Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco screamed a profanity at a former political opponent at a public candidates forum Thursday night after he said the man insulted his girlfriend in a confrontation that highlighted the often bitter side of the sunny city’s politics and the temper of its most beleaguered candidate.
“You’re a fucking scumbag,” Grieco shouted at Dave Crystal, his competitor in the 2013 commission election.
As reports of the incident moved quickly though the Beach’s rumor mill Friday, Grieco said he was infuriated by Crystal’s presence and behavior at the forum in Middle Beach.
The episode marked another frustrating moment for Grieco, who is already dogged by his connections to a controversial political committee to the point that he pulled out of the mayor’s race last month and settled for a campaign for re-election for his current commission seat.
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Grieco claims Crystal, a vocal Grieco critic, was laughing and gesturing toward Grieco’s partner and mother of his son, Christine Klingspor. Grieco also believes Crystal is behind an online campaign to smear Grieco, particularly on a website that says he “isn’t much of a family man at all” because he isn’t married to Klingspor and they had a child out of wedlock.
Thursday night, Crystal denied any interaction with Klingspor and said he doesn’t run the website — though he later admitted that he contributes to it.
Grieco verbally confronted Crystal twice before walking out of the lobby of the Embassy House condo at 5750 Collins Ave. He then stormed back inside to speak to Crystal again, demanding an apology to his partner and that the website be taken down. Then, surrounded by residents and other candidates, he got loud.
“You’re a fucking scumbag,” he said to Crystal, sticking his finger in Crystal’s face.
“How am I a scumbag?” Crystal responded. “Is there anything I’ve said about you that isn’t true?”
“You mean about my family?” Grieco said. “You shouldn’t even be here.”
A few feet away, Klingspor stood quietly, with tears in her eyes. Crystal backed away slowly.
The men exchanged a few more words before mayoral candidate Dan Gelber, Grieco’s former opponent, placed his hand on Grieco’s chest to back him up. Adrian Gonzalez, another commission candidate, led a furious Grieco away before he got in a car and left.
Crystal, who now lives in Aventura, later said he felt threatened, called the police and gave them a statement for an incident report. According to the report, he “did not want to pursue this matter criminally but wanted documentation of an incident that occurred this evening.”
On Friday, Grieco denied making any physical threats. He defended his behavior and took aim at Crystal in a statement to the Herald:
“Dave Crystal, an obsessed, disgruntled former candidate, has been actively participating in my 2017 Miami Beach re-election by promoting his despicable website and aspersions against my family, in addition to other efforts,” he said. “After years of hateful defamation and last night’s lurking, eyeballing, pointing and laughing at my spouse by Mr. Crystal to a point where she was in tears, I do not regret demanding an apology and removal of his cowardly website. I’m fair game, but bullying family and especially children is reprehensible.”
Crystal said in an interview he does not own or control the attack website. But after being questioned about previous statements in which he acknowledged providing public documents to the site’s ownership, Crystal admitted he’s contributed writing to the site.
Later, Crystal accused Grieco of trying to suppress free speech by going after the website.
“He’s trying to bully me,” he said.
Miami Beach politics has long been a hotbed of colorful characters, nasty potshots and downright wacky altercations.
Twice in the past six years a candidate has published his opponent’s Social Security number as part of public records splashed onto attack ads. In 2015, Mark Weithorn did this to Ricky Arriola in a TV spot, mailer and email blast citing Arriola’s 2009 arrest on a misdemeanor battery charge following an altercation with a security guard. Arriola was never prosecuted, but his handwritten Social Security number, shown in the full arrest report, was included in the political ads.
But that wasn’t the end of it. When Arriola sued Weithorn, the process server said Weithorn clipped him with his car as he approached Weithorn at his home, an allegation Weithorn denied.
Every two years, mailboxes are flooded with attack ads that play fast and loose with facts and dredge up dirt on opposing candidates. Sometimes, the dirty moves are more creative.
Miami Beach’s municipal elections are on Nov. 7.
Gelber, whose father Seymour Gelber was Beach mayor in the 1990s, recalled a pro-Gelber robocall on his father’s Election Day that woke up voters in the wee hours of the morning — a ploy by his opponent to agitate voters hours before they went to the polls.
In other years, the candidates can add an entertaining dimension to local government.
Steve Berke, a former comedian, mounted a facetious 2011 campaign for mayor that featured videos of him taking shots of alcohol and images of him surrounded by models. Berke launched a more serious but unsuccessful run in 2013, but maintained his pro-marijuana stance — a prescient position, perhaps.
But voters can always count on mudslinging. And some of it carries over from one election cycle to the next. During the runoff in 2013, an anonymous email attacked Grieco for not being married to Klingspor.
“This is disgusting gutter politics,” Grieco said on Friday.
RAISING HIS VOICE
Grieco is known for raising his voice when he wants to be heard.
In late July, Grieco shouted at his city aide, Danila Bonini, telling her she would lose her job if she refused to take a leave of absence to work for his campaign, according to a memo written about the account. The incident took place in his City Hall office and was overheard by other employees who confirmed the shouting.
You need to calm down. You need to leave. It’s not worth it.
Candidate Adrian Gonzalez, to Michael Grieco
The commissioner responded to questions about that incident by saying he has disagreements with city staff every week, and he often raises his voice “on purpose so people will hear us.”
The shouting match was reported by the Herald following several articles detailing Grieco’s connection to a political committee that raised money from Beach developers, vendors and lobbyists. At the time, he was locked in a contentious race for mayor against Gelber.
The fundraising scandal eventually derailed his bid for mayor. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office launched an investigation into the committee’s activities in July. Grieco dropped out of the mayor’s race July 31, announcing he would instead run again for his commission seat. His opponents are Mark Samuelian and Rafael Velasquez.