The candidates running for Miami Beach Commission Group II have raised more than $200,000 from lawyers, doctors, real estate developers, and the entertainment and hospitality industries.
Current Commissioner Jorge Exposito is running for reelection. He faces two challengers: tutoring company owner Dave Crystal and criminal defense attorney Michael Grieco.
Donations can sometimes help voters understand where a candidate stands on issues that are important to voters.
For example, the hospitality industry has an interest in local elections because the City Commission can set rules that affect the tourism business — such as where to allow hotels and restaurants to operate. Miami Beach relies on tourism to boost its budget, and decrease reliance on property taxes. But the industry is often at odds with residents, who complain about noise, crime and dirty streets.
The industry also has much at stake when it comes to the city’s planned convention center district overhaul — a potentially billion-dollar project to remake the city-owned convention center and add a hotel, shops and restaurants on 52 acres in the heart of South Beach.
Real estate developers also have an interest in what goes on at City Hall because zoning rules could affect their bottom line. Commissioners can regulate where and what developers can build, how tall buildings may be, how many parking spaces a development requires and other requirements.
Development is especially relevant now because of an ongoing tug-of-war between developers and preservationists, who have been fighting for more protections of historically-significant homes on the Beach. Preservationists say big, new development is happening faster than ever before, and it’s changing the character of the city’s neighborhoods.
Here is a look at each candidate’s campaign finance reports:
Crystal has raised the least among the Group II candidates, about $16,300. Of that, he loaned himself a little more than $500.
The top industry contributing to Crystal: real estate. Realtors, developers and holding companies have donated about $5,400 to Crystal’s campaign. He notes that’s “far less” than what his opponents have raised from the industry.
In terms of historic preservation, Crystal says protections should be decided on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis via localized referendums.
“There’s a fine line between historic preservation and property rights,” Crystal said.
The nightlife and entertainment industries have pitched in $2,500. Leroy Griffith, owner of the only fully-nude strip club in Miami Beach, gave at least $2,000 to Crystal. Griffith has sued the city at least three times in an effort to overturn the Beach’s ban on alcohol sales in venues where dancers bare all. He has accused city commissioners of “extortion” when they asked him to pay legal fees for a slander lawsuit he filed against a former commissioner’s wife.
Crystal said he would support liquor sales in establishments such as Griffith’s.
“I’m 100 percent against any form of discrimination, and since he’s the only establishment that I can think of in the world that’s not allowed a liquor license, I can’t think of any logical reason why that should be the case,” the candidate said. “If he still desires a liquor licenses, which I think he does, I would bring it before the commission.”