Amid a topsy-turvy Miami Beach political season that mostly focused on the mayoral campaign and fall of Michael Grieco, voters still have to decide on a mayor, two commission seats and two ballot questions.
One of those races is for the Group 3 commission seat being vacated by Commissioner Joy Malakoff, who decided not to seek reelection citing her need to recover from a severe spinal injury. The race is between former commissioner Michael Góngora, an attorney at Becker & Poliakoff, and Adrian Gonzalez, owner of the popular David’s Café.
For Góngora, 47, it would be his third time on the commission following a short stint from 2006-07 and then a four-year term from 2009 to 2013. Gonzalez, 43, is taking his first shot at elected office.
Election day is Nov. 7. Early voting is already under way.
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In March, Góngora announced his plans to run for his old seat and said he’s learned from his recent unsuccessful campaigns. Góngora lost to Mayor Philip Levine in the 2013 election and last year he lost his bid for the District 38 Florida Senate seat when he finished third in the Democratic primary. Malakoff has endorsed Góngora in this race.
Góngora’s name recognition has given him a sizable lead in campaign contributions as he’s raised $264,020, according to his most recent campaign finance reports.
He said that improving traffic conditions and resident outreach are two things he wants to focus on if elected.
“There seems to be a disconnect in the city where residents don’t think they’re being heard and feel like the commission is mostly focused on business or development,” Góngora said.
There seems to be a disconnect in the city where residents don’t think they’re being heard.
Michael Góngora, commission candidate
He said he is opposed to the referendum asking voters whether alcohol sales on a stretch of Ocean Drive should end at 2 a.m.
“I don’t think it will serve its intended purpose. I think we need community police, more police patrolling our streets and more lighting,” Góngora said.
Góngora has faced criticism over his involvement in this past summer’s World OutGames. The event ran into significant financial issues and most of the events had to be canceled, leaving international athletes stranded and organizers scrambling to put on some events.
Góngora was previously a member of the OutGames board and initially told the Herald that he left the board in 2015 but a May 2016 YouTube video, posted by the OutGames account, shows him promoting the event and identifying himself as a board member.
Gonzalez created a website and Facebook page demanding that Góngora clarify his board membership and criticizing him for not raising concerns about the event’s planning. Góngora said the mix-up was a “discrepancy in my memory” and described the situation as an “unfortunate distraction.”
“My opponent has nothing to run on and when you have no record to run on you attack your opponent,” Góngora said.
He said that while he and Gonzalez agree on many issues his experience is what voters should consider at the polls.
For Gonzalez the commission seat is all about extending what he’s done through the family business and bringing it to City Hall.
He said that when David’s Café reopened on Alton Road a few years ago he went through city permitting processes and felt there was room for improvement. Gonzalez also said that the concerns of small businesses aren’t being heard by the City Commission.
“I felt that a lot of decisions were being made in the city and they weren’t really considering the local businesses and the mom-and-pop shops,” Gonzalez said.
I felt that a lot of decisions … weren’t really considering the local businesses and the mom-and-pop shops.
Adrian Gonzalez, commission candidate
A mailer paid for by the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee asks if voters can trust Gonzalez to “stand up for Miami Beach values” because he’s a Republican. The mailer includes a picture of President Donald Trump seated next to Gov. Rick Scott. The flip side of the ad praises Góngora and calls him the “Democratic leader Miami Beach needs.”
Gonzalez said he didn’t expect his party affiliation to come up in a nonpartisan race and said, “it is what it is.”
“I wasn’t about to jump into another party just for an election,” Gonzalez said.
The political newcomer said he wants to improve the city’s day-to-day services for residents looking to fix up their homes or to interact with city departments. Gonzalez said that despite his lack of experience and his opponent’s fundraising advantage, he’s still encouraged about election day.
Gonzalez has raised $69,389 in campaign contributions, according to his most recent campaign finance reports.
“I know the comments have been that I’m not qualified for the job. I can have all the qualifications but at the end of the day it’s about making the right decisions,” Gonzalez said.