Three candidates are running for Miami Beach Commission Group III in the November elections.
Community activist Roger Abramson faces Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, who is term-limited in her current job, and retired community banker Joy Malakoff.
The Group III seat is currently held by Commissioner Michael Góngora, who is running for mayor.
The election is Nov. 5. Two other commission seats and the mayor’s seat are also up for election.
Here’s a look at each group III candidate’s background, and their stances on important issues.
Abramson unsuccessfully ran for Miami Beach commission in 2006, spurred by talks to turn over the Jackie Gleason theater to Cirque du Soleil — a plan he opposed.
Abramson was born in Ohio and has lived in Miami Beach for 26 years. A former concert producer, Abramson put on shows by top rock stars of the 1960s and 1970s. He was inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2011 for his work organizing sit-ins, marching against Jim Crow-era laws and pushing voter registration drives. Abramson is married and has four children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In 2009, a HSBC Bank sued Abramson in Miami-Dade Circuit Court for allegedly failing to pay a debt. Abramson didn’t respond to the suit, and the court awarded a $57,000 judgment to the bank. He said the debt is from a “business deal gone astray.”
If elected, Abramson said he would focus on renovating the convention center, making parking easier for residents and expanding access to city hall, as well as parks and recreational programs.
• Convention center: After a public competition process wherein 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.
Abramson thinks the current project has lost sight of the original intention: to upgrade the convention center to make it more competitive. He is against scope of the current project, and the planned 99-year leases to private developers. The city should focus on adding a ballroom, and ensuring that rates for the new hotel are competitive within the convention center industry, Abramson said.
He added that he would like to see the Gleason theater turned into a Latin music hall of fame.
“That would be the biggest economic boost,” Abramson said.
• Parking: Abramson said he would implement a voucher system for residents whereby parking fees would be reduced by half.
“The residents of Miami Beach can barely go to Lincoln Road because they can’t afford the $15 and $20 parking garages and valets,” he said.
• Access to city services: The city should make sure all residents can afford to join city-run parks and recreation programs, as well as senior and adult programs, Abramson said.
“They have a lot of highly-paid people in that Parks and Rec Department. They get pensions,” Abramson said. “So somewhere along the line there is some money, and if they’re putting it in administration fees ... well, that’s wrong. They should put it in the program.”
He would also like to establish a “mini City Hall” in North Beach.
“The residents need to have some place to go to take care of their needs,” he said.
Matti Herrera Bower
Born in Cuba, Bower was the first woman and the first Hispanic elected mayor in Miami Beach. She has served six years in the post, and previously served eight years as a city commissioner, until she was term limited.
A widow, Bower has four children and six grandchildren.
Bower’s latest run for commission has been criticized as an abuse of the city’s term-limit laws. She has already served the maximum terms allowed in each office. However, the language of the law allows elected officials to alternate between the offices of mayor and commission even after bumping up against term limits in each office.
“I am not prevented by the law. ... I am within the right of anybody,” Bower said. “I was asked by very many people to run. ... They like the way I represent them.”
If reelected, Bower says she will focus on quality-of-life issues, the moving the city’s convention center project forward and historic preservation.
• Quality of life: Bower says she has worked to expand parks and recreational opportunities, and increased the housing stock available for seniors. She also points to the implementation of advanced International Baccalaureate programs in all Miami Beach schools to show that she has improved quality of life in the city.
The Beach has also built seven new parking garages, with another in the works, to help alleviate chronic parking shortages. While in office, the city also launched a hugely popular bike-sharing program.
Bower says she will continue to work on these issues is reelected.
• Convention center: Bower has been supportive of the current plan and voted in favor of the development team chosen for the project. She says the city should continue on the current path, negotiating the development team chosen by commissioners.
“We’re at a moment now where we need to continue,” she said.
• Historic preservation: Bower is well-known as a staunch proponent of historic preservation in Miami Beach.
Preservationists have been alarmed by a recent uptick of demolitions of historically significant, single-family homes. Bower proposed a temporary moratorium on the demolition of such homes as the city works to change its preservation laws. Bower would like for the city to do an inventory of all the housing in the city that may be considered historic.
“Even if (a home) is demolished, we should at least keep a record of what was on that lot,” Bower said.
Born in Chicago, Malakoff grew up on Miami Beach. She briefly lived in Tokyo while her then-husband was stationed there in the Air Force, but moved back and has lived in the city for 42 years.
She has remarried and has three grown children. Malakoff is the grandmother of one. She has been active in numerous community organizations for years and has been the recipient of many awards, including the Jan Pfeiffer Community Service Award by the chamber of commerce.
She is running for political office for the first time. If elected, Malakoff says she would focus on protecting city-owned land, pension reform and flood prevention.
• Protecting city-owned land: Malakoff says Miami Beach needs to focus on enforcing litter laws on the beach and continue sand restoration projects.
One of the most important ways the city can protect its public land is to rework the convention center project, Malakoff says.
The candidate would like to see the hotel component of the project be put out as its own bid, separate from the convention center renovation. She thinks the convention center renovation should be done with the city’s own money, without relying on a private developer.
As far as retail, Malakoff said she would support some in the 17th Street Garage, which is also included in the project, but that the convention center site shouldn’t include any more shops because it could hurt Lincoln Road businesses.
“I would like the convention center to be done in a way that’s a good deal for the taxpayer, a good deal for the city and a good deal for our hospitality industry,” Malakoff said.” I think the deal that’s on the books now is a good deal for the hospitality industry, but it’s not a good deal for the taxpayers and the city.”
• Pensions: Malakoff thinks the city should continue negotiations with unions to enact more pension reforms. For example, she said the city should reevaluate automatic raises for employees and should instead move to a performance-based system.
• Flooding: Malakoff says the city has made “mistake after mistake” when it comes to infrastructure improvement projects. Malakoff says city staff need to be held accountable for mistakes. She notes that personnel changes have been made “and maybe they will be more accountable.”
Malakoff would also like to see the city’s plan for tackling storm water issues expanded out to 30 years, up from the current 20-year outlook. She also said the city should work more closely with the county, state and federal governments for funding and for a regional approach to solving issues of rising sea levels.
“We need more storm pumps. We need more injection wells. We need to make plans for more than 30 years,” Malakoff said.
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