In an election twist bizarre even by Miami standards, it appears voters in District 2 will indeed head to the polls Nov. 17 to declare a new city commissioner — but votes for one of the candidates on the ballot won’t count.
That’s how the city is expected to proceed in the wake of Teresa Sarnoff’s announcement Thursday that she would suspend her campaign for her husband’s commission seat and throw her support behind frontrunner Ken Russell. Sarnoff, the wife of term-limited Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, said she planned to withdraw from the runoff election, but only after receiving clarity on how the law and the city would handle her decision to drop out.
That position, following Tuesday’s general election in which Sarnoff finished a distant second, caused some uncertainty among voters and city officials for a few days. But clarity should come Monday with the expected issuance of a legal opinion by City Attorney Victoria Méndez that Miami must hold a runoff election even if Sarnoff drops out because the charter requires a new commissioner to be elected by more than 50 percent of the vote. Russell received only 42 percent Tuesday.
Méndez explained her position Saturday to Mayor Tomás Regalado and Commissioner Francis Suarez, both of whom requested her legal opinion. She also told them that no vote cast for Sarnoff will count if she withdraws.
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“The election is going to go forward,” Suarez said.
Reached Saturday evening, Sarnoff said she plans to withdraw Monday once the legal opinion is in writing.
“I am going to be withdrawing. It's just waiting on the city attorney's opinion to make sure that our I’s are dotted and our T’s crossed. I like to do it by the law, not by the mayor,” said Sarnoff. “I guess it's never happened before.”
Though it seems Miami voters will get some finality on the election, not everyone is happy with the result. Both Sarnoff and Russell called the $113,000 expense of the runoff election a waste of public money.
“A symbolic election would probably be wasteful,” said Russell, who continues to canvas neighborhoods and push for votes. “The voters need a clear decision so we can move forward without ambiguity and get started with the business of the city.”