From her new seat on the dais in City Hall, newly minted Miami Beach Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán addressed the packed chamber with a message about what her new job means to her.
“For me this is about taking care of everyday people — parents, homeowners, small business owners, people stuck in traffic, people wading through puddles to get to their cars,” said the information technology consultant and former PTA president. “Everything we do as a commission is going to help the everyday person.”
Alemán, Ricky Arriola and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez will get their chance to prove this to Miami Beach’s 90,000 residents after the three political newcomers were sworn in Monday as Miami Beach’s newest elected leaders. They join reelected Mayor Philip Levine and current commissioners Micky Steinberg, Michael Grieco and Joy Malakoff in governing the fourth most populous city in Miami-Dade County.
The new commission takes over in the midst of a few seminal city projects, including the upcoming $509 million renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center and an ambitious $500 million program to combat sea level rise by installing dozens of pumps and raising roads. A constant traffic gridlock continues to plague the popular resort city, where leaders have to balance serving residents, businesses and tourists.
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With the political jockeying of campaign season done, everyone was all smiles Monday at City Hall. But now the City Commission is expected to get to the business of governing. Its first meeting is Dec. 9.
“Today is the beginning of our journey together as a cohesive body,” Levine said after being sworn in. “Our past differences are now in the past. Our past negative rhetoric is now in the past.”
During the campaign, Arriola and Alemán openly lauded Levine’s first term and campaigned alongside the mayor. As a candidate, Rosen Gonzalez was a vocal critic of the city’s urgent approach to dealing with sea level rise because of the possible effects it may have on the environment. She reiterated this during her remarks Monday, saying the city might want to look at a more multi-faceted approach to stemming rising tides.
“Maybe the future Miami Beach will be full of lakes and ponds,” she said, echoing a vision proposed by University of Miami graduate and urban designer Isaac Stein.
Rosen Gonzalez, a Miami-Dade College professor, told her new colleagues she looks forward to working with them to find common ground.
“That’s our challenge,” she said. “To work hard together to maintain and improve the most dynamic and unique city in the world.”
Arriola, a businessman who joins Levine as the second CEO on the dais, said the entire commission needs the community’s support to move projects forward.
“We are going to make great things happen and I cannot wait,” he said.
Before the swearing-in ceremony, the city wished three term-limited commissioners well as their term’s ended: Deede Weithorn, Ed Tobin and Jonah Wolfson. Tobin resigned a few weeks early to be sworn in as a police officer in Miami, and he could not attend Monday. Weithorn and Wolfson were presented keys to the city.
The City Commission’s job is to make policy decisions and provide guidance for the city’s executive, City Manager Jimmy Morales, who oversees the government’s day-to-day operations.
After the ceremony, Morales said he looks forward to some fresh faces on the dais.
“I welcome the new energy,” he said. “Every organization needs to change up, get some new blood in, and so I actually think this is going to be very healthy — new pairs of eyes to look at the things that we’ve been doing. I’ve gotten to know them all, and I think we’ll have a good working relationship.”