When Marc Sarnoff took a seat on the Miami City Commission, the Perez Art Museum Miami was still just talk, Brickell was still a fairly navigable corridor and Coconut Grove was, well, Coconut Grove. As representative of District 2 on the commission, Mr. Sarnoff oversaw and helped encourage growth and development in his waterfront district, at the same time, turning his commission seat into one of power.
Mr. Sarnoff is stepping down, term-limited after nine years on the commission, and nine candidates are vying to take his place on Election Day. District 2 includes downtown Miami, Morningside, Edgewater, Brickell, Coconut Grove, Virginia Key and Watson Island, clearly an asset-rich area.
The nine candidates for this seat are: Grace Solares, a well-known community activist and paralegal, Williams Armbrister, a retired FPL employee; Javier Gonzalez, a Remax real-estate agent and member of the Coconut Grove Village Council; Rosa Palomino, a teacher at Citrus Grove Elementary; Ken Russell, a businessman; Teresa Sarnoff, the commissioner’s wife; Mike Simpson, manager of the Mellow Mushroom in South Miami; Seth Sklarey, also a member of the Coconut Grove Village Council; and Lorry Woods, owner of a downtown gastro pub.
The Editorial Board met with all of the candidates except for Mr. Armbrister, who declined the invitation to participate.
In this crowded race there are heartening examples of residents who want to serve, have thoughtful ideas on what will help the city progress and have the smarts to make it happen: Ms. Woods, a downtown business owner, would be a credible voice for those who labor in the city’s economic heart; Mr. Gonzalez says he wants to “give back;” and Ms. Solares has labored long and hard in the trenches as a community activist.
For all the buzz that this race is hers race to lose, Ms. Sarnoff — after all, she is the commissioner’s wife and has raised copious campaign funds — brings a pleasant personality and, seemingly, good intentions to the race. However, when asked to drill down on the issues most important to District 2, and the city, she came up short, referencing her early family life as “one of 10 girls” and her ability to be a “peacemaker.” But neither those, nor her husband’s coattails, will be enough to wrestle this burgeoning district.
The most impressive candidate is a newcomer. However, that description should not be confused with “naive” or “unable.” Ken Russell, 42, is a local businessman whose company sells watersports equipment, and he’s a yo-yo champ who also is part of a family business that has sold millions of them. But stifle the snicker. Mr. Russell comes to the race through the kind of activism — that of an aggrieved resident — that has launched a thousand political careers. Mr. Russell worked, ironically, with Mr. Sarnoff to make sure that contaminants in Merrie Christmas Park were removed, not spread around the grounds as, he says, was originally planned. He admits to past business failures and a lack of civic engagement, but his commitment moving forward seems sincere.
He’s clear that too many neighborhoods feel ignored: Golden Pines, the West Grove, even Morningside among them. He envisions water taxis in order to relieve some roads of traffic. He says that he is not anti-development — a nice dose of realism on his part — but wants infrastructure in place to support it.
The Herald recommends KEN RUSSELL for the Miami Commission, District 2.
Incumbent Commissioner Willy Gort is seeking his final term. He faces Miguel Angel Gabela, a near-invisible opponent, but voters should not hesitate to return Mr. Gort to the commission.
He has overseen economic development and the creation of affordable housing in his area, which includes Allapattah and Grapeland Heights, and wants to expand the city’s trolley program to ease transit woes.
The Herald recommends WIFREDO ‘WILLY’ GORT for the Miami Commission, District 1.