Six candidates are vying for a Miami Beach Group 4 commission seat in a race with varying views and vastly different campaign budgets.
The contenders, whose professional backgrounds range from environmental science to real estate, are: Michael DeFilippi, 30; Scott Diffenderfer, 47; Isaiah Mosley, 33; Jonathan Parker, 53; Betsy Pérez. 52; and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, 42.
Issues on the table include traffic reduction and parking availability; climate change preparedness and environmental protection; real-estate development; and local-government transparency.
There is consensus among candidates on various topics, but suggested measures vary.
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To solve Miami Beach’s parking inconveniences and chronic gridlock problem, the Group 4 candidates offer differing solutions.
While lawyer Parker and Rosen Gonzalez, a professor at Miami Dade College, both suggest a synchronized traffic-light system, DeFilippi, a real estate agent with Global Luxury Realty, and Pérez, wife of music producer Rudy Pérez, see a water taxi across Biscayne Bay as a potential panacea to traffic woes.
Mosley, an environmental scientist, also advocates for alternate modes of transportation, which he suggests could be facilitated through expedited completion of the beachside boardwalk, as well as protected bike lanes.
Diffenderfer, a realtor with Hahne Real Estate, also advocates for protected bike lanes, as well as expansion of the trolley and circulator bus system. He suggests increasing rates for centrally located parking spots and creating a Transportation Trust Fund to which parking revenue surplus could be funneled. Those funds could be used for parking and transportation projects and possibly traffic-enforcement cops, a measure suggested by Parker, as well.
Pérez, also a proponent of trolley and circulator bus expansion, calls for new parking garages to accommodate those who commute to Miami Beach on a daily basis for work.
Mosley and DeFilippi both champion environmental protection and preservation.
If elected, Mosley’s priorities include changing the building code to increase the minimum finished-floor elevation; improving storm-water pump stations to minimize environmental impact; and implementing “a Green Streets Program” (increasing native tree canopy) to absorb rainfall and enhance communities’ environmental and economic value.
DeFilippi, creator of Clean Up Miami Beach, a Facebook group with more than 2,000 members, calls for reassessment of the current pumping system; a trash can at every corner; and allocation of resort taxes to keep beaches clean.
Parker advocates for addressing rising sea levels through infrastructure overhaul only “as the problem worsens.”
Similarly, Rosen Gonzalez believes the city should slow its efforts to combat sea-level rise, as to not “squander our money on outdated technology” and “be more responsible with the flood mitigation project.”
Diffenderfer, on the other hand, believes not enough is being done, calling sea-level rise “a huge issue that our country and particularly our state are sadly not addressing.” He supports construction of seawalls and street elevation.
REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT
If elected, Parker hopes to curb “irresponsible development” and “developer-driven changes to the code.” Rosen Gonzalez, in the same vein, would like for major developments to be kept to a minimum and to be scheduled in a way that mitigates both residents and tourists’ “construction fatigue.”
Mosley, Diffenderfer and Rosen Gonzalez advocate for development of workforce housing.
DeFilippi opposes residential development unless it is restorative.
Pérez, who’s received campaign contributions from real-estate interests, opposes “any development that increases density and traffic problems.”
Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, she could not answer why her campaign returned two contributions from real-estate development firms in May, saying she would have to check with her campaign manager.
“Transparency is a serious problem,” according to Mosley, a view echoed by Rosen Gonzalez, as well as Diffenderfer, who said “residents feel that a lot of ‘backroom deals’ are happening with developers.”
Candidates almost unanimously agree that the relationship between local government and political action committees is dubious. Pérez is the only Group 4 contender who does not believe Relentless for Progress, a vendor and developer-backed PAC, posed a conflict for the city and vendors who had, or were seeking, contracts with Miami Beach.
“I believe in complete transparency for any Political Action Committee,” Pérez wrote. “From my understanding this PAC was transparent on who was contributing to it.”
Early voting has begun in Miami Beach. Early-voting sites are open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends through Nov. 1.
▪ Miami Beach City Hall: 1700 Convention Center Dr.
▪ North Shore Branch Library: 7501 Collins Ave.
Voters in Miami Beach have several races on the ballot, including mayor and three commission seats.
Miami Beach Group 4 Candidates
▪ Age: 30
▪ Occupation: Real estate agent, Global Luxury Realty
▪ Educational background: University of Massachusetts, Amherst
▪ Years as a Miami Beach resident: 5
▪ Previous public service: Has never held public office. Appointed member of the Miami Beach Sustainability Committee in 2014. Initiated the Styrofoam ban ordinance. Worked with state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, on plastic bag bill.
▪ Fundraising: Raised $3,035, spent $2,208.49 as of Oct. 9
▪ Age: 47
▪ Occupation: Realtor, Hahne Real Estate
▪ Educational background: University of Alabama
▪ Years as a Miami Beach resident: 20 years
▪ Previous public service: Has never held public office. Member of: Miami Beach Transportation, Parking & Bicycle Facilities; Miami Beach Charter Review Committee; Florida Department of Transportation Venetian Causeway Project PD&E Advisory Group; Miami Beach Traffic Engineering Consulting Services Request For Qualifications Evaluation Committee
▪ Fundraising: Raised $58,620, spent $38,472.49 as of Oct. 9
▪ Age: 33
▪ Occupation: Environmental scientist, URS Corporation
▪ Educational background: Florida State University
▪ Years as a Miami Beach resident: 5½ years
▪ Previous public service: Has never held public office. Participated in community service efforts, including beach cleanups, exotic plant species removal and native tree planting.
▪ Fundraising: Raised $1,751, spent $1,404.52 as of Oct. 9
▪ Age: 53
▪ Occupation: lawyer, Parker & Maloney PA
▪ Educational background: Tulane University (B.S.); University of Miami (J.D.)
▪ Years as a Miami Beach resident: 25 years
▪ Previous public service: Has never held public office. Graduate of the Miami Beach Leadership Academy. Member of: Miami Beach Safety Committee; Miami Beach Police/Citizens Committee
▪ Fundraising: Raised $25,150, spent $13,764 as of Oct. 9
Elizabeth “Betsy” Pérez
▪ Age: 52
▪ Occupation: Executive director of Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame
▪ Educational background: Associated Travel & Tourism School, North Miami Beach
▪ Years as a Miami Beach resident: 32 years
▪ Previous public service: Has never held public office. Board member, Animal Welfare Society of South Florida. Member of North Beach Development Corporation. Served in the Miami Beach Public School PTA for more than 25 years.
▪ Fundraising: Raised $72,061, spent $44,798.73 as of Oct. 9
Kristen Rosen Gonzalez
▪ Age: 42
▪ Occupation: Professor, Miami Dade College
▪ Educational background: Tufts University (B.A.), Barry University (M.A.), Barry University (PhD - expected 2017)
▪ Years as a Miami Beach resident: On and off, more than 20 years
▪ Previous public service: Has never held public office. Member of: Miami Beach Leadership Academy; Miami Beach Commission for Women; Ruth’s List Advisory Board
▪ Fundraising: Raised $45,315, spent $33,360 as of Oct. 9