Miami Beach

First priorities for Miami Beach’s new mayor: Limit city waste, challenge sea rise plans

Miami Beach elects Dan Gelber Mayor

Dan Gelber, winner of the Miami Beach mayoral election.
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Dan Gelber, winner of the Miami Beach mayoral election.

Dan Gelber, a former state lawmaker and son of former Miami Beach Mayor Seymour Gelber, easily won election to the mayor’s seat Tuesday.

He handily defeated three opponents with 82 percent of the vote in an election that was supposed to be more competitive. His only true competition, former commissioner Michael Grieco, withdrew from the election and eventually resigned from office amid a campaign finance scandal that led to criminal charges.

The victory marks Gelber’s return to elected office, but it’s also his first foray into municipal politics after serving in the Florida Legislature for a decade.

Gelber, 56, will step onto the pedestal being vacated by Mayor Philip Levine, who officially launched his run for governor last week. Though the mayor’s responsibilities are technically limited — the mayor serves as chairman of the commission and runs government meetings while the city manager runs the city’s day-to-day operations — Gelber will be sworn in to a position that Levine has purposefully built up into a high-profile job.

Levine was the loud agenda-setter who pushed his own public relations and whose policy goals projected an authority beyond what was afforded by his sole vote on the seven-member commission. Expect a style change with Gelber, a low-key politician and policy wonk who knows his top priorities from the outset.

He told the Miami Herald he wants to quickly add an inspector general for the city, an investigative official who would identify fraud and waste at City Hall. The new office would cast a critical eye on city spending and policies and recommend ways to improve the bureaucracy.

“I’d like to elevate the way we provide service to our constituents, and one of the ways to do that is to create an office of the inspector general,” he said.

An inspector general theoretically would prevent embarrassing gaffes such as the one that cost taxpayers $3.6 million last year. An audit found that a mismanaged finance department did not notice someone had plundered a city bank account, siphoning out the public money through more than a dozen electronic bank transfers over six months. Through settlement agreements, the city will recover all of the stolen money.

A consultant later identified dozens of problems with the finance department’s operations, including the fact that the city was a month behind on reconciling its bank accounts.

In the same vein, Gelber wants to bring in experts to challenge the city’s approach to combating tidal flooding exacerbated by sea level rise. The city is in the midst of a $500 million plan to install electric pumps, lay down new pipes and raise streets to properly drain the Beach’s roads.

Gelber wants to create a team of outside consultants to play devil’s advocate and challenge the city’s assumptions about its drainage program

“I want to make sure we get it done right,” he said.

On Tuesday night, he was surrounded by family — including the 98-year-old senior Gelber — and friends at the Shane Rowing Center in North Beach when results were posted. Hundreds attended.

At one point he looked at his father and recounted the elder Gelber’s public service as a judge and mayor.

“If I could just be a little bit of what you were, and what Mom was, I would feel very accomplished,” he said.

Gelber won outright in a field of four candidates who included real estate broker June Savage, marketing professional Daniel Kahn and information technology professional Kenneth R. Bereski II.

Miami Beach Mayor

24 of 24 Precincts

Dan Gelber: 82.41%

June Savage: 7.05%

Daniel Kahn: 5.83%

Kenneth R. Bereski: II 4.71%

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