Once underfunded and overlooked, Ken Russell was told he only needed one vote Tuesday to win Miami’s powerful District 2 commission seat. He received 2,700, ending what will surely go down as one of the most convoluted elections in Miami history with an exclamation point.
“Despite the big names, despite the big special interests, a yo-yo playing surfboard salesman was somehow able to become your commissioner,” Russell said during a victory speech at the Grove Spot Tuesday night that began with an emphatic “whooo!” and ended with two hands flashing rock-n-roll signs as AC/DC’s Back in Black began to play. “Money and special interests didn’t elect me, you did. So I can promise they won’t guide me, you will.”
The 42-year-old South Grove businessman had time to perfect his speech. He was guaranteed to win the seat that represents Miami’s waterfront neighborhoods from Coconut Grove to Morningside after his lone remaining opponent dropped out of the race last week when Russell emerged from the Nov. 3 election with more than 40 percent of the vote. Teresa Sarnoff’s withdrawal left the city to proceed with an unprecedented election for Miami, in which two names were on the ballot but only votes for Russell would be counted or published.
Though it was heavily publicized that the results of the election were predetermined, Russell just about matched his 2,725 vote total from Nov. 3. More than 1,500 people voted by absentee ballot, and more than 1,000 hit the polls Tuesday. When the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections published the voting results, it showed Russell with 100 percent of the vote.
Some voters said they cast their ballots Tuesday because they were skeptical of the process, and worried about election shenanigans.
“I don’t trust the process,” said Don Everett, a North Grove voter who wanted to make sure Russell won, despite the city’s assurances that he couldn’t lose. “I’ve lived in Miami all my life. What more do I have to say?”
But Tuesday’s election was mostly marked by hope and excitement from voters who believe Russell will be more in touch with the people who live in the neighborhoods he represents, and less connected to big business and developers than outgoing Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, Teresa Sarnoff’s husband.
“I came out today to really just seal the deal for Ken,” said Riki Shaw, a Grove Isle resident who voted at the Museum of Science. “I really feel he’s the real deal.”
Russell, who was outspent roughly five times over by Sarnoff leading up to the general election, said it’s likely he’ll be sworn in Nov. 25, the earliest he can be placed into office for his four-year term. He told the dozens who attended his election party — including Mayor Tomás Regalado and Commissioner Francis Suarez — that he’s dreaming of transportation solutions, extra green space and a more ethical and collaborative government.
“For those of you who voted today, 2,600 people came out today. And you know that it matters to them. It does matter and it did matter,” he said. “I will make it my mission to make you proud. The first step is to let Miami know a new generation has arrived and the voice of the people is back.”