Miami Beach

After fundraising scandal, Grieco expected to drop bid for Beach mayor

mocner@miamiherald.com

After a fundraising scandal tarnished his populist campaign, Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco is privately telling supporters he will give up his bid for mayor, three sources with knowledge of his thinking told the Miami Herald on Saturday.

Grieco would instead run for his current commission seat, potentially throwing that race into disarray, one of the sources said.

“He’s following his heart,” said a donor to his campaign who asked not to be named. The donor said that he heard the news directly from Grieco and that the decision seemed to be final.

Grieco declined to discuss the issue with the Herald on Saturday.

“I will be giving a public statement about my campaign on Monday afternoon,” he said.

Grieco’s withdrawal would leave his main opponent, former state Sen. Dan Gelber, as the only candidate for Beach mayor with name recognition and a sizable war chest. Two other candidates, marketing professional Daniel Kahn and biking activist Kenneth Bereski, remain in the race.

Campaign derailed

The race between Grieco and Gelber was competitive, with both men raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Grieco’s campaign came under fire after the Herald revealed his ties to an outside political fundraising group. The group, People for Better Leaders, raised money from Beach bigwigs, including developers, lobbyists and city vendors. Grieco strongly denied any connections to it.

“You can look right into my soul,” he told reporters at the time.

But donors said they were told their contributions would help his campaign. And Grieco’s handwriting appeared on documents filed by the group, run by Grieco’s friend, Brian Abraham. Now the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office is investigating.

The race for Grieco’s seat has grown crowded in his absence. Mark Samuelian, Joshua Levy, Rafael Velasquez and Mohammed Islam are currently in the running. Donors to Grieco’s mayoral campaign will be able to ask for their money back or, if they wish, transfer the funds to his new campaign.

He raised a total of $535,269.

Some Grieco supporters who hadn’t heard the news yet were surprised.

“I don’t know why he would do that,” said one. “I thought he still had a shot.”

Tempers in the Grieco camp seemed to flare this past week when City Hall employees heard the commissioner engage in a shouting match with his commission aide, Danila Bonini.

Bonini described Grieco as “volatile” and reported the incident to her supervisor, according to a city memo.

As a commissioner and candidate, Grieco has championed issues that he said would improve neighborhood quality of life and safety, including a crackdown on crime, criticism of a chemical used to spray and kill mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus and opposition to a light-rail train in South Beach. In a recent interview with HuffPost, he obliquely criticized Mayor Philip Levine’s emphasis on sea-level rise, an issue that brought national attention to Miami Beach.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

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