Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez has resigned in order to pursue a quixotic bid for Congress.
Forced by a new state law to decide between her long-shot campaign and her city seat, Rosen Gonzalez walked into the first floor lobby at Miami Beach City Hall on Friday afternoon and submitted her resignation. She'll officially step down on Jan. 3, the day newly elected members of Congress are sworn in.
"I worked very hard. I fell in love with this district," she told the Miami Herald. "I didn’t take getting into this Congressional race lightly. People are like, 'Oh, just give it up.' It’s not like that."
Rosen Gonzalez, a dark horse when she was elected to a four-year term on the City Commission in 2015, had sought to block the state from applying a newly amended resign-to-run law to her congressional bid. She was rebuffed Thursday by a Tallahassee judge who said the city commissioner could not keep her seat and run for a federal office, as the terms overlap. Judge Karen Gievers dismissed the commissioner's argument that the law — placed on the books last month — was being retroactively applied in an improper manner.
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In her ruling, though, Gievers gave Rosen Gonzalez an extra day to decide whether to take advantage of a provision in the new law that allows politicians to make their resignations effective as late as January. Rosen Gonzalez took advantage of every day the law allowed her to keep her seat, leaving open the possibility that she could try to reclaim her city post if she loses the August primary.
"I can't even think about that," said Rosen Gonzalez, who has privately discussed the scenario with acquaintances. "One thing at a time."
Still, that Rosen Gonzalez actually chose the Congressional race over her city post was something of a surprise. She's polled far behind front-runner Donna Shalala, and only three weeks earlier admitted to her rivals that she didn't think she could win. She spent part of early April trying to convince other Democrats that their campaigns were hopeless.
"None of us can beat Shalala. Even if we had millions of dollars and only spent it attacking her, none of us can win. If you have honest data, you probably know that," she texted state Rep. David Richardson on April 5. "Statistically, you can't win. Me either, unless Shalala gets out."
Rosen Gonzalez said Friday that the math has changed since then. Along with Richardson and Shalala, Mary Barzee Flores, Matt Haggman and Michael Hepburn remain in the race. But state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Miami Commissioner Ken Russell withdrew when faced with the decision of whether to resign, and she said her internal polling — the results of an informal query that she declined to share — shows her in second.
Ostensibly, the Florida Legislature amended the state's resign-to-run law this year in order to save costs on special elections. But it's unclear exactly how Miami Beach will go about replacing her. When vacancies occur, the city charter allows commissioners to vote on a replacement to fill the vacant seat. If commissioners "fail or refuse" to fill the vacancy, the city could hold a special election, according to the city's charter.
City Attorney Raul Aguila said his office is researching the city's options, including when a special election could be held, and will issue a written opinion to the commission in the coming weeks.
As word of Rosen Gonzalez's plans to resign spread, other commissioners were split on how they thought she should handle her future. Commissioner Michael Gongora called her a "fighter" who championed women's causes and fought for low-income residents and historic preservation. But John Elizabeth Alemán said she believed Rosen Gonzalez should resign in May or June to avoid any potential ethical or fundraising issues.
"I'd like to see her resign sooner rather than later and concentrate on her race," Alemán said. "I think that's in her best interest. It allows her to avoid any perception of impropriety."
Alemán said that if Rosen Gonzalez remains on the commission while she's running for Congress, she risks giving the impression that she's using her commission platform to further her congressional campaign. Alemán noted that Miami Beach's strict campaign finance rules could put a damper on Rosen Gonzalez's fundraising efforts.
Through the beginning of the month, Rosen Gonzalez had raised $346,000 and spent $209,000. She trails most of the field in cash on hand, but believes she's running in second place to Shalala.
"They wanted me to give up. That's what the establishment insiders expected me to do: Step back in place and play it safe," Rosen Gonzalez wrote Friday morning in a campaign email. "But I am not doing any of that. So, while I may have lost a short, legal battle on Thursday when a judge agreed with the state’s position, I am still winning the war. Because I am still here. And I am still fighting."