Miami-Dade County

It’s official: Wife of term-limited Miami commissioner to run for his seat

Marc and Teresa Sarnoff
Marc and Teresa Sarnoff

The wife of polarizing Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff filed Tuesday to campaign for her spouse’s seat on the city commission, ending months of speculation about whether she would try to succeed her husband when term limits force him out of his post at the end of the year.

Teresa Sarnoff, 59, submitted the paperwork to open a campaign account at 12:04 p.m without any fanfare.

She has no personal political experience and, despite some activism in Coconut Grove where the Sarnoffs live, will have to work to be known with most voters as anything other than Commissioner Sarnoff’s wife. But some see her as the early frontrunner in a wide-open race thanks to her husband’s political machine and fundraising prowess.

“In many ways, her electoral chances hinge on peoples’ perspective of her husband,” said Sean Foreman, an associate professor of political science at Barry University.

The race for the open District 2 commission seat, which represents Downtown, Brickell and Coconut Grove, will likely be the most contested in Miami this year, with the other two city races featuring reelection bids by commissioners Francis Suarez and Wifredo “Willy” Gort. Already, three others have filed to run for Sarnoff’s seat: activist Grace Solares, teacher and radio producer Rosa Maria Palomino, and Coconut Grove businessman Mike Simpson.

Teresa Sarnoff’s entry, anticipated since the summer, only makes things more interesting.

The newly minted Cervera Real Estate associate said she has tapped veteran political consultant and lobbyist Steve Marin — who has worked with her husband, among other clients — to run her campaign. And while she says she’s her “own person,” Commissioner Sarnoff’s high profile gives her a platform unrivaled by her current opponents, even if it also gives them a target.

“My personality and views are going to come out regardless. Ask anybody who knows me and they will say I am my own person and I have my own viewpoints,” said Teresa Sarnoff, who couldn’t say how involved her husband will be in her campaign. “Will I bounce things off of him? Yeah. But will he be actively involved in it? He’s busy.”

It certainly appears as though Commissioner Sarnoff is actively involved in her campaign. Over the last two years, the commissioner has raised close to $250,000 through an electioneering communications organization of which he is the chairman. The ECO, Truth is the Daughter of Time, raised half of that in the month of November alone, including a haul of nearly $100,000 that included $25,000 from a company tied to Related Group CEO Jorge Perez, who according to the commissioner hosted the couple for a fundraiser that month.

The ECO’s funds, however, can be used to bolster any candidate during the weeks before an election, and Commissioner Sarnoff said it shouldn’t be assumed the account is for his wife. Still, he said the money was “raised to support people who recognize what Miami is, is becoming and needs to become, which is a better place for quality of life,” and added that “I certainly believe [Teresa] supports those endeavors.”

The perception that the married couple is tied at the hip has already fueled criticisms. Candidate Solares has said Mrs. Sarnoff will represent big-money developers and special interests if elected. Commissioner Sarnoff, in response, has highlighted Solares’ multiple lawsuits against city projects, arguing on the dais last month without naming her directly that her legal challenges have cost the city close to $1 million in rent.

The spats may be a window into the future. They also show how different Teresa Sarnoff’s campaign may be compared to her husband’s first commission run in 2006, when he was an activist known for fighting Home Depot and campaigning against an incumbent perceived to be favorable to developers and the status quo.

Now, after eight years in office, Sarnoff’s has earned a pro-business reputation and is seen by some to be “out of touch” and “a bit elitist,” said Foreman, the Barry political science professor. Still, Foreman said the commissioner doesn’t have any public scandals, putting his wife in a good position to succeed.

“I think in a lot of ways his wife benefits from mostly a productive two terms in office,” said Foreman. “But there is a yearning from people in District 2 for some fresh blood and fresh ideas. I’m just not sure if that fresh perspective has emerged yet.”

Teresa Sarnoff said Tuesday that she will start knocking on doors next week. She said she wants to continue her husband’s advocacy for improved policing, and improve “quality of life” issues for residents.

“I have good ideas. I enjoy the residents of District 2. I want to hear what they have to say,” she said. “So I’m excited about getting started.”