Miami-Dade County

Confusion still reigns in Miami’s District 2 election

Teresa Sarnoff
Teresa Sarnoff

Four days after suspending her campaign for Miami’s District 2 commission seat and throwing her support behind frontrunner Ken Russell, Teresa Sarnoff notified the city of Miami on Monday that she would withdraw from a Nov. 17 runoff election to finally decide a new commissioner representing downtown and Coconut Grove.

And yet, somehow, one of the strangest elections in the city’s history remained as confusing as ever, at least for one more day.

Instead of bringing closure to the election as expected, the office of Miami’s city attorney issued an opinion Monday that the city must hold a runoff election, that Sarnoff’s name must be on the ballot and that Miami’s city clerk likely cannot “accept a withdrawal at this stage of the electoral process.”

“Imagine if she wins,” chuckled Mayor Tomás Regalado.

Meanwhile, as questions about Sarnoff’s shocking concession and the city’s election process continue to dominate the news in the days since Russell pulled an unexpected 41 percent of the vote in the Nov. 3 general election, Russell continues to campaign amid uncertainty. But he is also holding court with politicians and businessmen who see him as the commissioner-elect, and weighing how to handle the deluge of campaign donations coming his way.

He met Monday afternoon in Wynwood with County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, developer Moishe Mana and Florida International University president Mark Rosenberg to talk about future plans for the neighborhood. He has also been flooded with campaign donations from 11th hour supporters — so much that Russell said in a statement that he intended to return a “significant amount” of donations Monday.

After the city attorney’s office issued its opinion, Russell again urged his supporters to vote for him in the runoff election. Nearly 7,000 absentee ballots have been mailed out already, and late last week voters received mailers urging them to vote Sarnoff on Nov. 17 — fueling speculation that she may still have interest in winning the seat.

“Although the other candidate has conceded and suspended her campaign, I’m urging all voters in District 2 to cast their vote at the polls on Tuesday, November 17th or send in their absentee ballots as soon they receive them,” Russell’s campaign said in a letter sent Monday to the Miami Herald. “Despite the concession of the other candidate, the City Attorney of Miami has ruled that the Runoff Election be held.”

Sarnoff, who did not respond to requests for comment Monday, has said repeatedly that she is conceding the race to Russell in order to avoid a nasty runoff election and that there is no stealth campaign. She said the mailers that went out late last week were proactively put in the mail on Tuesday, when multiple polls showed the runoff would almost certainly be her against Grace Solares, who ended up coming in third place.

Monday’s legal opinion only furthered speculation that Sarnoff might still want to win the runoff election, but clarity could finally be on the way.

While Sarnoff’s name will be on the Nov. 17 ballot, City Attorney Victoria Méndez told Regalado over the weekend that votes for Sarnoff wouldn’t count once she declared her intent to withdraw. Some questioned whether Monday’s opinion contradicted that statement, but Méndez said in an interview late Monday that her office will issue an opinion as early as Tuesday addressing that issue now that Sarnoff has put her intentions to withdraw in writing.

“The question now has been posed whether votes will be counted,” said Méndez, who is still researching the issue. “We'll be issuing an addendum or opinion on that.”

David Smiley: 305-376-2284, @newsbysmiley