Miami Beach

Arriola vs. Weithorn: First attack ad of Miami Beach 2015 political season

Miami Beach commission candidate Ricky Arriola.
Miami Beach commission candidate Ricky Arriola.

With three Miami Beach commission seats up for grabs and 10 candidates already declared for the November election, the race for Ed Tobin’s spot on the dais has seen its first attack ad.

On one side is a current city vendor running for office. On the other, a candidate who denies involvement with the ad — even though he contributed $5,000 to the political committee that produced it.

The ad takes aim at candidate Ricky Arriola, chief executive officer of Inktel Holdings and immediate past chair of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts Trust Board. Inktel, an outsourcer of business and direct marketing services, has a contract with Miami Beach to handle customer service calls for the city’s building, transportation and other departments.

Inktel has had a city contract since 2009 for call center services for the Beach’s building department, with a separate three-year contract being approved in Spring 2013. The two agreements were rolled into one for a total of about a $200,000-a-year deal.

The ad points out that Inktel was not the first-ranked firm in a public solicitation when the 2013 contract was awarded. This is true, and the record of that late-night discussion on the dais — Beach meetings used to go late into the night — shows a motion from Commissioner Jonah Wolfson to choose Inktel because it is headquartered locally. The first-ranked firm was based out of state and had a location in Miami.

Arriola told the Miami Herald last week that he does not have a conflict right now since he hasn’t been elected, and if he were, he would take care of any threat of a conflict of interest. He did not specify how and said he would address it directly with voters during the campaign.

“There’s no conflict now,” he said. “There will not be a conflict if I’m privileged enough to be elected.”

Mark Weithorn, Arriola’s opponent, denied involvement with the ad but supported its premise.

“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said.

Weithorn, however, contributed to the political committee that sent out the ad.

The ad was sponsored by Common Sense, an electioneering communications organization that lists Tallahassee attorney Mark Herron as its chair and treasurer. Weithorn said he is not connected to Common Sense or Herron. However, financial reports from the city of North Miami Beach, where Common Sense is active, show Weithorn gave the committee a $5,000 contribution in mid-April. The Beach attack ad was sent out in late March.

This week, Weithorn wouldn’t discuss the contribution with the Herald, instead saying Arriola should explain what he would do if he were elected to eliminate any conflict of interest.

“I didn’t send the email,” he said. “The bigger question is why is a city vendor running for commission?”

Arriola said voters don’t like attack ads, and they’ll ultimately decide.

“It’s pretty clear to any rational thinking person that Mark was behind the attack ad, but if he wants to be slippery that’s fine,” he said. “Let the voters decide.”

Reached by phone last week, Herron did not want to say much about the message.

“The ad speaks for itself, and that’s all I’m going to say,” he said.

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