Miami Beach’s elections are still nine months away, but the ballot is already filling up with familiar faces.
On Thursday, Mayor Dan Gelber announced that he’s running for a second term. Gelber, a former state legislator and federal prosecutor, was first elected in 2017 and is eligible to serve two more two-year terms as mayor.
“It’s been my greatest privilege to serve the only hometown I’ve ever known,” Gelber said in a statement. “I’ve tried to serve honorably and openly, and would like to continue to help make our City the best version of itself.”
Former Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, who resigned last year to run for Congress, told the Miami Herald that she plans to run for a commission seat in November, but hasn’t yet decided whether to run for her old seat or challenge Commissioner Ricky Arriola for his.
“Right now, I am observing the field and considering my options,” Rosen Gonzalez said in a text message. “A lot of residents have asked me to run against Ricky Arriola.”
The mayor’s job and three other seats on the seven-member commission are up for election this year — those held by Arriola, who told the Miami Herald he’ll run again; John Elizabeth Alemán, who announced Wednesday that she wouldn’t seek a second term; and Joy Malakoff, who was appointed to finish Rosen Gonzalez’s term and said she would not seek re-election.
In his campaign announcement, Gelber said that he has already accomplished many of his goals, but believes there is “much more to do.”
When he first took office, Gelber promised to create an independent inspector general’s office and to re-evaluate the city’s $500 million plan to prepare for sea level rise, which includes installing electric pumps and raising streets to manage tidal flooding.
Miami Beach is in the process of putting an inspector general in place after voters overwhelmingly approved the new position in November. On Wednesday, the City Commission passed an ordinance defining the inspector general’s role and laying out the selection process. Gelber also campaigned for the creation of a $439 million general obligation bond program to fund public projects and a convention center hotel, both of which were approved by voters last year.
Researchers at Harvard University and a panel of experts convened by the Urban Land Institute evaluated the city’s resiliency plans and announced their findings last year. Both groups said that Miami Beach is on the right track, but recommended creating more green spaces designed to soak up floodwater and installing more natural barriers.
Gelber cited other accomplishments in his announcement, including the creation of a science and arts program in local public schools, banning the use of plastic straws on city property, and new approaches to combating illegal short-term rentals.
Gelber faces one opponent so far, a Beach resident named Konstantinos Gus Manessis, who filed paperwork to run last August but has not reported raising any money. Manessis, who works in property management, said that he would foster “responsible” development that doesn’t exacerbate traffic congestion and work to make Miami Beach safer by hiring more police officers and investing more money in security technology, including cameras.
“I love the city. It’s where my heart and soul is,” said Manessis, who is from New York but has lived in Miami Beach on and off since the early 1990s. “I haven’t been happy with the way things have been run over the last 10 years.”
Rosen Gonzalez, a professor at Miami Dade College, has not yet filed to run for a seat on the commission, but said she plans to do so soon.
“Get ready to wave at me as I stand on street corners holding my sign,” she said in a text message, vowing to run a “grassroots” campaign.
If Rosen Gonzalez decides to run for the seat she previously held, she will face a crowded field. Steven Jay Meiner, a lawyer; Rafael Velasquez, a former commission candidate; and Michael Barrineau, a member of the city’s planning board, have already entered the race.
Arriola, a businessman, has not yet filed to run for re-election, but has said he plans to do so. A race between Arriola and Rosen Gonzalez would likely be contentious, as the two commissioners often clashed on the dais.
Miami Beach commission seats are not based on geographic areas, so candidates can pick their seat. Commissioners are limited to two four-year terms. Arriola and Rosen Gonzalez, who were first elected in 2015, are both eligible for one more.
Rosen Gonzalez submitted her resignation last April in an unsuccessful bid for the congressional seat previously held by retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, but she did not have to step down until January. Rosen Gonzalez finished third in the Democratic primary for the congressional seat, which represents Miami Beach, Little Havana and most of downtown Miami, winning roughly 17 percent of the vote.
The City Commission appointed former Commissioner Joy Malakoff to serve out the remainder of Rosen Gonzalez’s term, but Malakoff has said she does not plan to run in November.
No one has filed for the other commission seat up for grabs, held by Alemán, but the race immediately drew one candidate after her surprise announcement on Wednesday that she will not seek re-election: former state Rep. David Richardson.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include comments from mayoral candidate Konstantinos Gus Manessis