Miami Beach

Miami Beach mayor’s race heats up with email attacks

Dan Gelber, left, is running against Commissioner Michael Grieco for mayor of Miami Beach.
Dan Gelber, left, is running against Commissioner Michael Grieco for mayor of Miami Beach.

The mayor’s race in Miami Beach is heating up as much as the sweltering air in the seaside city after the two most prominent candidates hurled accusations and insults at each other in a series of emails Monday, questioning each other’s ethics and records of public service.

Dan Gelber, the former state legislator and federal prosecutor who is running for his first municipal government position, traded jabs with Michael Grieco, a criminal defense attorney and current commissioner. With the election still about six months away, it’s already getting ugly.

An email blasted out Friday by Gelber’s campaign touted the results of a poll that found he was ahead of Grieco after the voter is provided biographical information on both candidates.

Then the poll taker told the voter being questioned that Grieco may be tied to a political action committee that has raised money from city vendors and lobbyists — a controversial and, in some cases, illegal fundraising tactic under the Beach’s unusually strict campaign finance laws.

The poll of 350 registered Beach voters found that Grieco has greater name recognition from the outset, but 82 percent of those surveyed said they were concerned when told that Grieco may have ties to a PAC controlled by a friend who has accepted contributions from people with business before the city.

The election is Nov. 7. There are several candidates running for mayor and three commission seats.

Grieco denied involvement with the PAC. He called Gelber’s poll a “push poll,” which is where the pollster influences results by citing information unfavorable to an opponent. The information, which might not be confirmed or accurate, can serve more to harm voter opinion of a candidate than to gauge which candidate constituents favor in a race.

On Monday, Grieco fired back in his own email blast with the subject line “Dishonest Dan.” He rips the poll, accuses Gelber of lying and denies involvement with any PAC.

“To date, I do not have or control a political committee and have not yet raised money for one,” Grieco wrote. “I have solely focused on raising money for my own campaign account. The fact is that I have many friends who chair or participate in political committees, campaigns, and other forms of political free speech.”

Political committees have been controversial in Miami Beach, partly because of strict campaign finance laws that aim to prevent monied special interests from having a disproportionate role in fundraising.

He then lobs his own accusations, saying Gelber’s campaign is behind another PAC that recently sent out mailers attacking Grieco.

Following Grieco’s blast on Monday, the battle turned to war.

Around 3:30 p.m., Gelber fired off an email criticizing Grieco’s record as a state prosecutor.

He references Grieco’s involvement in a high-profile case in 2006 where he stepped aside as the lead prosecutor in the assault case against former Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor. Grieco, then an assistant state attorney, faced accusations that he was using his position as lead prosecutor in the case to promote his work as a nightclub disc jockey. Grieco asked to be replaced as prosecutor on that case and was.

Gelber references an instance where Grieco violated the email policy in the State Attorney’s Office and mentions a 2008 reprimand of Grieco by the Florida Bar. Grieco entered an unconditional guilty plea after he misled officers during the investigation of an assault where one of his personal friends was accused.

Grieco said Gelber was more focused on digging up issues from his past — the same issues that were brought up during his successful 2013 run for commission — instead of focusing on problems facing the city.

“As an absentee resident, Dan wants to talk about my emails from 2002,” he said. “As an activist-turned-commissioner/mayoral candidate, I’ll continue to focus on the issues in our city.”

Grieco’s campaign noted that excerpts of public documents in Gelber’s email match an image on a recent attack mailer apparently sent by a new political committee that is not registered in public records.

Those expecting a civil campaign solely focused on the issues might want to lower their expectations.

An earlier version of this article stated poll questions in the wrong order. After voters were told of allegations that Grieco was tied a political action committee, they were asked if that was a matter of concern to them but not which candidate they favored.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech