Miami Beach

Miami Beach elects two new commissioners in vote that reshapes city leadership

Michael Góngora
Michael Góngora

Miami Beach voters chose a political newbie and a familiar face to join the City Commission in Tuesday’s municipal election.

Former commissioner Michael Góngora was voted back into office in the Group 3 race against Adrian Gonzalez, owner of David’s Cafe. For the Group 2 seat, private investor Mark Samuelian bested real estate broker Rafael Velasquez, who has been mired in accusations of sexual impropriety by three women, including Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, a sitting commissioner and his former ally.

Góngora, 47, has had a taste for local politics for at least a decade. He served a short stint on the commission in 2006-07 before being elected to a four-year term in 2009. He lost the 2013 mayoral election to Philip Levine, who now is running for governor.

A condo attorney with Becker & Poliakoff, Góngora also ran unsuccessfully for the District 38 seat in the Florida Senate in 2016.

On Tuesday, he celebrated his lopsided victory from the Betsy Hotel on Ocean Drive in South Beach.

“It feels very special to be elected and especially to be elected by such a wide margin,” he said.

Gonzalez said he was proud of his “grassroots campaign” and congratulated all of the winners.

All of the winners will be sworn into office Monday, but for Samuelian, 53, it will be his first time. He lost his bid for commission in 2015, when Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán garnered 77 more votes than he did in a tight race.

In a statement, Samuelian said it was “very humbling” to be elected to public office.

“This election reaffirmed that we need elected officials that are not beholden to the undue influence of special interests groups,” he said. “As an active civic leader, over the years I have tirelessly promoted the rights and interests of residents over those of special interests and as your city commissioner, I intend to lead that way.”

samuelian (2)
Mark Samuelian MATIAS J. OCNER

Before this year’s campaign, Samuelian served as president of a prominent civic group, Miami Beach United, where he still serves as a board director. He played a role in opposing a light-rail project that eventually stalled at the City Commission amid increasing public opposition.

He has stated that a group of experts and residents should be formed to scrutinize the city’s approach to flood mitigation, echoing Mayor-elect Dan Gelber. He wants to prioritize placing permanent backup generators on existing anti-flooding pumps.

Samuelian and Velasquez were candidates for the seat held by Michael Grieco, who withdrew first from his mayoral candidacy and then his re-election bid after a campaign finance scandal.

The campaign grew contentious toward the end. Velasquez criticized Samuelian for previously being registered as a Republican and donating to a political action committee co-founded by GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. Samuelian, who currently has no party affiliation, responded by saying the donation was in the past and he no longer shares the views of the Republican Party.

But Velasquez entered Election Day fighting accusations of sexual harassment.

Last week, Rosen Gonzalez accused him of exposing himself to her after the two went to dinner in October. Two more women came forward. A local publicist said he groped her at a public event and sent suggestive text messages afterwards. Another woman said he made inappropriate comments while she and Velasquez ran together on a slate of potential Democratic delegates supporting Hillary Clinton.

Following the revelations, his entire campaign staff resigned and the local Democratic party stopped campaigning on his behalf and called for him to drop out of the race. Velasquez denied he had exposed himself or groped the woman. He apologized only for offending the women with his comments, which he called “compliments,” and continued to campaign.

On Tuesday night, Velasquez could not be reached for comment.

Miami Beach Commission Seats

24 of 24 Precincts

Group 2

Mark Samuelian: 67.83%

Rafael Velasquez: 32.17%

Group 3

Micheal Góngora: 64.83%

Adrian Gonzalez: 35.17%