Four candidates are running for two seats on the Village Council in Bal Harbour, the small seaside community anchored by its well-known shopping center.
The future of that retail destination, the Bal Harbour Shops, looms large in this year’s campaign. The complex’s ownership wants to expand, and a previous plan that included the sale of the village’s municipal hall failed after a Village Council vote in April. If it had cleared the council, the plan would’ve gone to a referendum. New plans that abandon the municipal hall swap were submitted in May, but the project has not been placed on a council agenda yet.
Two candidates would’ve wanted to see the public weigh in on the expansion — political newcomers who have received thousands of dollars in support from the shops’ ownership.
One incumbent felt the council was right to block the plan because it was in the best interest of the village.
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On Nov. 8, voters in District 2 and District 4 will select their representatives on the Village Council.
Incumbent Martin Packer, who has served on the council since 2007 and was elected mayor by the council in 2014, said he’d like to see a modest expansion of the Bal Harbour Shops and a refurbished Village Hall.
He said he voted against the original expansion plan because he felt selling Village Hall to the shops so it could be demolished to make way for a department store was not in the best interest of the village.
“The expansion that they wanted to have was much too big and they wanted to buy Village Hall,” he told the Miami Herald. “I don’t sell Village Hall for a commercial purpose.”
Packer’s challenger, Jeffrey Freimark, disagrees. The CEO of Miami Jewish Health Systems’ Douglas Gardens said voters should have had the opportunity to weigh in.
“I, quite frankly, found it reprehensible that it was denied to the residents the opportunity to vote on the conveyance of Village Hall,” he said.
Both men agree the city needs an upgraded municipal hall that incorporates a permanent headquarters for the village police department, which was recently reformed in the wake of a scandal over a troubled sting operation that took in millions from drug cartels without making a single arrest. Following a Miami Herald investigation into the issue, Packer publicly called for a federal investigation.
Freimark suggests the village should work with neighboring municipalities on traffic congestion issues and perhaps even a local fire rescue force to serve the cluster of oceanside communities.
Jaime Sanz, the current District 4 council member in Bal Harbour, has served on the council since 2005.
Sanz did not vote earlier this year on the Bal Harbour Shops issue. He recused himself because he is an employee of Neiman Marcus, one of the mall’s largest tenants.
Sanz did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.
David Albaum, a retired controller and chief financial officer in the public and private sector, is new to politics but a familiar name in Miami-Dade County.
Albaum was a former in-house financial consultant for the local teachers union, which more than a decade ago was mired in controversy when a former union leader was convicted of swindling million from union coffers. Albaum cooperated with authorities in the probe. He now touts his experience as a whistleblower as he runs for office for the first time.
Now retired, Albaum said he’s grown interested in local politics as the discussion over the shops has progressed, and he favored the expansion that was voted down.
“I didn’t see anything negative about it,” he said.
Bal Harbour Village Council candidates
▪ Martin Packer, 84
Occupation: Retired footwear retailer
Public Service: Served on council since 2007
▪ Jeffrey Freimark, 61
Occupation: CEO of Douglas Gardens, a nursing home owned by Miami Jewish Health Systems
Public service: First-time candidate
▪ Jaime Sanz, 71
Occupation: Employee of Neiman Marcus
Public service: Served on council since 2005
▪ David Albaum, 63
Occupation: Retired financial consultant
Public service: First-time candidate