Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff isn’t running for re-election in November. But you wouldn’t know it from political attacks launched over the past several days.
On Monday, Comcast began running a commercial by District 2 candidate Ken Russell, in which the sports gear wholesaler goes after Sarnoff’s municipal pension and track record. The sleek 30-second advertisement — which Russell says is airing for two weeks on CNN, Comedy Central, and several other channels — comes on the heels of a union mailer linked to another District 2 candidate, Grace Solares, criticizing the commissioner’s relationship with developers.
Neither Russell nor Solares are running against the term-limited commissioner. They’re running against Teresa Sarnoff, his wife.
“We really decided we need people to understand that Marc is the issue, and really, Marc is the candidate,” said Russell.
Because Teresa Sarnoff has little in the way of a visible civic track record, critics mock her as a proxy for her husband and question her credentials and motivation. But in a city where names are like political brands — think Carollo, Regalado and Suarez — she has the advantage of the Sarnoff name and campaign machine.
She also has a significant fundraising advantage over the field, and says she has been walking door to door for weeks getting face-time with thousands of voters. She said Monday that it’s “kind of sexist to say that a wife can’t run,” and ripped her opponents for going after her husband.
“You don’t build your reputation by tearing somebody else down. Show us what you’re going to do. Do something positive,” she said. “I’m sick of these negative ads and for them to come out so early in the campaign, I’m surprised at it. I don’t think that bodes well for the coming election.”
Russell said his campaign produced and released the commercial after polling 300 voters and finding that while the poll showed Teresa Sarnoff in the lead, it showed Russell and several others in a jumble of close seconds. His campaign chose to pounce after viewing the results.
He had loaned his campaign $35,000 as of June 1, and said he spent $10,200 on the commercial. The ad doesn’t mention Teresa Sarnoff by name, and says only that Commissioner Sarnoff wants voters to elect his wife.
The Herald spoke to two local political consultants not involved in the District 2 campaign. One said attacking Commissioner Sarnoff is essentially attacking the Sarnoff brand. Another said going on the offensive early can pay dividends.
“Early attacks are extremely effective — if you can afford them. They define your opponent before they can define themselves,” said consultant Keith Donner.
Russell’s commercial began airing just days after some Miami voters received a glossy mailer by the Southeast Laborers’ District Council attacking the commissioner for siding with “big developers and contractors.” The ad notes that Sarnoff voted to support tax rebates for the Miami Worldcenter — as did the rest of the Miami Commission — and in one hearing voted against a responsible wage for workers on public contracts. The commissioner said at the time of the vote that there was no estimate for how much the change would cost the city.
Matthew Land, the union’s political director, said in a statement that the mailer “is part of the outreach effort to share with Miami residents the record of elected officials who stand against community standards like responsible wages and the hiring of a local workforce.”
The union behind the mailer, however, is a client of political consultant Christian Ulvert, who represents District 2 candidate Grace Solares, a candidate who hasn’t been shy about going after the Sarnoffs. Ulvert said Monday that the mailer — which says nothing about an election — was about the Miami Worldcenter, not the campaign.
“If it had anything to do with a campaign it would be more campaign-focused,” he said.
Commissioner Sarnoff scoffed at that assertion.
“Don’t tear me down,” he said. “Don’t go through me to get to her.”