Completing a swift and shocking fall from frontrunner to gracious runner-up, Teresa Sarnoff conceded the race for Miami’s District 2 commission seat Thursday to Ken Russell.
Sarnoff, the wife of outgoing Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, was expected to fight Russell for her husband’s commission seat over the next two weeks leading up to a Nov. 17 runoff election, triggered when none of the nine candidates in the race won more than 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election. Russell earned 42 percent of the vote, and Sarnoff came in a distant second with 23.5 percent.
With Sarnoff so far behind, and Russell expected to absorb much of the “anti-Sarnoff” vote that went to other candidates, many expected her campaign to use what was left of a $1 million war chest to unleash a torrent of negative advertising to bridge the gap over the next two weeks. Instead, Sarnoff explained in a letter to the Miami Herald Editorial Board Thursday that she will do the opposite and throw her support behind Russell to avoid “the insanity and cost of a two-week sprint that tears apart the community, leaving the elected wounded.”
“Although my campaign remains financially viable and well funded, I have made the choice to do something different that, I hope, will establish a precedent moving forward. I have made the choice to finish this election with a socially conscious campaign,” she wrote.
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Sarnoff, however, said in her letter that she will not officially withdraw due to both a lack of clarity in how the law would address such an action and concerns that Grace Solares, the third-place finisher, would file a challenge. Solares said in a statement that she will not contest the election and both she and Russell called Thursday for the city and elections department to anoint Russell the commissioner-elect and avoid a costly runoff.
I have made the choice to finish this election with a socially conscious campaign.
“Throughout this hard-fought race, even in the sometimes bitter atmosphere of political debate, Teresa has carried herself with class. I have the utmost respect for her decision,” Russell said in a statement. “Our campaign is not over. Until we receive official notification from the City and the county Supervisor of Elections, we will continue reaching out to voters and spreading our message of new leadership.”
For now, Miami City Attorney Victoria Mendez said the city does not have provisions for removing a name from a ballot and is preparing to hold a runoff election with Sarnoff and Russell. She declined to discuss what might happen if Sarnoff withdrew from the race. Miami elections law attorney J.C. Planas, however, said that were Sarnoff to withdraw after the general election is certified the city could declare Russell unopposed and elected, and cancel the Nov. 17 election.
“Whether or not she ultimately officially withdraws, I don’t know if that decision has been made yet,” said Planas, who offered friendly advice to the Sarnoffs but did not act as their counsel. “If that were to happen my legal opinion is obviously Ken Russell wins automatically.”
Later in the evening, Sarnoff said she plans to withdraw from the election on Monday if the city comes to the same conclusion as Planas. The election is scheduled to be certified Friday.
Throughout this hard-fought race, even in the sometimes bitter atmosphere of political debate, Teresa has carried herself with class. I have the utmost respect for her decision.
Sarnoff called Russell about her decision early Thursday before releasing her letter to the Miami Herald, and the two had a conversation in Coconut Grove over coffee. She told a reporter that she made her decision after considering the large gap between the two candidates.
“You get into an election because you believe you can do it and fight for your beliefs but you have to look at the numbers, look at what's going on and look down the path of where you're going and think about what you're doing. It just would have been messy,” she said.
Sarnoff still had $100,000 in campaign funds as of late October, and said she will spend what is left on animal rescue, the homeless and a free trolley for the Grove. Her husband still has more than $200,000 in funds in an electioneering communications organization called Truth is the Daughter of Time.
Though Sarnoff emphasized her want to remain positive, she couldn’t help but knock Solares on her way out, claiming in her letter that Solares, who has sued the city multiple times, has cost Miami taxpayers $12 million. Solares called that a lie in a statement to the press. And her campaign consultant, Christian Ulvert, claimed his own small victory after authoring a slew of attack mailers against the Sarnoffs.
“Our effort to brand Sarnoff and expose the truth led to this moment,” he said. “Congratulations to Commissioner-elect Ken Russell on his final victory.”