Miami Beach

Mayoral candidate accused of trying to silence critics


Levine’s response

Through his campaign consultant, Philip Levine refused to answer questions about his response to political attacks on the telephone. Instead, his campaign manager, Alex Miranda, emailed this statement to a Miami Herald reporter, which is reprinted here in full. In the email, “Gongora” refers to current Commissioner Michael Góngora, who is also running for mayor, along with candidate Steve Berke.

Hello Christina:

You are only authorized to write the answers below, verbatim. You are NOT allowed to edit or paraphrase these on the record answers. You can reference the responses as, "Philip Levine’s campaign responded in writing for the record citing concern that The Miami Herald’s bias in this election would result in a distortion of his answers."

1. Why were these complaints/this lawsuit filed? The complaints/lawsuits have been filed because Gongora is running a dishonest, unethical, and illegal coordinated campaign. His mail and TV ads are filled with outright lies and misleading information about Philip Levine and his company. Mr. Levine is exercising his right to defend himself from distortions and lies that Gongora is making about him.

2. How are these ads affecting your campaign? My campaign is running very strongly among all segments of the community, in English and Spanish, from South Beach, to Mid Beach to North Beach, with overwhelming support. Gongora’s negative ads are filled with lies about Levine and are being paid for by a political organization that refuses to follow state and federal laws. Mr. Levine is exercising his right to defend himself from distortions and lies that Gongora is making about him.

3. What do you say in response to claims that these complaints have a "chilling effect" on those who oppose your candidacy? The premise of this question is absurd. Mr. Levine is the victim of an illegal and dishonest coordinated political operation by Mr. Gongora. Unfortunately, rather than being a neutral party in exposing this fact, The Miami Herald has been an enabler of Mr. Gongora’s illegal and dishonest operation and tactics. Mr. Levine is exercising his right to defend himself from distortions and lies that Gongora is making about him.


While campaign pot shots have come to be expected, one Miami Beach mayoral candidate’s response has come under question.

Candidate Philip Levine’s campaign has aggressively filed several complaints and a lawsuit against people who he says are launching illegal attacks against him. The campaign has also sent cease and desist letters to local TV stations for airing ads without the proper disclaimers.

Levine’s opponents say his litigious response to attacks is an attempt to muzzle their free speech.

“They are going around trying to shut everybody up,” said Alex Fernandez, who was recently hit with a Florida Elections Commission complaint filed by Levine’s attorney.

The attorney, J.C. Planas, counters that election laws are being broken. All of the complaints filed — at least four so far, plus a lawsuit — revolve around disclosure and reporting requirements for political ads. But those requirements only apply to political organizations that send out ads and raise money for campaigns.

“I am not in a political campaign. I am a resident,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez has run for office in the past and is currently an aide to Commissioner Deede Weithorn. He sent out a letter — which he says he paid for himself — encouraging voters to cast ballots for certain candidates. Levine was not among his recommendations.

A political blogger recently faced similar charges after he wrote disparaging reports about Levine. Those charges — a state elections complaint, an ethics commission complaint and a lawsuit — were all dismissed. The lawsuit also targeted two political organizations, a company with ties to those organizations and others.

Joseph S. Geller is an attorney who represented some of the defendants in the lawsuit. He said the suit was an attempt “to try to silence your opponent from speaking, from communicating with the voters.”

Fernandez said he and a group of residents called a press conference for Wednesday to “denounce the intimidating tactics being used by the Philip Levine for Mayor campaign against Miami Beach residents for expressing their freedom of speech during this election cycle.”

Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower will speak at the press conference. Bower is term-limited but she is running for a commission seat. She supports one of Levine’s opponents, current Commissioner Michael Góngora. A third candidate, entertainer Steve Berke, also is in the race.

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that Mayor Matti Herrera Bower called the press conference. Bower will speak at the event, but Fernandez and other residents organized it.

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