This year’s municipal elections will bring a great deal of change to Miami Beach’s commission, including a new ceremonial leader of the city.
Voters will fill two open commission seats and elect a new mayor. With Mayor Philip Levine forgoing a campaign for a third term to weigh a run for governor, Beach voters will consider four candidates to replace him.
The campaign was supposed to be more hard-fought. The campaign began this year as an evenly matched contest between Commissioner Michael Grieco, a first-term commissioner with a populist reputation, and Dan Gelber, a former state legislator and federal prosecutor. But Grieco withdrew from the race amid a campaign finance scandal that has led to a criminal investigation.
That left Gelber with the largest war chest of the four remaining candidates. They are: Daniel Kahn, a marketing professional; Kenneth R. Bereski II, an information technology consultant and cycling activist; and June Savage, a real estate agent.
The mayor’s responsibilities are largely ceremonial. The mayor is one vote on a seven-person commission and serves as the chairman who runs commission meetings. The city manager is tasked with running day-to-day operations of the city.
Early voting begins Monday. Election Day is Nov. 7.
▪ Gelber, 56, served as a Florida state representative and state legislator for a decade before running as the Democratic nominee for attorney general in 2010. He lost that election to Pam Bondi. He has since opened a boutique law firm based in Brickell that handles complex civil litigation and white collar criminal defense cases.
Gelber has a comfortable fundraising lead with $529,787 as of his most recent campaign finance report.
Pointing to his previous experience in government, he says he would be effective working with the Florida Department of Transportation to encourage projects that would help traffic flow better in the Beach’s congested streets.
He also insists he would push hard for the creation of an inspector general in the Beach — an independent watchdog entity in City Hall to police ethics, waste and abuse in government.
“Having the mayor 100 percent behind it, it’s going to get done,” Gelber said.
He also wants to put together team of experts to challenge the city’s stormwater plan, which includes raising streets and installing electric pumps. The extra scrutiny on the city’s approach and timetable, he said, would ensure the system will succeed.
“I want to make sure we’re getting it right,” he said.
Gelber does not support the referendum rolling back hours of outdoor alcohol sales on Ocean Drive because he thinks the commission should have legislated the change as part of a broader package of changes for the street.
“I would rather look at the drinking time along with code enforcement and police enforcement so we can draft a more organic solution rather than debating what I believe is not a silver bullet,” he said.
▪ Savage, 50, works in luxury real estate and has served on Miami-Dade County’s bicycle advocacy committee. She filed to run when Grieco withdrew from the race. She considers Grieco an excellent commissioner who would have been a shoo-in for mayor.
“When our guy Michael Grieco … decided not to run for mayor, there was an extreme urge to step forward and be the mayor of Miami Beach,” she said.
She feels the city should have tried to build an adjacent hotel at the same time as the renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center. She’s also critical of the Beach’s stormwater drainage plans, particularly for failing to include permanent backup generators in the initial round of anti-flooding pumps.
“I’m not sure that raising the streets is going to do anything,” she said.
Savage, who has raised $1,200, says the current commission has done a poor job of supporting its police force, and she wants to see more communication between the mayor’s office and the police department.
“The first responders of this city have been ignored by Philip Levine,” Savage said, pointing to a vote of no confidence delivered by Miami Beach’s police union in June. At the time, Levine dismissed the vote as a political stunt.
Savage, who made plans to ride along with police this weekend on Ocean Drive to see their work firsthand, opposes the referendum rolling back last call. She thinks it unfairly targets a small number of businesses with a restriction that will, in the end, not effectively reduce crime.
“To just close those and leave everything else open makes no sense,” she said.
▪ Kahn, 37, runs a promotional product distribution company called The Kahncept Group. His fundraising total of $6,008 is second behind Gelber.
He says the city should incorporate more public outreach into its stormwater projects and time them in a way that doesn’t impact traffic for long stretches of time.
“I think there could be more interaction between the homeowners and the businesses and the city before it gets shoved down their throats,” he said.
The traffic, he said, is also hurt by the amount of new construction projects running at the same time. He thinks the building permitting process should be streamlined so projects can move along more quickly.
Kahn also says the city should create an in-house international marketing agency, an effort that would work apart from the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau to market Miami Beach to potential visitors abroad. The bureau receives money from the city to promote the Beach to industry meetings and other large tourist groups.
“I don’t want to take city money and give it to GMCVB,” he said. “This is something that should come straight from the city.”
Kahn would also vote no on the Ocean Drive question because he thinks other reforms, such as encouraging more police officers to take off-duty work securing clubs and eliminating a parking lane to give pedestrians more space, would more effectively curb crime.
“It’s all about being proactive,” he said.
▪ Bereski, 37, is the owner of SoBeMac, an information technology consultant business, and a bicycle safety advocate. He said his business has suffered since he was hit by a car on his bike two years ago and sustained brain and spinal injuries. The slowdown in business has allowed him the time to run for mayor.
He feels the biggest deficiency in the way the Beach’s local government operates is the “lack of community,” particularly for those with opposing voices.
“If you don’t have the same opinion as the city currently has, your input is ignored,” he said.
Traffic, he said, would improve if there were a more bicycle-friendly infrastructure that would encourage motorists to get on bikes, and expansion of the city trolley system.
Bereski approves of the stormwater program, but he’s apprehensive about raising the streets because it would force some homeowners to deal with drainage problems on their own properties.
“There is a long way to go,” he said. “With the raising of the streets, my concern is that’s not a community approach. That’s a pass the buck approach.”
He said he isn’t fundamentally opposed to reducing the hours of alcohol sales on Ocean Drive, but he thinks the way the referendum was set up is flawed because it applies only to certain establishments on Ocean Drive.
“It’s just going to push people from drinking in one area to another area,” he said.