case was dismissed because he didn’t provide all the information required. In May 2013, the foreclosure was reversed and Islam got the building back. He said his loan was modified.
Sherry Kaplan Roberts
Kaplan unsuccessfully ran for a commission seat in 2009. Born in Ohio, she has lived full-time in Miami Beach since 1999. She has been with her partner, Alice Randolph, for 30 years. Together, they raised three sons.
“We need new leadership in Miami Beach,” Roberts said. “I have the right approach to being able to handle the issues that are affecting Miami Beach at this time, and I understand how the city works. I’m not a novice.” If elected, Kaplan says she will focus on the city’s convention center redevelopment plan, pension reform, improving infrastructure, managing traffic and improving parking.
• Convention center: After a public competition process where teams bid on the project, Miami Beach recently picked a private development team to redevelop 52-acres of public land around the convention center. The deal needs to be approved by voters, probably in 2014.
Plans call for a renovated convention center, the addition of an 800-room hotel, and shops and restaurants. The city would pay for the convention center renovation, which could cost half a billion dollars, while the private developer would build the other parts of the project. The developer would lease out the land for the hotel and to build the shops and restaurants.
Roberts says the city should put the project back out to bid. The bid should ask for proposals on how to renovate the convention center, add a ballroom and create green space where there’s now only a parking lot. She supports building a hotel nearby, but thinks that should be put out to bid separately from the convention center renovation.
Roberts also said the proposed length of the leases for the current project — 99 years — is too long. Additionally, she thinks the retail portion of the project would hurt businesses on nearby Lincoln Road.
• Pension reform: Roberts said she would work to change Miami Beach’s employee pension system so that only an employee’s salary counts toward his or her pension. Miami Beach employees can currently count extra pay, such as overtime, toward their pensionable salary.
The city recently passed pension reform, which caps the amount of extra pay that an employee can count toward his or her salary. Under the new rules, only extra pay that equals up to 11 percent of an employee’s salary can count toward that employee’s pension.
“We have to change the system to make it sustainable,” Roberts said.
• Infrastructure, parking and traffic management: Roberts said the city needs to focus on repairing and strengthening its infrastructure to protect Miami Beach from rising sea levels.
To help alleviate traffic congestion, she advocates a light rail system to connect Miami Beach to the mainland, improving taxi services and providing better bike lane markings.
As far as parking, Roberts says the city should look into real-time signage to direct drivers to empty lots, and provide discounted parking for employees of Miami Beach businesses who use certain parking lots.
Born in New York, Steinberg moved to Miami Beach with her family when she was 6.
She is married to former state Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach. They have two young children. Steinberg touts that her family has four generations currently living in Miami Beach.
“I really want to focus on sustainability,” Steinberg said. “I’m currently raising my children here. So for me, their future is very important.”
If elected, Steinberg says she will focus on restoring public confidence in the city, addressing flooding and sea level rise and strengthening the public education system.
• Restoring confidence: Over the past few years, several Miami Beach employees have been arrested in high-profile corruption cases. Steinberg says she would establish a task force to “complete a top-down review” of the city and its police force. Additionally, she says the city needs to change the culture among city employees to focus on providing “excellent customer service.” To do this, Steinberg said she would pursue policies that encourage employees to speak up when they see something wrong, and to provide whistle-blowers with protections.
• Flooding and sea level rise: To combat the city’s chronic flooding problems, and the long-term dangers of rising sea levels, Steinberg says the city should form a task force with members from across the region. To pay for any needed infrastructure improvements, she says the Beach should consider issuing general-obligation bonds to pay for improvements.
“We need to increase the number of pumps and capacity,” Steinberg said.
• Education: Steinberg said she would tap into her relationships with school board members to help strengthen all schools with Miami Beach’s feeder pattern. A feeder pattern refers to which schools students “feed” into when graduating from elementary or middle school.
A specific issue Steinberg says she would address would be making sure that funding for school nurses stays in tact. Miami Beach and neighboring municipalities recently pitched in to provide nurses for schools with the Beach’s feeder pattern.
Urquiza ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Miami Beach commission in 2006 and in 2007.
Born in Cuba, Urquiza has lived in Miami Beach for more than 40 years. Urquiza is married and has three adult sons and three grandchildren.
If elected, Urquiza says she would focus on the convention center, corruption and safety.
• Convention center: Urquiza said the convention center project “happens to be the most important thing ahead of us.”
She said the city should focus on the original intention, which was to renovate the convention center. She supports the building of a hotel because she met with hospitality industry representatives and they believe “there’s going to be enough business for everyone.”
However, she wants to see the project scaled-down, and to eliminate most of the proposed retail because she thinks it will negatively impact Lincoln Road.
“We want to keep the character of Lincoln Road. Its’ the glue that keeps us together. It’s the most visited place in South Beach.”
• Public transportation: Urquiza supports the idea of a light rail system to connect Miami Beach to the mainland. She said the system should run along the MacArthur Causeway into South Beach.
Urquiza also said the city needs to improve connectivity throughout the city, with public transportation routes connecting South Beach, Mid Beach and North Beach.
• Flooding: Urquiza said Miami Beach needs to follow the advice of its panels and boards when it comes to tackling flooding issues.
“Hearing and doing are two different things,” she said. Urquiza added that the city should bring in experts to study possible solutions.
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