It’s a job with long hours, endless meetings and a salary of $6,000 a year.
But that hasn’t deterred 25 people from applying to fill a vacancy on the Miami Beach City Commission. The spot opened up earlier this month after Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez was forced to resign in order to comply with a recently expanded resign-to-run law.
The applicants include a former commissioner, unsuccessful candidates from previous races, residents who are active in neighborhood organizations and city boards, and political newcomers. They run the gamut from recent South Florida transplants to lifelong Beach residents. And they include engineers, lawyers, retirees, business owners, a pharmacy student, an emergency room doctor and a former member of the National Guard.
Commissioners have been fielding calls and emails from potential candidates since before they formally decided to appoint an interim commissioner to serve out the remaining 10 months of Rosen Gonzalez’s term, rather than holding a costly special election. But in recent days, as Thursday’s deadline for picking a replacement nears, elected officials have been flooded with requests for meetings and advice.
“I thought I was only going to have to carve out one day, but it’s looking more like two to have at least 10 minutes with everybody,” said Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán, who as of Tuesday morning had already met with four applicants she didn’t previously know.
The competition for interim commissioner, which will be decided at the commission’s Jan. 23 meeting, has drawn far more candidates than a typical Miami Beach election. But the prospect of serving on the commission without the hassle of fundraising and campaigning likely appeals to a lot of residents, Alemán said.
“Clearly being a candidate makes people’s blood run cold,” she said. “I think that people are very intimidated by the nastiness of campaigns.”
Chris Duggan, 68, a retired educator who moved to Miami Beach five years ago, said that the opportunity to tackle city issues without the headache of campaigning was one of the factors that motivated him to apply.
“The public service aspect is really what’s appealing to me,” he said. “I’ve watched some friends go through the politics route, all the campaigning and the fundraising and all that, and it’s very demanding.”
Carely Hernandez, 33, a pharmacy student who has lived in Miami Beach for 18 years, said she also found the idea of not having to campaign appealing. Hernandez said she has worked on political campaigns, including for former Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, and knows how closely candidates are scrutinized during an election.
Some applicants are well-known in Miami Beach. Former city Commissioner Joy Malakoff, who served from 2013 to 2017, has thrown her hat into the race, as have Ray Breslin, who runs the Collins Park neighborhood association, and Liliam Lopez, president of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
One person who hasn’t applied?
Rosen Gonzalez, who resigned last year in order to run for Congress after changes to the state’s resign-to-run law forced her to choose between her city post and a long-shot congressional bid. She submitted her resignation last April, but didn’t have to step down until Jan. 3.
Some Miami Beach residents pushed for elected officials to put Rosen Gonzalez back in office, arguing that commissioners should honor the wishes of voters who elected her in 2015. But Rosen Gonzalez told the Miami Herald that she has decided not to apply because some commissioners want an appointee who pledges not to run for a four-year term in November and she can’t make that promise.
Several commissioners said in December that they would favor a replacement who promises to leave office after serving out the remaining months of Rosen Gonzalez’s term. The city can’t legally enforce that condition, however, and it may not end up being a deal breaker.
Commissioner Michael Góngora said that he’s heard from roughly 10 applicants so far and thinks that finding an interim commissioner who agrees not to run is “a better course of action.” But the most important qualification, he said, is the ability to think independently. “I’m not looking for a puppet for anybody else, not even myself,” he said.
Commissioner Mark Samuelian, who estimates that he has met with at least five candidates and heard from five more, said that agreeing not to run in November isn’t a deal breaker for him.
“At this point I’m going to wait and see the full lineup of potential candidates before I make a decision,” Samuelian said. The commissioner plans to go to a South Beach residents meeting on Jan. 22, known as the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club, where all of the applicants have been invited to introduce themselves.
Miami Beach has encouraged interested residents to submit an application, which can be found online, by Jan. 17. Commissioners plan to appoint an interim commissioner Jan. 23, but if they’re unable to pick a replacement, the city will have to hold a special election.
Alemán said that while there’s currently only one vacant seat, the size of the applicant pool could end up prompting more people to get involved in public service.
“The best thing for this city is getting a lot of qualified candidates running,” she said. “I hope this process gets more people thinking about running in the future and I think it can.”