Miami Beach Commissioner Jorge Exposito faces two challengers — tutoring company owner Dave Crystal and criminal-defense lawyer Michael Grieco — in the Group II commission race.
The election is Nov. 5, but early voting starts Monday. Two other commission seats and the mayor’s seat are also up for election.
Here’s a look at each candidate’s background, and their stances on important issues.
Crystal unsuccessfully ran for Miami Beach mayor in 2011. Born in New York, he moved to Miami Beach nine years ago.
Court records show his bank and condo association started the foreclosure process on his condo in 2009 and 2010. The case was later dropped. Crystal said he stopped paying his mortgage and maintenance fees so that he could short-sell his unit.
If elected, Crystal says he will create an office of the inspector general for the city, change the city’s pension system and bring employees salaries in line with similar private- and public-sector fields.
• Inspector general: Since his run in 2011, Crystal has lambasted the city as corrupt. In the past few years, several Miami Beach employees have been arrested on public corruption charges.
Crystal says he would create an office of the inspector general, which he says would pay for itself because it would catch wasteful and illegitimate spending.
“Essentially it will be a watchdog organization,” Crystal said.
The employees of the IG office would work mostly undercover and in conjunction with residents in the hopes of catching corruption as they try to navigate the city government, Crystal said.
• Pensions: Crystal says he would make two major changes to the current pension system, which he says is unsustainable. The first change would be to move to a hybrid defined-contribution plan and defined-benefit plan. Currently, the city has a defined-benefit plan, which means employees are entitled to fixed payments, no matter how the retirement fund’s investments perform.
“We cannot guarantee certain payouts in a world that is so economically insecure,” Crystal said. “This ensures the employees will share some of the risks.”
Secondly, he says overtime pay should “never” be factored into calculating the employee’s pension payments. Under changes recently negotiated with most of the city’s unions, extra pay such as overtime in capped at 11 percent of the employee’s salary when calculating pensionable salary.
• Wasteful spending: When Crystal ran in 2011, he posted all Miami Beach employees’ salaries online with the header “Warning this may shock you!” As employee salaries rise, so do pension costs. Crystal says he would work to reduce employee salaries so that they are comparable to what people in the same fields in the public- and private-sector are making.
The candidate also wants to see more master planning done when it comes to the city city’s capital improvement projects. He says that a lack of coordination for construction projects can sometimes lead to the same roads being torn up multiple times, which is a waste of money.
Exposito was first elected in 2009. He ran unsuccessfully for a commission seat in 1992.
Born in Cuba, Exposito has lived in Miami Beach for 35 years. He has been married to his wife for as long. They have two grown sons together.
Grieco has blasted Exposito for breaking a campaign promise when he voted to raise taxes and fees in 2010. The year was particularly rough because Miami Beach’s budget was dragged down by deflated property values and soaring pension costs, Exposito said. He said the city wrangled concessions from employees but still had to make up a budget shortfall.
“We had many community meeting and we explained to everybody what exactly we were going to do,” Exposito said. “Every subsequent year since that, we have reduced.”
He’s also been attacked for his vote to accept former City Manager Jorge Gonzalez’s $440,000 severance package. Gonzalez was forced out of the job after several employees were arrested on public corruption charges. Gonzalez himself was never implicated.
The city manager “had a legal contract. We had to abide by the contract,” Exposito said.
If reelected, Exposito says he will focus on continuing pension reform, enhancing the education system and ensuring “excellent quality of life and services.”
• Pensions: Exposito says that he has been involved in two union negotiation cycles as a commissioner. In the previous budget year, the city negotiated about $4 million in employee givebacks. This year, the commission negotiated pension reform that will produce $140 million in savings to the city over the next 30 years, according to actuarial projections.
There’s still more the city should do, Exposito says. He wants the city to only consider an employee’s salary — and not perks like overtime — when factoring pension payments.
“Basically, straight salary should be what’s pensionable,” Exposito said.
• Education: During Exposito’s tenure, Miami Beach implemented International Baccalaureate (IB) programs in all of the city’s schools. The city also pitched in to provide a school nurse for the city’s schools. If reelected, Exposito says he will work with the city’s Quality of Education Committee to make sure school’s needs are being met. For example, he said he would ensure that money is available for educators who need to attend expensive training to keep up with IB standards. He also wants to try to provide local schools with funding to provide more security.
• Quality of life and services: Exposito says he wants to see a master plan for Washington Avenue. He would like to see landscaping in the medians, which he says will discourage jaywalking, thereby increasing traffic to storefronts. He touts the city’s work in beefing-up the cleaning cycles for the most heavily-trafficked areas of the Beach. He wants to see a similar plan in North Beach.
Grieco is a political newcomer. Born in New York, Grieco has lived in Miami Beach for 13 years. He has a four-year old son with his fiancé, Christine.
The Florida Bar reprimanded Grieco in 2008, according to Bar records. According to a guilty plea and consent judgment for discipline signed by Grieco:
A friend of Grieco’s was being investigated by the Miami Beach Police Department for assault. Grieco, who was a state attorney at the time, met with Beach detectives who “were misled into believing” that Grieco was involved in the case because of his role as a state attorney. Grieco also met with other prosecutors assigned to the case and asked that the matter “be scrutinized and given special attention.”
Explained Grieco: “I put myself in the position of being accused of doing the wrong thing, when I was doing the right thing.”
He notes that he was not suspended by the bar. And he stressed that the charges against his friend were eventually dismissed because the case was “based on an non-existent law.”
If elected, Grieco says he would focus on customer service, cleaning up corruption and scaling down the convention center.
“My platform is based on getting back to basics. It’s about quality of life,” Grieco said. “I’m talking about doing things that aren’t that sexy: Fixing the roads. Fixing the parks. Fixing the flooding.”
• Customer service: Grieco says Miami Beach is a rich city with the poor-city problems: the streets are dirty and poorly kept. He wants to tackle these basic issues .
• Corruption: Grieco thinks Miami Beach should have an anti-corruption director who would answer to the City Commission. The specialist would pitch in with investigations of police and fire complaints, too.
“I would rather see something with teeth, with actual enforcement power,” Grieco said.
Grieco would look at the city’s hiring policies and also try to recruit more residents who actually live in the city “and know what it’s like to live with the issues every day.”
“I’m not suggesting not to hire outside of the city in order to get the best of the best. What I’m saying is there needs to be a greater emphasis on ... finding talent here at home,” Grieco said.
• 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.
Grieco thinks the city should continue negotiating with the current developer, South Beach ACE. However, he wants ACE to agree to “greatly” scale down the retail component and accessory uses of the project. If ACE doesn’t agree, than Grieco says the city should consider putting the convention center project back out to bid.
Lastly, he said: “I want to make sure that tourism has a voice in this and I feel that, on some level, the tourism industry has been marginalized just because they don’t vote.”
Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.